A few weeks ago, my 9-year-old beagle-chihuahua mix, Trudy, went blind from sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome (SARDS)—(see my earlier blogs). Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time on internet message boards such as blinddogs.net and blinddog.info.
Recently, a woman posted a message about her 5-year-old pug with SARDS. She wrote: “He went from being extremely active and playful to very lethargic, frightened and since it has been about 3 months, some days navigates (slowly) his way around with caution and others, is completely discombobulated and will stay in a corner someplace. Sometimes when I carry him and put him down every so gently, he seems unfrightened and other times he stiffens up and is terrified. I did buy endless black rounded foam rubber that is put on pipes for insulation, and covered every single leg of all furniture, including outdoors. This has helped his poor little head a great deal…I can’t stop crying for my little guy.”
When Trudy lost her sight, I did endless research online about about the causes, symptoms and treatment of SARDS. I took her to the Dept of Ophthalmology, University of Florida vet school, for confirmation of my primary veterinarian’s findings, and then to the Internal Medicine Department for endocrine testing. I learned that most dogs afflicted with SARDS also have the symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome (excessive thirst, lots of peeing and accidents in the house, bloated abdomen, panting, etc.)
When I’d found all I could about the disease and had taken Trudy on the rounds of veterinary experts, I still had a lot to learn about adjustment to Trudy’s vision loss. I learned to avoid being solicitous and pitying. I didn’t jump to do the things she was having trouble with. If she couldn’t find the door, I’d say, “Over here, Trudy,” and let her follow the sound of my voice. I didn’t point out a food scrap that had just fallen on the floor. I let her nose do its work. The amazing thing is that Trudy is more energetic than I’ve seen her for years, and we’re a stronger team. Here are a few of the simple things I’ve done.
1) I take her outside out to pee every couple of hours so she doesn’t have to slink off in the house to do it in secret. I praise her lavishly when she “goes.” She looks quite pleased with herself.
2) Every morning I continue taking her on our usual run—me on my electric bike and her running alongside. We’ve traveled the same route for years–a stretch of 1/3 mile in my neighborhood where there’s almost no traffic. Now she seems to sense the distance between us by the sound of the bike motor. If I see something on the road, I yell, “Watch it, Trudy!”—always using the same words and tone of voice. For a short video, go to Trudy’s morning run.
3) I play with her more often, my object being to get her to wag her tail.
4) When she sneaks up on the dining room table and I hear dishes clattering, I no longer yell, “Get off of there, Trudy!” at the top of my lungs. I think, but don’t say, “Well, yay for you, Trudy. You’ve still got the old spunk.” Then I clean up the mess, saying quietly, “No, Trudy.” Which, of course, she ignores.
5) Rather than feed her in the house from a bowl, I wrap a ball of canned dog food in chopped dry food. I call her, making a big deal of it, and say, “Hey Trude! “Meal-time, kiddo!” I roll the ball across the big wooden deck outside. Her nose finds its way to the food, her tail wags the whole time, and she eats it with relish. She loves this. What dog wouldn’t? Their DNA tells them that this is how REAL dogs find their food.
Trudy is a happy dog again. My advice to the owners of newly blind dogs is this–don’t show your sadness to your dog. If you have to cry, go off by yourself. Don’t let pity creep into your voice when you talk to the dog. Praise every little new accomplishment. Blind dogs can be exposed to interesting new experiences in a gentle way, without frightening them. Laugh and play. Dogs making the difficult passage into blindness need an upbeat view of life.
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