My husband and I adopted Sam, a 5 year old Shih Tzu cross in May 2015. He’s clever and sweet and we’re just crazy about him.
At Christmas time he began suffering an eye infection that just wouldn’t go away. After a few weeks of failed attempts to treat it, my vet sent me to a specialist who identified the problem. Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca. Or, in English, his tear ducts had stopped working. It’s an autoimmune disease and there are few effective treatments. Also, as you can imagine, it’s very painful.
For four months, we tried to save Sam’s eyes. I’ll spare you all the details, but it was an ordeal. There was a surgery, many different drug treatments, weekly vet visits and through it all, poor Sam had to wear the cone of shame.
For FOUR MONTHS that poor dog was coned up. But all the while, his eyes got worse.
We had to decide between a surgery that might have bought him a few more years of vision and removing his eyes. Because he’s young and we knew that he would spend most of his life blind no matter what we did, we decided to skip any more interventions and remove his eyes. We just wanted the ordeal to end and for Sam to start carrying on pain-free.
We were worried sick. Sights like this helped A LOT. Which is why I’m sharing this story now, because the best part is coming up!
The surgery was tough, it’s a fairly traumatic surgery in several ways. And, for the first couple of weeks, everything was hard. We got great advice from this site and others. The best advice by far was to just let Sam figure it out for himself and resist the temptation to do everything for him.
But then, this amazing thing happened. After two weeks, we could take the cone off and Sam could finally put his nose to the ground. That changed EVERYTHING! He gained confidence overnight and his mood improved remarkably. At 3 weeks, he could find his way around the house and maneuver his way around furniture. At 4 weeks, he sniffed out one of his toys and started playing with it. Something he hadn’t done since he’d gotten the cone on 5 months before. We were so relieved. He was wagging his tail all the time. And we knew we had made the right decision to remove his eyes.
I feel a little silly saying this about a dog, but I’m so proud of Sam. He’s approached all the challenges with patience and persistence. He still bumps into things all the time but he just bounces back and goes around the obstacle. People are always surprised to learn that he’s totally blind, he seems like every other dog at the park, sniffing around, peeing on trees, making friends with other dogs. He’s even gone back to his favourite hobby of trying to catch flies! I guess he was always relying on his hearing for that before anyway. And, to be honest, I don’t know if he’s EVER actually caught one, with or without vision. But it makes him so happy.
He’s no harder to look after than he was before. We had to make a few adjustments to the way we communicate with him but I barely have to think about it now. I would compare it to the adjustments we make to accommodate any dog and their personality or specific needs.
I made up this game for Sam where I throw a little treat for him and he has to find it. He can hear it roll away then he locates its exact spot with his nose. He’s SO GOOD at it now! I can throw treats across the house and he just happily snuffles about until he finds them. I recommend it if you have a blind dog.
So that’s our happy ending! Sam is happy and adjusted. I don’t think his quality of life has been affected at all. He seems like the exact same dog he was before he got sick.
If you’re on this site because your dog has gone blind or is about to go blind, I FEEL YOU. It’s so scary and you feel so afraid and worried and guilty. It is so hard to watch our little creatures suffer. But they can amaze us too! They live in the moment and approach adversity directly.
I hope our happy ending can help ease your worries about your own little one.