Ask Tom, the Dogcharmer: Angus

Dealing with blindness.

Angus is a 14-year-old Boston Terrier who is going blind due to cataracts. —Hallie MacCormack

Dear Dogcharmer,

I have a two-part question.

My 14-year-old Boston terrier, Angus, has slowly gone blind over the past year and a half due to cataracts. He’s probably about 95 percent blind now, and quite deaf as well. He’s in pretty good shape otherwise, according to my vet. He scratches compulsively every time he gets to a new location, but he eventually calms down. I’m wondering, could this be connected to anxiety due to his blindness?

What can I do to help Angus adapt to his blindness? I feel guilty that I can’t spend the $6,000 to have his cataracts removed.

On that note, I wonder, if I had pet health insurance, if that surgery would be a possibility. How much does it typically cover? Do they typically have a pre-existing condition clause? I’ve heard widely conflicting reports about the benefits of the insurance, and that many vets don’t take it.


O.B. Barry

Dear O.B. Barry,

First of all, lose the guilt. At age 14, Angus has already had a very long, happy life with you. A few years back a vet called to tell me about one of our mutual-client dogs that had sudden retina degeneration and would be totally blind within two weeks. This was a 6-year-old shih tzu named Billy, in otherwise excellent health. The vet then told me that the dog’s owner would need more help than the dog, and I knew exactly what she meant. Pity never helps; it weakens the one you pity, man or dog. When I met the owner of the soon-to-be-blind dog, I told her in no uncertain terms that if she gushed all over the dog with depressed pity, it would delay the dog’s ability to adapt to its new life, and dogs are very adaptable.

I told her to imagine a 30-year-old man is blinded in an accident and gets a guide dog to help him adapt. Does the dog show pity to the blind man in any way? No! The guide dog’s attitude is, “You’re blind, that’s why I’m here, to help you adapt and get on with your life. Let’s get started.” So I told the lady to give her dog plenty of love, but keep it upbeat. I then told her to get any type of carpet runners, about two feet wide, for her apartment, and lay them down connecting all of the dog’s “safe and happy” zones.

The runners should enable Billy to go from his food bowls to where his toys are, to his favorite places to hang out, including a large spot where sun came through the window most afternoons, to where he sleeps.

Then I suggested that she get concentrated vanilla and lemon extract drops and put a drop of the vanilla every few feet along the runners. The lemon drops were to be put on the danger zones such as wall corners, near the bottom of chair and table legs, the places to help Billy avoid bumping into. The more Billy moves around the apartment without bumping into things, the more comfortable and confident he will become with his new situation.

Plus, having trained and used dogs to find missing people for 25 years, I’m convinced that the nose is most important and will actually get more efficient at reading the world around him with the loss of sight and/or hearing. My five-pound dog MacDuff is almost 14 years old, and has been blind for three years. From observation, I believe he can feel an air-pressure change as he approaches a wall outdoors. With the loss of sight, I believe, all kinds of sensitivities are heightened.

As for Angus scratching when in new locations, it is very likely an anxiety response. So are yawning and tongue-flicking, when a dog is a bit nervous. I am a strong proponent of pet insurance, but would not recommend it for you at this juncture. It’s amazing that health insurance companies (for people) were able to get away with not covering pre-existing diseases until Obamacare. To me, not covering pre-existing negates the whole concept of insurance! Unfortunately, pet insurance still gets away with it; they won’t cover anything Angus was ever seen by a vet for. As for coverage, it varies with the company and the deductible you choose. I have 90 percent coverage with a $500 deductible. Stay upbeat with Angus, O.B. Barry, and he should do fine.

Best of luck,

The Dogcharmer

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