How to Help Dog adjust to loss of an Eye

Dogs can lose vision in an eye for many reasons, ranging from accidents to disease. In Bouvier we worry about Glaucoma, which usually appears first in one eye, resulting in loss of vision, and later will very likely appear in the second eye, again resulting in loss of vision.
Here an experienced Bouvier and Border Collie person who herds with her dogs asks how her Border Collie is likely to adjust to loss of one eye (due to a tumor). Another Bouvier person , whose Bouvier had lost an eye to Glaucoma, replies.
I have permission to use this material, which I present slightly abridged and with a bit of added information in brackets {...}

How to Help Dog adjust to loss of an Eye

from Pepper's person (Kathy)

First, thanks to the many of you who wrote with ideas, recommendations and just general good wishes.
Pepper {Border Collie, 8 years old} and I just spent 2 days driving and staying in Urbana IL at the U of Illinois vet hospital.
It turned out that Pepper had a mass in the "bad eye" (technical details available if anyone wants them). So, this morning the eye was removed. The mass could be an inflammatory mass, a benign tumor, a cancer that is unlikely to spread or a cancer that is nastier. We'll know in a week or two when lab results gets back. Two good signs are that the mass was entirely within the "globe" and that Pepper's lung x-rays were clear.
I am very, very happy with the expertise of the vets (one has a border collie and I am sending her info on stock work and other things), the vet students and the staff. I am also very impressed with the way they managed Pepper and her case. They sent her home with strict instructions not to work sheep for 2 weeks (I think they understood!).
Thanks again for all the support ... and any hints on how much a one-eyed dog can do with sheep.


from Wyatt's person (Barb)

Barb's response :

Remember, Wyatt {Bouvier} lost the vision in his left eye from glaucoma at the age of 10 months. The eye was removed at 17 months. Less than a year later I took him to Ewetopia in WA to play with sheeps. 3 runs a day (approx. 10-15 minutes each), 4 days a week for 3 weeks -- he had never been near a sheep before then -- and he was able to move FIFTY sheep around a large enclosed field on his final run. Moved them through a break in two panels without losing a one, then drove them into their pen area.

Now, it would be incredibly dangerous for a one-eyed dog to work cattle. But sheeps, especially for an experienced dog, should be no problem.

Pepper will need some time to adjust and will likely change her style, so be patient as she experiments. And encourage her a lot if she gets frustrated. I'd say work with your heaviest, most dependable sheep for awhile.

Things that really helped Wyatt regain a sense of where the blind side of his head/body were:

Expect Pepper to startle for a time when come upon or touched on the blind side. Work atÝ1 & 2 a lot at first to desensitize to that.

Good news is, herding breeds have excellent peripheral vision, so that will help her adjustment. I found that Wyatt quickly figured out to put dogs (and eventually sheep) on his blind side so he could keep track of them mostly by hearing, and use the good eye for keeping track of potential obstacles.




A few added comments from me (Pam) :

When you walk her in public situations where there is a lot going on, she may feel safer if her blind side is next to you and her sighted side away from you. Since it is her right eye that is gone, if you already have her walking on your left side, that won't need to be changed. A dog who had lost vision in the left eye might need to switch to walking on the handler's right side

While most people appreciate the risks of working cattle , because of their size their horns and their propensity for kicking, not everyone realizes that sheep too can injure a dog or person. I'd avoid working sheep with horns and I'd also advise that you don't work her on any mean sheep that likes to wham into dogs broadside. You will have to watch out for her safety a bit more than you have been doing. Start her on your most cooperative sheep and be prepared to assist her. Initially she might be less confident than she used to be, but she will probably adjust and re-gain confidence.

I've read of dogs who continued to work sheep after going totally blind. these were dogs already well trained , so handler could talk them out to the sheep on the outrun.

I'd be curious to know if this will effect the degree of "strong eye" she shows. It has been my theory that BCs with strong eye tend to be obsessively focused on the binocular field of vision and somewhat ignore the peripheral fields, while loose-eyed dogs pay more or less equal attention to the peripheral fields as to the binocular field. That's one theory of why it is easier to get a loose eyed Bouv to do a shed or a look back than it is to do so with a strong eyed BC or Kelpie. Now of course Pepper won't really have binocular vision, though the field that would have been binocular is still visible to the remaining eye. Without binocular vision, that field will lack depth perception , but she should learn to compensate by using other cues to judge distance.

Finally, for a completely blind dog, I have seen caretakers who would tap a step up or down with their foot and say "step". I guess one does not need to say "up" or "down" because the dog's hearing tells him that.

Honey lost both eyes to glaucoma

One of my former foster dogs lost first one eye and later the second eye to glaucoma. Her adopter used the "step" cue and physically guided her for the more difficult steps into the van. I don't have a full report from her. But Honey lived many years, well loved and cared for tenderly.

Annie's loss of an eye to glaucoma

In late March of 2019, I noticed that Annie's left eye had a very bloodshot sclera. The right eye seemed normal. I sent photo of this to Dr David Maggs, DVM , veterinary opthamologist at UC Davis VMTH. He got us an appointment within a day or two, quite possibly because from that photo he suspected glaucoma. At her exam, it was obvious that she did have glaucoma. Attempts were made to bring her intraocular pressure down with repeated doses of medication, but this was unsuccessful. She was scheduled for surgery next morning, to remove this blind and painful eye.

Surery and recovery went very well. The appearance of the empty socket for the first days after surgery can be a shock if you are not prepared, as the socket fills with a lot of fluid. The removed eye was examined by Pathology and found to be primary glaucoma.

I felt terrible that I had not known she was in pain. She never gave any indication. But I was told that this is typical of glaucoma. And of course Bouviers tend to be stoic, and Annie was a very sedate and inexpressive dog. But after the eye was gone and the area healed up, she started to behave in a somewhat more "up" manner, indicating that she felt better. Again, I was told that it is typical of glaucoma that the prior pain is only evident when it is gone.

Annie had no noticable difficulty in adjusting to the loss of an eye. However that eye had been blind for some time. Probably the loss of vision was somewhat gradual, thus the adjustment gradual. Also, as I said, she's a very sedate dog, so not ever charging about with risk of running into an obstacle.

She was put on a medication schedule of an anti-inflamatory eye drop in morning and another eye drop that causes pupil to shrink down at night. These medications can hold off loss of pressure control in that eye for up to two and a half years (median), with possibility of a tricky surgery when pressure control was lost that could save sight.. For the next months we did a pressure check every 4 to 6 weeks, and her pressure stayed normal.

Annie was scheduled for a full re-check eye exam on 10/24/2019, but that morning she was found dead in my yard (she liked to sleep outdoors on the porch) when I went out to give her her morning eye medication. Totally without warning. A very sudden GDV.

Below is a photo of Annie Odin resting comfortably on her favorite bed on the porch. (I've blurred the background.) The big tag hanging on her collar has her name and VMTH ID number on one side and the VMTH phone number and "VMTH" on the other. The smaller tags are her name and my phone number. I left the hair over her missing eye long, hiding the empty socket.

Annie Odin resting on my porch


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 7/21/07 revised 7/21/07, 11/19/2019
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