Special Needs: Living With a Blind Cat
Living with a handicapped pet can be challenging, but a wonderful experience too!
If your cat suddenly becomes blind, she will 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, a cat’s 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 properly evaluated by your veterinarian as soon as possible. You should minimize stress and injury by confining your cat to a safe area until the cause of the problem is determined and a course of treatment is determined.
At home you will have to help your pet adjust to her new sightless world. Here are some ways to help.
For cats afflicted with a sudden onset of blindness, it may take several weeks to adjust to their vision loss. Cats that have been losing their vision over time cope much better, as they have had time to adapt gradually as their vision decreased. It is amazing how well cats 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.
Among other things, blind cats strongly rely on their memory to help them navigate through your home. The most important thing you can do for your cat 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 your cat’s normal pathways clear and don't leave things lying around that your she can "bump" into. A misplaced laundry basket or pair of shoes or a toy can be a problem for your blind cat.
Return things after you move them. This includes chairs moved during dinner or furniture moved for company, or even something displaced so floors can be vacuumed or mopped. 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 cat's bed and feeding dishes in the same place, especially her water dish.
Try not to carry your cat from one area to another as this can confuse her. If your cat walks 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 cat seems "lost" or disoriented, guide her gently with words or by leading her. Speak to your cat 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 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 cat 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 cat'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 cat will probably not be able to find her way home.
- Identify your cat 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 cat to them if necessary. Try to feed your cat around the same time each day to help establish a routine. Call your cat or tap your fingers on the side of the bowl to help her recognize it is 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 without assistance.
Stimulate Other Senses
Blind cats 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.
Most importantly, love your cat as you always have as this will help her feel less stress and more comfortable in her new form. This can be a great opportunity to bond even closer with your beloved pet.