Sensory issues in dogs

Dogs can experience sensory issues like deafness and blindness. Learn how to adapt your care to keep your dog happy and healthy.

Just like humans, dogs can suffer from a number of sensory problems. Deafness and blindness are among the most common problems and can be caused by several factors, from old age to genetic factors and many more.

These conditions often have a huge impact on a dog’s life, but with the right care and attention, many dogs cope extraordinarily well.

You may notice a change in their behaviour, sometimes a result of fear, but there are a number of ways you can help them get accustomed to their new world.

 

Blindness in dogs

What causes blindness in dogs?

There are many reasons why a dog might go blind, either as a result of genetics, illness or injury. These include:

  • glaucoma
  • cataracts
  • old age
  • diabetes
  • injury
  • infection
  • progressive retinal atrophy (PRA)
  • dry eye
  • suddenly acquired retinal degeneration syndrome (SARDS).

Some causes of blindness can be inherited, such as PRA, which causes the retina to degenerate.

While some breeds can be more at risk of such conditions, it’s always worth checking with your breeder or vet to find out the potential issues your dog could inherit.

How to tell if your dog is blind

Many cases of blindness in dogs have a gradual onset, so you may start to notice them bumping into things or general clumsiness. They may also become easily scared or jumpy and become apprehensive, confused or anxious during playtime.

Many blind dogs experience depression and end up sleeping more than usual. They’re also often unable to find water, food and toys.

You may notice a few physical signs of visual impairment, such as redness around the eye and cloudy or enlarged pupils.

If you suspect your dog is going blind, speak to your vet immediately.

How to care for a blind dog

Most cases of blindness in dogs have no cure, but many dogs live a fulfilled and happy life without their sight.

Creating a safe space for your dog to retreat to can help them feel more secure in their surroundings. Designate a room or a corner and fill it with their water and food bowls, favourite toys and their bed. Avoid moving things like furniture around too much to prevent confusion and accidents.

Regularly talking to your dog can help them feel at ease and helps them locate you. Always use your voice to get their attention before stroking your dog to avoid scaring or startling them.

Remember to ‘dog-proof’ your home, removing any hazards or sharp objects that might injure them. You could install baby gates at the top and bottom of stairs to keep them safe, and using different textured rugs, carpets and flooring can help your dog build a mental map of their surroundings.

Many blind dog owners invest in noisy toys, which can be especially rewarding for their pets. Putting bells on other pets’ collars or on shoes can also help your dog locate their family members around the house.

All dogs must be microchipped under UK law and it’s even more important for blind dogs, who are more at risk of getting lost.

Deafness in dogs

What causes deafness in dogs?

Deafness can be caused by a number of factors, including:

  • congenital defects
  • chronic ear infections
  • head injuries
  • degenerative nerve changes
  • old age
  • ruptured eardrum
  • diseases, such as tumours.

Some breeds are prone to congenital deafness, including Dalmatians, English Setters, Australian Shepherds and Jack Russells. While it’s not fully understood why this is the case, there appears to be a link between predominantly white or ‘merle’ coats and deafness.

Temporary deafness can be caused by blockages, mild infections and medication side effects, so it’s important to speak to your vet if you think your dog is experiencing hearing loss.

How to tell if your dog is deaf

If your dog has significant hearing loss, they may become less obedient or attentive and stop responding to everyday sounds, such as a vacuum cleaner or their name being called.

Deaf dogs are often difficult to wake up and become less active in their day-to-day lives.

If your dog starts to bark excessively or shake and tilt their head, this may be a sign of deafness.

If you think your dog is experiencing hearing loss, speak to your local vet as soon as possible.

How to care for a deaf dog

Deaf dogs can be easily scared, so it’s important to approach them and adjust their care to help them feel as safe as possible.

Always give your dog plenty of time to see you before touching or stroking them, so they know what to expect. Always make other people aware that your dog is deaf, and consider adding an ‘I’m deaf’ tag on their collar.

Avoid allowing your dog off the leash in busy or dangerous areas where a voice command could save their life; they may not be able to hear you if you need to warn them of oncoming danger.

Don’t forget, your dog won’t hear the sounds that you might take for granted, such as aggressive growling from other dogs. This could potentially lead to conflicts, so maintaining firm control of the lead is essential.

Training is still possible with a deaf dog. This can be achieved with unique hand signals that indicate different commands. For example, using props like their lead or your car keys can help them understand when it’s time for a walk or a car ride. As with standard training, patience is key to success.

Always let your dog know when you’re leaving the house. Don’t just disappear while they’re asleep or elsewhere in the house, as this can frighten them when they can’t find you.

It’s important to remember that deaf dogs sleep very deeply, so always wake them gently to avoid startling them. Putting a small piece of food under their nose or touching them gently away from their face can help rouse them without issues. Some dogs may bite if startled while they’re asleep.

For helpful advice about identifying and caring for a dog with sensory issues, speak to your local Medivet vet.

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