Sight Loss in a Dog: My Dog Can’t See, But She Isn’t Blind … To Our Love—Cleo’s Story

Most diabetic dogs develop cataracts and go blind.

Normally, the lens of the eye absorbs glucose it need from fluids in the eye. Excess glucose in the fluid is converted to other forms. With too much sugar present, these converted forms draw water into the lens, disrupting clarity. Eventually the lens become opaque.

More information: Cataracts in Diabetic Dogs

Thank you, Sharon Castellanos, for sharing Cleo’s story.

Sight Loss in a Dog: My Dog Can't See, But She Isn't Blind ... To Our Love—Cleo's Story

Cleo’s story

My dog Cleo has always been clumsy. 

Starting the day we brought her home from our San Francisco SPCA she has rushed into closed doors, bumped her head into tables, stumbled off curbs, tripped over shoes, and generally got into as much clumsy mischief as an 85 lb. Husky-Shepherd dog could.

She chased a squirrel up a tree once, and couldn’t figure out how to get down. There was a moment on a beach excursion when Cleo didn’t see a wave coming and found herself under water for a few seconds. A few years ago at a friend’s house, her interest in the bathroom trash can pull Cleo into a space that was so narrow and awkward for her big body that when she turned around to leave, her butt and tail closed the door. She silently and patiently stayed behind the bathroom door waiting for them to find her. Cleo has a deep ability to trust her caregivers.

Cleo has cataracts

Today, my senior dog still gets into much of the same mischief as before only at a slower pace, and without most of her vision.

Cleo was diagnosed with diabetes over two years ago. 

We have managed it well with daily insulin injections and a balanced diet, but it caused her to develop cataracts quickly. We’ve considered taking her to an ophthalmologist to see if she’d be a good candidate for cataract surgery but we have not. I’m concerned about her going through the surgery and the recovery, besides being wary of whether the results would have enough of a positive impact on the quality of her life to be worth the stress on us both. We don’t know her exact age but she is definitely close to 13 years old — which is elderly for a big dog.

What difference would surgery make for Cleo?

If the ophthalmologist thought she’d do well with the surgery, would be able to see that chair, or that corner of the couch, or the stairs, significantly increase the quality of her life? Would she bump into objects any less? Would her confidence increase? Who can really say? We certainly know any increase in vision will not reverse the ache in her aging joints from arthritis.

Holistic approach

Instead, we choose to focus more on what we know she enjoys, and give her a good life — each day we have together. We’re celebrating what we have with her, and accepting her as she is, an aging dog who is still sweet-natured, loving to all, food motivated and curious about the smells that surround her.

Accommodating sight loss

We cope on a practical scale with Cleo’s blindness by not moving furniture. 

We’ve taught her useful words such as “step” to use negotiating stairs or sidewalk curb. We praise all of her excursions along the hallway leading from the front of the house to the back. We also have modified our schedules so someone is always at home with her.

Pets, in my book, whether they are cats, bunnies, fish or a cute dog, are a gift to human-kind. They make wonderful teachers, if you just stop for a second, and let them. If they happen to be blind, or without a complete set of legs, or whatever, it just means you are in for a treat. You know why?

Sight Loss in a Dog: My Dog Can't See, But She Isn't Blind ... To Our Love—Cleo's Story

Because they use their ability to problem solve in really unique and joyful ways!

These skills can be very translatable to humans too. We’re often learning something new about ourselves from life with Cleo. I’ve become much more compassionate towards my father’s own struggles managing his diabetes. So the next time you feel sorry for a disabled dog, don’t.

They don’t want our pity, they’re social creatures and want our attention. And probably a treat.

Though our dog Cleo doesn’t see much with her eyes, she isn’t blind to our affectionate gestures. She can hear love in our tone of voice. I know she can feel my parental attention when I groom her and check her over for any new lumps or hotspots.

I believe Cleo copes well with her vision loss because of our holistic approach to her quality of life — and that is what I care about the most.

Related articles:
Causes of Cloudy Eyes in Dogs: What’s Happening To My Dog’s Eyes?

Further reading:
Cataracts in Diabetic Dogs

Categories: BlindnessCataractsConditionsDiabetesReal-life Stories

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

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