A blind cat can have a wonderful, happy life. It’s not at all uncommon for pets, particularly older ones, to suffer vision loss. Normal cat vision is close to humans, or perhaps just a little less. Pets have more problems focusing on near objects than people do, though, which is why Kitty may have trouble seeing the last few kibbles in the food bowl.
Just as people over the age of forty tend to need reading glasses, the same vision changes start to develop in almost all cats over the age of five. This normal change, called nuclear sclerosis, results in less flexibility of the lens, a hazy appearance, and less ability to focus on close objects. Pets still see pretty well, despite the bluish tint to their eyes.
Eye disorders can affect the vision of pets at any age, but are more common in older animals. Cataracts turn the clear lens of the eye cloudy and opaque, and ultimately result in blindness. Older pets also can suffer glaucoma—an increased pressure within the eyeball that’s very painful and leads to blindness.
There are treatments available for cataracts and glaucoma—pain control in glaucoma is particularly important. But techniques such as cataract surgery that can reverse the blindness are pretty expensive and are limited to specialty veterinary ophthalmology practices.
It’s not cruel to allow your pet to function as a blind pet. In fact, blind pets are not nearly as concerned about the deficit as owners. When your pet becomes blind, he’ll just rely on his sense of smell and hearing. In many cases, vision loss is gradual, and pets adjust and make accommodations so successfully that owners are surprised to discover that their aging cat has become blind.
8 Ways to Help a Blind Cat
Your blind pet’s comfort level, safety and emotional health are important. Follow these tips to keep him happy and comfortable.
- It’s vital to keep the food, water bowls, litter box, and pet beds in the same spot, so Fluffy can easily find belongings.
- It may be helpful to “scent” important objects for the cat with strong odors such as peppermint to help his nose “see” what he’s looking for.
- Avoid rearranging the furniture, too. Blind pets memorize and "mind-map" the house, and moving things around will confuse him. It’s not at all unusual for a blind cat, for instance, to still insist on making floor-to-counter leaps with confidence as long as her memory remains fresh and accurate.
- It’s also important to safeguard danger zones, particularly if unavoidable changes must be made. For example, pad the sharp edges of furniture with bubble wrap until your cat learns to avoid the danger. Block off steep stairways with baby gates to prevent falls.
- Your pet’s personality and behavior may change a bit as vision fades. Some pets become more dependent on the owner, and act “clingy”—basically they treat you as a guide, stand very close, and follow you around. Get in the habit of speaking to your cat when you enter or leave a room to help her keep track of your whereabouts.
- In multiple pet homes, another cat or dog may serve as a guide for the blind pet. Help your blind pet by attaching a bell or other noise maker to the other animal's collar.
- To avoid tripping over the pet that’s always underfoot, provide a safe, comfy bed in each room. Very social cats may become standoffish once vision fades. They’ll want to avoid contact with houseguests to avoid being stepped on.
- Blind pets also startle more easily, so always speak to your cat before petting him to avoid being accidentally nipped or swatted in reflex.
Blind pets typically are still very happy. They continue to enjoy and remain engaged in life and the world around them—including their owners. Kitties don't need to see you to love you.