how to care for blind and deaf dogs

How to Care for Blind and Deaf Senior Dogs

Caring for Dogs that are Blind and Deaf

A difficult phase in a dog’s life is the last 20-25%. As dogs age, changes occur in their bodies that lead to loss of vision and hearing. Many dogs of this age also have arthritis, mobility issues, and other physical limitations related to the natural (but still sometimes distressing or painful) effects of time. Most dogs will experience some kind of vision impairment, and some develop cataracts. A degradation of hearing ability is common, and arthritis and mobility issues are a frequent concern, especially in dogs that are overweight.

This process is not dissimilar to that in aging humans in that as people approach their senior years, we don’t see or hear quite as well, can develop arthritis, and generally “slow down.” We may take a little longer to get up, turn the TV a little louder, and need glasses to read the daily paper. We may feel more easily confused or tired and can experience weight gain or appetite loss as an effect of our changing needs.

It is typical for a veterinarian to have an appointment with a “healthy” senior dog and find out that the animal has a history of not hearing when the owner gets home, not seeing that well, and experiencing difficulty moving up and down stairs or with general mobility. These things are a common part of that aging process, although they might seem upsetting for the owners.

If you are one such owner, you no doubt want to make your beloved pet as comfortable and happy as possible. What can you do? Below are some tips for living with dogs who are blind, deaf, or experiencing arthritis. Your dog might have some or all of these symptoms, so I hope you find this advice very helpful.

Tips for Living with Blind and Deaf Dogs

Blindness is defined as the loss of vision in both eyes. There are many reasons why dogs go blind, including glaucoma, corneal problems, cancer, trauma, retinal diseases, and cataracts. For a more complete list and explanation, go to our article on Blindness in Dogs.

Blind dogs require extra care, but they can continue to live a long and happy life. Many dogs adjust to blindness or a loss of vision rather quickly and do well by relying on their other senses. A dog’s sense of smell is very good, as is their hearing. In the case of many older dogs who lose both their sense of hearing and vision, they rely on their sense of smell. Dr. Rhea Morgan wrote a very nice article on tips for living with a blind dog that I think is really great.

Living with a blind dog is one thing, but caring for a dog that is blind and deaf is much more difficult. Depending on the degree of hearing loss, some dogs don’t hear at all, and others can hear certain frequencies. Some may hear a murmur of something and understand it is from a familiar person but don’t understand what is being said.

Dogs with no hearing will rely on smell and touch to help them determine when someone is near, so they may stick much closer to their human companions than before.

In my opinion, blind dogs with some hearing really appreciate you talking to them. The loss of senses can be confusing and scary, and a soothing voice can help orient and guide them.

Below are some tips to help you help your dog with vision and hearing loss to have a happy and healthy life.

1. Be Patient. When dealing with a blind or blind and deaf dog, it is important to be patient. They often navigate slower, especially if some of their other senses are limited. Most dogs adjust very well in the end, but it can take a little while.

2. Be Consistent With Your Dog. When dealing with a dog that is blind and deaf, consistency is important. They rely a great deal on their memory and enjoy predictable routines for stability and comfort.

a. Feed your dog and keep the water in the same location. Some dogs like fountains because they can sense the vibration of the pump as a way to orient them to their food and water area. Some owners of blind and deaf dogs believe their dogs began drinking more healthy water after they installed a pet water fountain.

b. Keep their bed in the same location.

c. Minimize redecorating or furniture changes if possible. Some dogs compensate so well for their loss of sight that many pet owners only realize their pet is blind when they move furniture around and realize that suddenly, the dog is bumping into things. A number of dogs are also discovered to be blind when they are taken to the vet clinic, where they bump into walls and cabinets in the unfamiliar rooms.

d. If you have a fenced-in yard as we will discuss below, you may also want to minimize landscaping changes (such as the planting or cutting of trees or bushes) that can disorient dogs with vision loss.

3. Routine. Dogs with disabilities seem to appreciate a regular routine. They go outside the same time each day and evening, walks around the block the same way, and are fed in the same place at the same time. If your dog has any hearing abilities, you can use a bell or other soft noise (even a pop can with rocks in it can work) as a “call” to tell your dog it is feeding time. If you maintain a routine, most dogs will learn to be waiting by the bowl right on schedule.

4. Neatness. If you have a vision- or hearing-impaired dog, it is ideal to keep your home consistent and fairly neat. If your dog has a preferred path from the door to the bedroom, don’t leave toys, shoes, or other “stuff” lying around that he or she can bump into. If you move things, put them back. If you have company over and move 2 more chairs into a room for extra seating, put them back when you’re done so your dog isn’t confused or injures himself when trying to navigate around them.

5. Safety for Dogs. Once you realize your dog is blind, it is very helpful to try to look around at your home from the dog’s perspective. It can even help to get right down on the floor and see things from their level. It might look silly, but it can expose some hidden dangers that would otherwise be missed.

a. Look for anything sharp that he or she can run into. Don’t leave coat hangers or other pointy objects on the floor, and keep an eye out for corners that can bruise or damage delicate skin. Keep cabinets closed (a dog can accidently ram an edge, causing an injury). Cover any sharp edges with soft foam or other materials; those designed for baby-proofing homes are especially useful.

b. Place barriers around pools and hot tubs and ensure your dog doesn’t have access to ponds, lakes, and other bodies of water.

c. Use baby gates to limit access to open stairways, decks, balconies, and uneven walkways.

d. Block access to fireplaces in use, and secure all pokers and gates so your dog cannot inadvertently run into them and become injured.

e. Don’t burn candles near any low tables; dogs can knock over lit candles with their tails.

f. Eliminate thin throw rugs that may get bunched up and cause a tripping injury or a fall.

6. Let Your Dog Walk. Some pet owners naturally want to pick up and carry their pets. This may seem like a kindness, but when you put your dog down in a new room, he or she has no idea where they are. If they walk from room to room, they can develop a sense of awareness.

7. Talk to Your Dog. If your dog seems lost and has some hearing ability, you can talk to your dog so he can sense your location based on the sound. (If your dog can’t hear at all, this doesn’t help.)

8. Don’t Startle Your Dog. Dogs that don’t see or hear well can be easily startled. They can develop anxiety and always seem “on edge.” If your dog can hear at least a little, you can make a noise or talk to them before touching or approaching them so they know where you are. Suddenly touching your dog can startle them, and some dogs will bite when surprised. When your dog can neither see nor hear well, it is difficult to announce your presence. You can walk heavily toward your dog so he can sense the vibration of your footsteps. Another option is to use a buffer between you and him. For example, to wake your dog, you could gently touch them with a toy. If he does startle and nip, it will be at the toy that gets bitten, not your hand.

9. Don’t Groom Canine Whiskers. Many dogs use their whiskers to sense the world, and they will use this ability more when they have vision and hearing loss. The whiskers, also called vibrissae, can act as sensitive antennae with which to detect objects, air movement, and even vibrations such as those made when a door is open or someone is walking past. Don’t allow your groomer to trim these hairs or, if it happens, give your dog some extra space and consideration until they grow back.

10. Use Bells and Identification. Place a small bell on your dogs collar to help you know where he or she is. Make sure your pet is well-identified with a collar and microchip. If your dog does get away for any reason, he won’t have his full senses to help him get back home and will rely on human means to find his way to you. A collar with ID tag and microchip may be the only way a lost dog can be returned to their owner. An ideal pet tag indicates to anyone finding your dog that they are is deaf and blind and should include your contact information. Another option is bandanas that indicate your dog has special needs.

11. Use Leashes and Harness for Your Dog. Dogs with vision loss and hearing loss should be on a leash at all times if they are not in a familiar fenced-in yard. Dogs can catch another dog’s scent and wander off. It doesn’t take long for many to find their way to the road, where they can be hit by a car or attached by another dog. A dog without hearing and sight cannot react to or avoid possible dangers. Collars are best but harnesses are a nice alternative because they fit around the chest rather than the neck. In times of danger, this protects the tender tissues in the neck from injury and damage.

12. Outdoor Dog Dangers. Dogs with hearing and vision impairments should not be allowed outside alone unless they are in a familiar and fenced-in yard, as we mentioned above. It is important to periodically evaluate your yard and garden for possible dangers including broken fencing, broken planters, trash in the yard, sharp edges, broken gates, and more; all of these can cause trauma.

13. Plan to Still Have Fun. Dogs that can’t hear and can’t see still want to have fun. The senses they have left are touch, taste, and smell, and these can be used to their advantage for a great time. Choose toys that dogs with some hearing may respond to (some have loud or high-pitched squeakers designed for such dogs) or even ones with texture. Some dogs like cuddle toys and enjoy the feeling of soft plush toys; you can also get toys that you can hide treats in and take advantage of your dog’s sense of smell. Dogs also appreciate the feel of grass and the smell of fresh air outdoors or the sensation of the gentle sun, so don’t discount a simple afternoon in nature.

Blind and deaf dogs can live a happy and rewarding life with your help. I hope these tips help you enrich your pet’s days even further.