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No one wants to think about their pet aging, much less losing their senses. Unfortunately, the reality is that, for many cats and dogs, these are changes that lead to loss of vision and hearing; some even end up going blind, deaf, or both—and this presents a challenge. “The most important thing about bringing home a new pet, especially a pet with special needs, is being prepared for every situation,” explains Hyunmin Kim, DVM, veterinary staff director of community medicine at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). “Just like people, most animals enjoy having a fluffy and cozy place to call their own, and it’s important that pets have a bed or dedicated area that allows them to relax.”
Start by speaking to your veterinarian about a personalized care plan. “While it is understood that some conditions can get expensive, there are ways to get great care for your pet even if you have limited finances,” says Dr. Katy Nelson, senior veterinarian at Chewy. “Many shelters offer low-cost veterinary services, there are funds that you can apply for in case of special needs situations, and there are options for interest-free credit.” When you bring them home, prepare your house to accommodate their special needs and create a safe environment. Here’s how to care for both needs with advice from our experts.
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Designate safe, accessible zones at home.
Because blind and deaf animals are more prone to accidents and injuries, consider reorganizing the structure and flow of your home. “Provide a safe zone for your dog with a soft bed and food and water bowls,” recommends Dr. Nelson. “Consider a water fountain such as the Drinkwell Pagoda Fountain ($65, chewy.com) as they make noise and the pet is less likely to ‘dunk’ his face in a regular bowl.”
“For blind cats and kittens, make sure their litter box is in an easily accessible location that they can get to on their own,” Dr. Kim says. “Remove any wires and other items from the floor that could cause your new pet to fall or trip. You’ll also want to move plants and fragile objects to a safe area that is out of reach for your new cat or dog.”
Just like introducing a new baby to the household, consider implementing safety precautions throughout your home. “Place bumpers on sharp corners, use baby gates or dog gates like the Frisco Extra Tall Auto-Close Pet Gate ($42, chewy.com) for stairs, consider a dog halo vest like Muffin’s Halo for Blind Dogs Angel Wing Blind Dog Bumper ($114.68, chewy.com), and keep the house tidy to prevent tripping or falling over household objects,” recommends Dr. Nelson. A deaf or a blind pet may not always recognize the signs of danger.
Establish a reliable routine.
It starts in the morning: To avoid startling your pet when waking them up, “use vibrations (think heavy stepping—not stomping—on the floor near them) or touching them gently away from their head (to keep your startled pet from biting),” says Dr. Nelson. For blind pets, be sure to keep furniture and their food and water bowl in the same place. “Stick with a routine for meal times and walks, communicate with them frequently, and provide lots of affection and comfort so they can feel the closeness even if they can’t see you,” Dr. Nelson adds.
This includes visitors to your home and other people, too. “Alert people to the fact that they’re blind by having a vest or leash labeled ‘blind dog’,” suggests Dr. Nelson. She says it’s also worthwhile to invest in a GPS collar, like the Link AKC Plus Classic GPS & Activity Monitor Smart Dog Collar Attachment ($35, chewy.com), or tracker, like the Findster Duo+ Dog & Cat GPS Tracker & Activity Monitor ($185, chewy.com), so that you can always have their location available, if needed.
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Communicate and train effectively.
“Training with blind and deaf pets can be more challenging as some of our regular cues may not work,” says Dr. Nelson, “but blind and deaf pets are ultimately very trainable with the right tools, the proper cues, and the help of a professional trainer.” To find a trainer who will be able to help you, refer to the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers website.
For blind pets, “Use auditory clues to help your pet find you,” says Dr. Nelson. “Click your tongue, say their name, clap your hands, or snap your fingers.” For deaf pets, “Consider teaching hand signals and using body language to train and cue them as to what you expect of them,” she continues. “You can also use flashlights to alert deaf pets to look at you, especially at night.”
Offer intellectual stimulation.
“[Deaf and blind pets] still need intellectual stimulation, so interactive toys and playtime can be crucial to their mental and physical health,” Dr. Nelson explains. You can find toys that make noise for a blind pet or ones that vibrate and have interesting textures for a deaf pet.
Show lots of affection.
And the final necessity to making your home more comfortable for a deaf or blind animal is your love and patience. “Every animal—even those with special needs—has an individual personality and disposition,” says Dr. Kim. “We encourage potential adopters to keep an open mind and heart when adopting because you may fall in love with a pet you’d never considered before.”