Just like you and me, our pets can lose hearing or vision in their golden years. Dogs and cats often can compensate well with these losses, partly because they rely more heavily than we do on their other senses like smell. But smell can be another sense that weakens with age.

Humans have roughly 5 million smell receptors, whereas cats have around 80 million, and dogs have a whopping 300 million! When a pet loses some sensory function, it can lead to confusion and anxiety. While there are diseases that can be managed or prevented, sometimes there isn’t much we can offer to stop the sensory losses from occurring.

Thankfully there are some tricks that can help our older dogs and cats compensate better and feel comfortable living with their blindness, deafness, or hyposmia (decreased sense of smell). Decreased smell can affect behavioral interactions with other pets and appetite. Some pets will be so disoriented by sensory loss that they seem to get lost in their own home. A blind pet may not feel comfortable being as active. And sensory loss is often associated with increases in anxiety, especially for pets with multiple deficits. The good news is that, with a minimal investment, there are things you can do today to qualitatively improve the way your pet experiences these challenges. Try thinking outside the box for solutions, and feel free to discuss your concerns with us. Below we’ve listed just a few things that some people have found helpful.

Some Tricks for the blind pet:

  • Try to combine verbal and visual cues when training your pet and reinforce these often throughout their lifetime. This way should vision be lost, you still have a way to communicate with your pet. If you have more than one pet in the house, recognize that your blind pet may have a harder time understanding when commands are directed toward her. Always preface commands with her name.
  • Rearranging furniture can be really stressful to a blind pet. They create virtual maps in their heads to navigate. If moving furniture is unavoidable, help your pet learn the new layout by guiding him around safely.
  • Use a short leash on walks. Blind dogs cannot communicate as effectively with other dogs because they can’t see the body language. Blind dogs may be startled when neighbors approach suddenly. Have your dog wear a vest stating that he is blind and should be approached respectfully.
  • Try having your pet wear a Halo device: it’s like a walking stick for your dog, preventing her from smacking her head into objects as she navigates. This will sometimes be all that is needed to get that blind pet from sitting in a safe corner all day to up and moving around with the family.
  • Use smell to signal to your pet certain pathways or hazards: choose a particular scent to signal what you want, and keep it consistent. Tracerz Scent markers can be used to line hallways or mark obstacles.

Some tricks for other sensory deficits:

  • Try to combine verbal and visual cues when training your pet and reinforce these often throughout their lifetime. This way should hearing be lost, you still have a way to communicate with your pet.
  • Be aware if some very low or very high pitch noises or vibrations adversely affect your pet. If noise phobias develop, make sure to provide your pet a safe hide-away or is allowed other coping strategies. If your pet still can’t settle in a reasonable amount of time, please talk to us about what other options are available.
  • Moisture is needed to help with the trapping of smells. If your pet has a very dry nose, he may have more difficulty smelling properly. Keep the noise moist. Heat food with a little water to help him eat better (this is especially true for cats).

We understand the special considerations geriatric pets have. We hope this information is helpful. If there are any other questions you have, please talk to us! Being a part of the conversation is the most important role for us as your veterinarian.