My dog Jake is blind - but he wasn’t born blind, and this story might give some reassurance to anyone with a dog losing their sight, or even someone perhaps taking on a dog who is already blind.

He was a normal puppy who came from a rescue centre, parents unknown, but he has the look of a lab/lurcher cross. He grew and grew, had boundless energy, and a typical walk to the local football field would include him being let off the lead by one of us, where he would thunder back to the other, ears flattened, tongue lolling out of a silly grin, and woe betide your knees if you stepped in his path! His greatest delight was tearing up boxes to get to a treat inside, or shredding soft doggy toys of their stuffing just for the hell of it.

Something wrong

We first noticed something was wrong when he started bumping into things, for instance going out on the lead he didn’t seem to realise the gate had yet to be opened and would blunder into it, whereas before he would have patiently waited while it was unlocked. He became less interested in his toys, and with really strong legs he would almost fly up onto the bed beforehand, but then didn’t seem so keen, preferring to ‘nose’ his way around the bed instead.

He didn’t look blind and he still had lovely deep brown eyes, but a trip to the vet and a subsequent appointment with a ‘doggy eye specialist’ confirmed he had progressive retinal atrophy, a genetic disease he would have inherited from one or both parents, and he would also get cataracts – a double whammy, although by the time the cataracts showed up, he was already blind.

He is now 13, having been blind for maybe 5 years or so, and has coped with two house moves in that time. He quickly mentally maps out his surroundings and is free – and capable – of finding his way around both the inside of the house and the garden, which is fenced – as is the pool. He has developed a curious ‘goose-step’ with his front feet to cope with steps he knows are coming up, he just starts it several steps before reaching them! On occasions he loses track of where he is - the garden is quite big - and will just sit down and bark now and again until someone comes to rescue him to put him back on course.

Other senses

He still has other senses to rely on - smell, touch and hearing - which have become more acute, and these go some way to compensate for lack of sight. He responds to food clattering in the bowl, and he still enjoys eating – we take him by the collar and position his muzzle over the food so he gets a good whiff, but he knows it is there and is eager to scoff it down before one of the other dogs gets a look-in. He sleeps a lot, sometimes with his eyes open, which is a bit spooky, but apparently quite normal.

If your dog is blind, it is recommended that you try not to change your floor plan, as he will have mentally programmed his route. Dog-proof sharp corners of furniture and mats with different textures will help him recognise where he is through his feet. Always keep his food and water in the same place, and a fountain-style water bowl constantly circulating water is practical for a blind dog because of the noise association. Having a tv or radio on in one particular room helps, and toys that squeak or make some sort of noise are particularly rewarding for playtime. Talk and touch gently so he doesn’t get startled.

Jake still likes a fuss, still enjoys a walk, no matter that it is a bit sedate these days as he wants to stop and sniff every blade of grass. He knows which one out of three beds is his, and still definitely gets up on the sofa when he can for a nap!