Cats and other animals always amaze me at the way they adapt to disabilities. This is certainly the case when caring for one that loses their sight. Cats that go blind suddenly often need more time to adapt but, although it’s easier if they gradually lose their sight, we can still help with the transition when living with a blind cat.
Jane, first came in to my life when I volunteered to foster her for a animal charity. She was born with a virus that affected her eyes and eventually they became so infected they needed removing. Despite it seeming to be a devastating blow, she was free from discomfort and actually became much happier as a result. Fortunately for me, Jane has now become a permanent addition to the family and lives a full and enriched life.
Here are a few things I have learned along the way:
- Cats rely on all their other senses once they lose their sight. Take this into account when enhancing their environment. For example cats have an amazing sense of hearing which is far superior to ours. Their ability to locate the source of a sound is highly advanced so use toys that have bells or those that squeak. Many seem to like scrunched up foil or paper as they hear them and so can chase them around. Blind cats also quickly get to know your voice so calling their name and gently clapping your hands together at the same time can help them know where you are – blind cats can do a great recall!
- Water fountains can be a great way of letting a blind cat know where they can get a drink. But, as with all cats, a choice of drinking receptacle is a good idea as long as it’s not too deep!
- Provided you have a safe place, supervised access to outside can help stimulate other senses. Hearing birds overhead and just breathing in fresh air or sitting in the sun is beneficial. When outside, Jane often chases a dried up leaf that is blowing in the wind, probably fulfilling her predatory drive.
- Texture is important too. I find that having different and distinct areas to walk on helps with orientation. For example, I have placed Jane’s feed bowl on a ribbed mat so that she knows where she is in relation to it. I have also placed her cat tree on another textured mat which helps her locate it. Yes, she still climbs!
- Scent profile plays a big part in the lives of all cats. They mark their environment with their own unique scent using glands located in the flank of the body, feet, face and head. They lay trials around the home creating scent paths. So don’t be tempted to clean too vigorously as this will remove all the familiar scents that help a blind cat orientate and feel secure. Also make sure that you provide them with familiar locations to access scratch mats and posts so that they can mark them using the glands in their feet.
- Cats use their whiskers and the hairs above their eyes to get around. They do this by using them to detect objects and to pick up air currents. So it is important to keep these long and NEVER trim or cut them off. I witnessed the importance of these facial features when Jane had surgery. The hairs around her eyes needed shaving for the operation. During her recovery she bumped in to things that she hadn’t done before. Fortunately, as they grew things improved.
- Avoid picking your blind cat up too much. But, if you do, make sure you let them know that this is what you intend doing by giving them a verbal or tactile cue to prevent startling them. Make sure, when putting them back down, that you place them somewhere familiar. Choose a place that has a distinct texture for their feet to land like a fleece bed.
- A blind cat’s sense of smell is particularly well honed. Try using catnip-scented toys or give them an actual Nepeta plant (from where catnip comes) to rub themselves in. This can help provide stimulation and enjoyment. Some cat’s like to eat grass too so this is another useful thing to satisfy their needs. Choose one that is cat friendly. Ones that are grown from rye, barley, oat or wheat seeds are available to buy and can be placed it in an accessible planter.
- Take sensible precautions. Make sure that you don’t move furniture around and try to avoid leaving things around that your cat might bump in to. Don’t forget to shut cupboard doors and think about other health and safety measures such as keeping the toilet lid down! A collar with a bell on may help you know where they are so you don’t accidentally trip over them.
- Most importantly, remember that although blind cats do require some special needs, having one is extremely rewarding. Although we might think their quality of life has been impaired, they very often lead extremely fulfilled lives. In fact Jane has taught me a lot and never ceases to amaze me – despite her disability, she lives for the moment, rises to the challenge and enjoys life to the full! If you would like to learn more about feline behaviour take a look at my other articles and keep a look out for my forthcoming courses.