Coping With Cat Blindness

Although there are different reasons for blindness, most cats can live with this disability very well.

Blindness can affect kittens. By: Daffydus
Blindness can affect kittens. By: Daffydus

May was rescued from a Hartford street corner in the middle of the night by Animal Friends of Connecticut (AFOC).

Some lowlife had been trying to sell the little buff-and-white cat, her mom and 6 kittens — some of whom were clearly May’s, even though she was only 9 months to 1 year old.

But the main issue was that May was blind. Her eyes had been poked out. Still, she was able to take care of 2 of the kittens. And she quickly found a home with 2 AFOC volunteers who doted on her.

“She does very well,” says AFOC Director Judy Levy. “Blind cats do — from what I understand, they get along beautifully. They have other senses that seem to take over.”

Not Just 1 Kind of Blindness

With cats, as with humans, there are many types of blindness. There is sudden blindness, caused by a burst blood vessel in the eye or a severe blow to the head. Boris, our old red tabby, was already blind in 1 eye when he wandered into our backyard many years ago: the retina had been completely severed, and our vet believed that he had either been hit by a car or a really nasty excuse for a human being.

Once in a very great while, an antibacterial medication called enroflaxin can damage the retina, triggering blindness. A lot of times, however, it’s not so much a case of sudden blindness as it is one of “suddenly noticed blindness,” according to the specialists at the Cornell Feline Health Center at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

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“Truly sudden blindness usually occurs overnight or over the course of a few days,” explains Thomas Kern, DVM, an associate professor of ophthalmology there.

“The suddenly noticed variety, on the other hand, is a progressive condition. The cats with it, tend, in Kern’s experience, “to be elderly cats with chronic hypertension, which can cause eventual detachment of the retina and bleeding in the back of the eye. The changes may not be acute at first, but they progress over time to where the last bit of vision goes and the cat seems to have suddenly gone blind. In retrospect, it will occur to the owner that the cat hasn’t been doing this or that for a while.”

Cataracts fall into this last category. By the time our Zorro died at 19, his vision was extremely limited. Our vet guessed he could make out shapes and not a whole lot else. This didn’t seem to faze our old codger-cat, however, and he went about his daily routine pretty much as he always did.

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Living With a Blind Cat

Initially, cats who lose their sight will probably experience some confusion and distress. But they adapt quickly. May “goes up and down the scratching post,” Levy tells me.

“She plays. She knows where her food is. She knows where her litter box is. And the woman she’s with has found a way to let her know when it’s night or day. She plays the radio during the day, and she turns it off at night.”

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Here are some pointers that will make life easier for your blind cat:

  • Don’t move the furniture. It will only confuse the cat.
  • Keep food, water and litter boxes accessible. If you have a big place, add a litter box.
  • Don’t make sudden or noisy approaches. Children in particular have to be made aware of this.
  • Don’t leave shoes and clutter lying around.
  • Keep the cat indoors. This shouldn’t really need saying. But there are people who let declawed cats outside, so somewhere there is probably a challenged soul or 2 who wouldn’t think twice about doing the same with a blind one.

This video shows Jonas, a blind cat, navigating around his house effortlessly:

A blind cat can still have a good life, and no one know this better than Gwen Cooper, who wrote about a very beloved blind cat in Homer’s Odyssey (2009). Homer died last year, but his story continues to inspire many cat lovers to adopt blind and disabled cats.

“A kitten who’s blind from a young age will probably never realize that she’s ‘different,’” observed Cooper, “and even older cats can adjust quite well to vision loss, as long as they have loving homes.”

T.J. Banks

View posts by T.J. Banks
T.J. Banks is the author of several books, including Catsong, which received a Merial Human–Animal Bond Award. A contributing editor to laJoie, T.J. has also received writing awards from the Cat Writers’ Association, ByLine and The Writing Self. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including Chicken Soup for the Single Parent’s Soul and A Cup of Comfort for Women in Love, and T.J. has worked as a stringer for the Associated Press, as an instructor for the Writer’s Digest School and as a columnist.

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