January 02, 2024 | General

Caring for a Blind or Deaf Pet: Tips and Tricks

Whether they have been that way since birth, or have lost their hearing or sight through age, illness or accident, dogs are amazing at adapting. Living with and training a blind or deaf dog can be a hugely rewarding experience. In this article, we will explore how to properly care for a blind or deaf pet using tips and tricks provided by experts.

A blind dog lying down on soft throw

Blind and Deaf Dogs

Caring for a Blind Dog

Looking after a blind dog isn't that different from a sighted one, but there are some things that you can do to make life a little safer for your friend, and some things that can make life more interesting by providing alternative stimuli in place of sight.

The UK Charity “Blind Dog Rescue“  Advises that no matter how it seems or feels, your dog's blindness is much harder on you than it is for him/her. Eyesight ranks only 3rd in importance compared to smell and hearing to your dog.

Safety and Environment

  • If you have other pets at home, add a bell to the collar of other pets so your blind dogs can easily tell where they are.

  • Sew 1 or 2 bells onto an elastic ponytail band to slip onto your own ankle, or attach a  bell to shoelaces, so your blind dog can hear where you are walking.

  • Leave a TV or radio playing softly near the pet's bed. It helps them to orient themselves if the sound is always coming from the same place.

  • If your dog uses a crate - turn it on its side, so that the door opens "up" and you can bungee the door in place. This way, your dog doesn't need to worry that the door may only be partially open. 

  • If you have a smaller dog, avoid picking him/her up to "help" them get to food or other areas. They need to learn on their own and actually become very confused when picked up and set down.

  • Get down on the floor and crawl around at the dog's eye level to find anything that might be dangerous. Do the same in your garden. Look for low branches etc that could poke the eyes. Corners of coffee tables are particularly hazardous in the home. Sharp corners on coffee tables, furniture legs etc can be padded with bubble wrap or foam pipe insulation from a hardware shop.

  • Some dogs do become "depressed" at first when they go blind (this is normal) but you can help by trying to keep up their routine as normal as possible. If they love to go for walks, go for a walk.

  • Use a short lead to avoid them tripping over the leash. It's not usually needed, but you can thread the dog's leash through a few feet of PVC pipe to make a rigid leash for "directing" in a specific direction.

  • If you've always enjoyed moving your furniture around, now would be a good time to pick your "favourite” layout. This can help keep things in the same location for your blind dog. You should also try to keep floors clutter-free.

  • Use a baby gate to block stairs until your dog has mastered them.

  • A carpet runner down a hallway, concrete basement floor etc can make a great "runway" for playing with a ball indoors. Your dog will know that as long as they are on the "runway" it is safe to go full blast.

  • Carpet sample squares are cheap and while your dog is learning the layout of the house, put carpet squares in the doorways going into each room to make it easier to find the door openings.

  • Plastic placemats placed under the food and water bowls will help your dog to feel when they are right up close to the bowls.

  • There are a number of companies that make pet fountains that make it easier for your dog to "hear" the water running when they want to drink. 

  • For eye protection when outdoors, hiking etc, where there are low-growing shrubs or twigs, ‘Doggles’ can protect the eyes, or consider, an eye shield. Start them wearing for short periods with treats to get used to them.

  • If your dog is extremely anxious at first, there are some natural products that can be used to calm him. These products include Adaptil Calm Collars and the home Adaptil Calm Diffuser.

  • Try to have something familiar to the dog, for example, a toy, blanket or bed for comfort when going to a strange new place.

Commands and training

  • Hearing your voice is very soothing, so talk to your blind dog often. Let him know when you are walking out of a room etc. Even just some "silly chatter" is enjoyable to them, but remember to sound cheery rather than worried.

  • Remember to speak to your dog when you are approaching to touch them (especially while sleeping) to prevent startling them.

  • Start teaching your dog new "help words" (your choice of words) like "Stop" - "Step up" - "Step down" - "Easy" - "Careful" - "Danger" - "Right" - "Left" etc. Just start to say the words right from the start and they will quickly associate "stop" with bumping into something so learn to stop.

  • If you want a blind dog to step or jump down from a small height such as a step, tap on the floor so that they can judge the distance by sound.

Stimulation and play

  • If your dog loves to play with a ball, try using a scented one, or scent your own with vanilla, or even a bit of bacon grease or other food.

  • Rubber balls with an internal bell are great for ball-orientated dogs, for example, the Kong Tennis Ball Squeak Air.

  • Throw a ball down and allow it to bounce close enough for your dog to follow the sound, or try kicking the ball through grass or gravel.

  • Teach your dog "new" things to make life even more fun. Try clicker training, a great training tool and confidence builder.

  • Kong toy is a great way to keep your dog happy and busy.

Caring for a Deaf Dog

Deafness at birth (known as congenital deafness) is often inherited in some breeds. How this condition is inherited is not fully understood, but is believed to be controlled by many different genes, possibly with additional breed-specific risk factors.

The BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response) test is used to check the hearing of a dog. The test checks if the brain responds to noise (usually a clicking sound) and is a reliable way to see if a dog is deaf and to what extent. The test does not measure the full range of a dog's hearing, it only checks noises in the normal human range (some dogs will test as ‘deaf’ but can still hear very high-pitched noises).

The most important thing to remember with a deaf dog is that the dog is deaf. This may seem obvious, but we bear a special responsibility to deaf dogs. They cannot hear traffic or a honking car horn, so they must never be given an opportunity to be off-leash on or near a street.

Deafness in Dalmatian Puppies

A study has revealed a marked improvement in the number of deaf dogs born in one of the world’s most recognisable breeds.

The research, carried out as part of a collaboration between the Kennel Club and the Animal Health Trust, examined the number of cases of deafness in Dalmatian puppies, how common it is and how this has changed over time. The study, the largest of its kind, analysed 26 years’ worth of hearing test data from nearly 9,000 Kennel Club-registered Dalmatians.

Living with a deaf dog

  • Be considerate: Deaf dogs can be startled if touched when they are not expecting it, you need to gently get their attention without scaring them. Where possible, move your position so that you are in their line of vision.

  • Make touch positive: Try not to interact with your dog when you are angry or feeling frustrated. They are likely to sense this and become worried or confused.

  • Let others know what your dog needs: Don’t allow people to come straight over to your deaf dog. Always allow your dog to see the person first and approach the person in their own time, if they choose to.

  • Keep your dog on a lead in public: This will minimise the risk of them getting into difficulty or lost or confused 

  • Use Hand Signals: Your dog will not be able to hear you give him commands, so it's important to teach him hand signals for effective communication. The proper hand signals can help your dog learn any commands a hearing dog might be able to perform.

  • Teach Focus: Because your deaf dog can't hear your voice, you must rely on visual cues like hand signals or other body language to communicate. But your dog can't see your signals if they aren't looking at you. The first step in training a deaf dog is teaching them to focus on you.

Blindness in Cats

There are many different things that can cause blindness in cats. Some cause blindness gradually, such as cataracts, and others very suddenly, such as retinal detachment and head trauma. Cats that lose their sight gradually often learn to adapt and lead a normal, happy life by using their hearing, whiskers, and set routes around the house. Cats that go blind suddenly often struggle and take longer to adapt.

Advice from Cat Professional

Cat Professional was founded in 2007 by Dr Sarah Caney and is dedicated to providing specialist feline veterinary care and advice to both cat owners and veterinary professionals alike.

They have produced an excellent book 'Caring for a blind cat' that has been written as an ideal information source and support tool for cat owners whose cats are visually impaired or blind.

Deafness in Cats

  • To wake a sleeping deaf cat, touch the area around them rather than the cat itself. This is less likely to startle them.

  • Approach your cat with heavy footsteps to make sure they are aware of you approaching. A deaf cat can be easily startled. If you are close to the cat, a sharp hand clap or stamping on the floor might be enough to get their attention.

  • Keeping your deaf cat inside is advisable as they are unable to hear danger signals such as cars and other animals. Ensure they are microchipped to identify them in case they escape and if needed, set up a secure section of the garden or outside run for them to safely play in. For cats living indoors, it is vital you keep them stimulated with interactive toys and puzzle feeders to avoid boredom.

  • Deaf cats can learn to recognise hand signals or the flashing of a torch if they can’t hear you calling them. Make sure the signal you choose to call your cat is distinct and consistent so they don’t get confused. You can also use a laser toy to signal to your deaf cat.

Are all white cats deaf?

Interestingly, deaf cats who are white and have blue eyes make up around just 1-1.5% of the total cat population. Due to their genetic makeup, a white cat with blue eyes is 3-5 times more likely to be deaf than a cat with different coloured eyes. While there is no treatment for hereditary deafness in cats, most cats adapt well to their condition.

According to PocketVet veterinary nurse Joy Howell DipAVN(Surgical) RVN EA SQP, disabilities will vary from pet to pet:

“The level of your pet’s disability might vary. They might be completely deaf or blind or just have reduced ability. Either way, considerate communication will help them to understand the world around them. This, in turn, will help them to live happily alongside you.”

Medically reviewed by:


Blind Dog Rescue UK

BAER testing | Health | The Kennel Club

Tips for owning a deaf or blind dog

Blindness in cats - PDSA

Inherited Deafness in White Cats | International Cat Care

How to Care for Deaf Cats | Disabled Cats | Cats Protection

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