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Living with a Blind Cat

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Blindness is the loss of vision in both eyes and can be caused by several things such as glaucoma, corneal problems, cancer, trauma, retinal diseases and cataracts. If your cat becomes blind, she may require extra care, but it is likely that she will continue to live a long and happy life. Just as humans adjust to the onset of blindness, so do cats, and they learn to rely on their other senses.

Although their vision is important to them, cats senses of smell and hearing are much more developed than ours. Your cat's sense of smell is superior; it is one of the ways in which she interacts with her environment. Her nostrils are working constantly. Her nose is small and neat, but hidden behind it is a maze of bones and organs. Cats have 19 million odor-sensitive cells in their noses compared to 200 million in dogs and about 5 million in humans.

In addition, cats are equipped with glands that secrete pheromones, which are identifying scents and will help her find her way around the house. These glands are found on your cat's cheeks, on her lower legs, and under her tail. She deposits her scent marks as she walks and when she rubs her cheeks against something.

A cat's sense of hearing is amazing. Cats can hear high frequency sounds we cannot. They can also distinguish the tone or pitch of sounds better than we can. And their ability to locate the source of a sound is highly advanced. From a yard away, a cat can distinguish between sound sources only three inches apart. They can also hear sounds at great distances – four or five times farther away than humans.

Of course, at the onset of blindness your pet should be evaluated by your veterinarian as soon as possible. And you should minimize stress and injury by confining your pet to a safe area until the cause of the problem is determined.

At home you will have to help your pet adjust to her new sightless world. Here are some ways to help.

Be Patient

For pets afflicted with a sudden onset of blindness, it may take several weeks to adjust to their vision loss. Pets that have been losing their vision over time cope much better, as they have had time to adapt as their vision decreased. It is amazing how well pets deal with their blindness. In fact, it is not unusual for blindness to be discovered only after the owner buys new furniture or moves to a new home and notices that their pet is bumping into objects.

Because the senses of smell and hearing are in some ways more important to cats than their vision, they are much less dependent on vision than you would expect. For this reason, their behavior may return to almost normal once they adjust to their blindness.

Be Consistent

Among other things, blind pets strongly rely on their memory to help them navigate through your home. The most important thing you can do for your dog is to keep things in the same place at all times. It is important that you be consistent.

For example, don't re-arrange your furniture. Pick up after yourself and instruct your children to do the same. Keep her normal path clear and don't leave things lying around that your pet can "bump" into. A misplaced laundry basket or pair of shoes or a toy can be a problem for your blind pet.

Return things after you move them. This includes chairs moved during dinner or furniture moved for company. Pets easily bump into these objects, and this can cause minor injury or disorientation.

Maintain a consistent area for eating, sleeping and using the litter box. Keep your pet's bed and her eating bowls in the same place. This is especially true for her drinking water. Keep the litter box in the same place, too. Don't move it.

Be Helpful

Try not to carry your pet from one area to another as this can confuse them. If they walk from area to area they remain more oriented. You might want to guide your kitty through the house for a while until she gets her bearings. You probably know your cat's habits by now, so make sure she drinks enough and gets to the litter box as necessary.

If your pet seems "lost" or disoriented, guide her gently with words or by leading her. Speak to your pet and encourage her to come towards you. When reorienting your kitty, always take her back to the same spot, such as the feeding area or the bed.

Cats use the small whiskers or vibrissae on their face and forehead as little antennae. These long whiskers are very sensitive and are good for detecting objects and picking up air currents. Be sure to leave these whiskers long, so that the animals can use them to detect objects before they bump into them. Using a collar with a bell will help you know the location your cat.

Be Safety Conscious

It is important that you keep your pet safe. Take a look at your home for potential dangers:

  • Place barriers over hot tubs and around pools.

  • Keep the toilet lid closed.

  • Remove or cover any sharp objects or edges, particularly those at eye level to the animal.

  • Block your pet's access to open stairways, balconies, decks and other potentially hazardous areas.

  • Make sure your pet is well identified. A collar and microchip are critical if your pet becomes separated from you. If lost, your blind pet will probably not be able to find her way home.

  • Identify your pet as being blind. Place a medical alert tag on your pet's collar that says that she is blind, and include your contact information.

  • Talk to your pet and use noise to arouse her when she is sleeping, rather than touching her. Many pets that cannot see you coming may be startled at your touch. Cats may scratch or even bite when startled. Once awake, talk to your cat and touch her before picking her up.

    Develop a Feeding Routine

    Establish a set location for the food and water bowls and guide your pet to them if necessary. Try to feed your pet around the same time each day to help establish a routine. Call your pet or tap your fingers to the side of the bowl to help her recognize feeding time. This will help her "hone" in on the sound.

    Supervise Outside Activities

    Keep your cat indoors at all times. A blind cat cannot detect danger and run from it, especially if attacked or chased. If you do let your cat outside, never leave her side. A harness and leash can allow your pet to go out and enjoy the outdoors safely. A harness provides better guidance and control while walking. You need to be her eyes and watch out for things she might bump into.

    Examine all fences, flower pots, gardens and outdoor surroundings for sharp areas or objects that could injure your pet. Minimize landscaping changes. A screened in porch is a great way for a blind cat to safely enjoy the outside air.

    Stimulate the Other Senses

    Blind pets rely on their other senses to help them function in their darkened world. Their ability to smell, feel and hear will become finely tuned, and will be their main tool in orienting themselves to their environment.

    Toys that make sounds such as balls with bells, squeak toys, paper bags or paper balls can provide stimulation and play time.

    Catnip-scented toys also provide stimulation and enjoyment. Cats love catnip and cat grass. Plant a small bit in a familiar area to give your kitty the opportunity to smell, taste and feel something she likes.

    Stimulate a cat's sense of smell and touch by providing an area to "sunbathe" or just get fresh air. A low window works well, and cats often learn to judge distances and jump onto a surface to be near a window. Make sure the window screen is secure and cat proof.
    Consider heating the food to increase its odor.

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