Things that go bump in the house
Kristen’s Kritters — Living With A Blind Dog
Chris Hall / Metroland
DURHAM — It’s safe to say, we never saw it coming.
Of all the concerns we had for our dalmatian, we never expected him to go suddenly blind — overnight, as it turned out.
A happy Dexter dog went to bed on a cold March Saturday night, tired from playing in the living room while the Toronto Maple Leafs skated to a solid win over Anaheim.
The next morning, however, everything changed in his world and ours.
As humans, we’re visual species. When we think about losing our vision, it’s devastating. I’m sure for a dog, it’s upsetting, but they’re phenomenal creatures and adapt very well. Dr. Tara Richards
We woke up to a dog trembling in his own bed, laying in a mess of urine. His eyelids were clamped shut over his amber eyes, unwilling — or unable — to open them. He looked like he was squinting to keep out the sunlight.
Scared, we had no idea what was wrong with Dexter. We rushed him downstairs and into the backyard where he seemed stunned and dazed. He tried to open his eyes, which went suddenly cloudy in the bright morning light.
Unknowingly, we had just been given a crash introduction to canine glaucoma.
At the emergency clinic in Newmarket, a vet technician studied Dexter and said it seemed like he was suffering from a massive migraine. A vet there suspected acute glaucoma — capable of rendering a dog blind in only hours — but referred us to the Veterinary Emergency Clinic in downtown Toronto, where that diagnosis was soon confirmed.
In simple terms, glaucoma is a serious eye disease where fluid in the eye is produced faster than it can be removed, which leads to a sustained increase in intraocular pressure. That increasing pressure causes degenerative changes to the optic nerve and the retina.
Medications were administered in an effort to relieve the pressure. A needle was poked into Dexter’s eyes in an attempt to remove the fluid. Nothing worked.
In a matter of hours after waking up on Sunday morning, we learned that his left eye could not be saved. His right eye would probably meet the same fate.
Soon, the veterinarian, Dr. Tara Richards, an ophthalmologist at VEC, was on the phone introducing us to a variety of new terms — the scariest being enucleation: surgery to remove both eyes that would see Dexter forever blind, his eyelids sewn shut.
Throughout our discussions, Dr. Richards repeatedly stressed the ordeal is harder on the owners than the pets. Then she pleaded with us not to euthanize him (it was never a consideration) because he was a happy, healthy dog who could manage just fine without his eyes.
“It’s a common thought that goes through most people’s minds, especially when their dog is losing complete vision,” said Dr. Richards of the initial euthanasia reaction.
Out of “numerous” glaucoma cases, Dr. Richards said she only failed once in persuading a pet owner not to put their dog down.
“As humans, we’re visual species. When we think about losing our vision, it’s devastating,” she said. “I’m sure for a dog, it’s upsetting, but they’re phenomenal creatures and adapt very well.”
Dr. Richards was right. Glaucoma may have robbed Dexter of his sight, but certainly not his life.
Six months after he returned home, Dexter is Dexter again.
His disability is more of an after-thought than an ongoing concern.
In his head, he has mapped out our house and yard entirely, turning corners, ascending stairs, locating his favourite chair and, of course, finding his food bowl, with no problems.
He bumps into things occasionally, but that’s more our fault than his — Rule No. 1 with a blind dog: Never move the furniture or place objects in his way.
It’s interesting to see his other senses at work. His nose now probably is his best guide, but touch would be a close second. He knows that the cobblestone pathway through the yard will take him to the deck and the house. When he finds the throw rug in the living room, he can turn right and end up on his chair or left and wander into the kitchen.
Perhaps we missed the warning signs — a dog uncharacteristically rubbing its eyes with paws or against furniture, swelling of the eye, irritability and loss of appetite — but we’ll never know for sure.
What we do know is we still have Dexter.
Our lives have changed, sure. He is more dependent than ever on us — he depends on us to warn him of impending cranium crackers — but he’s still the same dog.
A dog going blind is not the end of the world.
Perhaps, maybe, Dr. Richards was right: This entire ordeal was harder on us than on Dexter.
We would have never saw that coming.
AN INTRODUCTION TO GLAUCOMA
The age at which glaucoma can strike depends on the breed, with most dogs experiencing their first symptoms around middle age, between four and six.
The most common breeds affected include cocker spaniels, dalmatians, basset hounds and Boston terriers.
The cause of glaucoma can be broken down evenly into two categories: hereditary, meaning it’s in the dog’s genes, or through some sort of disease.
For dog breeds prone to glaucoma, it’s advisable to get their intraocular pressure checked regularly during annual vet visits. Even if there’s no sign of glaucoma, an ongoing history of the eye pressure can help track changes in your dog’s eyes.
And, most importantly, keep a close eye on your dog, said Dr. Tara Richards.
“A dog with red eyes, that’s not normal,” she said. “It needs to be seen by a vet.”