Monday, February 2, 2015

What to do when your blind pet runs into things: A 3-step approach

Lucy the blind cat under a table

Little Lucy was born blind, so she knows to lean on the sensory information she gets from her whiskers and ears in order to keep her safe while on the go. That means she is in a collision-free state about 90 percent of the time.

But, Lucy does run into things both large and small from time to time. Here's what I do when it happens.

1. Try not to cry out 

When Lucy does run into something, it's a surprise to her. Often, she needs to take a moment to figure out what happened and how serious it is. If I cry out or take in a deep breath, those sounds seem to suggest that something really serious has happened. Often, she responds to those sounds by looking for a place to hide.

If I accept the hit silently, at least for a second or two, she typically understands that she's not in immediate danger. And that means she'll usually sit in place or come to me when I call her, rather than fleeing.

2. Check things over 

Most hits are little more than head bumps. Lucy is an inch or two away from the path she should use, and she doesn't do any damage at all, because she's not moving very fast. But, she has run into walls, furniture and other pets while running at full speed. And sometimes, those hits have the potential to really hurt her.

After any hit, either large or small, I give Lucy a little once-over with my hands, looking for spots of soreness. She typically responds as though I'm petting her, arching her back and purring, so she probably doesn't know I'm worried about her health. But these checks do give me an opportunity to make sure nothing bad has happened.

3. Find and fix the cause 

In most cases, Lucy's run-ins stem from some change in the household. Furniture has been moved or dog toys are lying around or there's a strange noise that's upsetting. Once I know that she isn't injured, I can get after the thing that caused the incident.

Sometimes, there's a little of Lucy retraining to be done, too. Once I've moved what I think has caused the problem, I stand in the spot where she made impact, and I call her to me. If she can make it to that spot without hitting again, I've fixed it. If she looks like she's going to have another problem, I can coach her. Words like "Careful!" and "Stop!" can help her to remember that there's a hazard she should be aware of.

I've said this before, but living with a blind pet isn't much harder than living with a sighted pet. These guys are fiercely independent, and they don't need a lot of coddling. But, using a little commonsense is a great way to ensure that their disabilities don't impact their ability to live life to the fullest. That's something they deserve, I think.

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