Frankie’s eyesight is failing, though I’m not sure to what extent. Although they’re not completely obscured, his lenses look cloudy. I’ve also noticed that Frankie is hesitant to jump off things as low as the mattress on the floor where we sleep. (Yes, when he had back problems years ago, I opted to put my bed on the floor rather than train Frankie not to jump up it. That’s for my sake as much as for his; I like waking up next to my little furry buddy).

He seems a bit more uncertain in general,  a little more irritable.

This encroaching sight limitation — ok, blindness — comes as no great surprise. Frankie is about 13 and he’s had diabetes for more than four and a half years. Cataracts are a side effect of both age and diabetes; sometimes they are the first sign of the disease, in fact.

There’s a possible solution to the problem: Cataract surgery. It’s a fairly simple procedure, and I thought maybe I could have it done as the same time as I had Frankie’s teeth cleaned, because putting him under anesthesia twice didn’t seem like a great idea at his age.

But when I called the veterinary specialist to get a quote on the price for cataract surgery and to find out about the possibility of having Frankie’s teeth cleaned at the same time, I got a nix on the dual procedures. Eye surgeons don’t want bacteria from the teeth migrating up while they’re trying to create a sterile environment. Which makes sense.

And then I got the sticker shock: It would cost about $4,000 to do both eyes. Not so simple, budget-wise. I can’t afford it. I can barely afford the teeth cleaning, about $600, but I know Frankie’s health and comfort are at stake when it comes to dental work. The eyesight issue is not so clear cut.

I’m deeply conflicted. There’s a part of me — the rational one — that knows this is more about me than about Frankie, about not wanting to accept that my once bright-eyed, perky pup is getting old. I imagine that when he seems distressed and wants something from me that he can’t express that he’s upset over his eyesight, that he wants me to make it come back.

Project much?

Of course he could also have early stage dementia, which cataract surgery wouldn’t improve. He would simply see where he is wandering better.

Then there’s the morbid superstition that if I were to go into debt –or I should say more debt — for  eye surgery, Frankie would immediately contract a fatal disease, leaving me broke as well as bereft.

But maybe you’re wondering about Frankie’s quality of life, as opposed to the state of my mental health.

Aside from the bouts of seeming to have some indeterminate need I can’t meet — maybe an existential crisis? — he seems fine. He’s still chasing his squeaky carrot, though he doesn’t run with it as far as he used to. He finds his way outside to his favorite bathroom spots in the yard, no problem. I’m far more likely to trip over him when he gets under my feet than he is to bump into anything.

And he’s never been interested in wandering when we go on walks. He’s always happy to trot along behind me on the leash. And that’s not changed.

He also continues to stare at me to psych me out.

Still, I’m trying to clear the floor of obstacles — stray shoes in the living room and bedroom, papers and books on the floor of my office. This is not a bad thing to do under any circumstances (as I said, I’m more likely to trip over stuff than Frankie is).  And I’m trying to stay rational and not let guilt blind me to the fact that I can’t control every aspect of my dog’s aging, but that I will continue to guide him and cater to his comfort as best I can.

Has anyone else dealt with vision loss in a dog or cat? Who had more trouble coping — you or your pet?

32 thoughts on “I’m My Dog’s Seeing-Eye Person”

  1. Shoot! I’m sorry to hear about Frankie’s eyes and the potential expense of fixing it. Goodness knows I understand veterinary financial dilemmas and debt. It seems to me that if he seems happy and isn’t hurting himself due to his vision cloudiness, then maybe it’s OK that you don’t fix it. Just be careful when he is around other people or other dogs since he might feel like they are “sneaking up” on him.

    1. Thanks, Rox. I guess one thing that’s good about having a fearful dog is that I never let people or other dogs approach too close to him anyway and if someone doesn’t observe that rule Frankie feels intruded upon anyway. He always hears people coming more than he sees them, I think. I’ll see him stop and perk up his ears and, sure enough, someone will come into sight after a minute or two.

  2. I’ve had dogs lose their sight as they grew older. They don’t seem to mind at all. That is what is so great about a dog with any disability. Life just goes on for them. Their world is scent mostly anyway.

    1. It’s true, Jan. I think if the sight impairment had come on suddenly, as it does with some diabetic dogs, that would have been more disconcerting but this is a more gradual process — and no doubt just part of life for Frankie.

  3. We haven’t gotten to this point yet with our boys, and it’s something I worry about handling gracefully when the time comes. I imagine when you’re as attached as you are to Frankie and I am to Buster and Ty it’s tough to separate emotions from reasoning. I think Jan has good advice – dogs experience the world with their noses, ears and mouths. For them sight might be equivalent to our sense of taste – we enjoy having it, but we’re not going to die without it. Unless his behavior changes and you see he’s not enjoying life anymore, I wouldn’t put him through the surgery.

    1. Thanks, Amy. If our dogs knew our angst over them, they would think we’re even more insane than they already think we are.

      I’ve sometimes played the “which sense could I give up” game and taste has never been at the top of my list. Hearing is the one I could probably most do without; I could still be a food writer, no problem.

  4. I’m sorry, Edie, that’s really tough. It’s so hard to know what is the right thing to do, and to find the balance between helping your dog and staying financially afloat. It sounds like Frankie is still faring well, despite the changes to his vision. Dogs seem to be so much better at coping with such things than people. I guess because they don’t dwell on the past as we do. My childhood dog lost her hearing when she was about 13. At the time there was nothing we could do about it medically and she managed just fine, living for another four years.

  5. Lily greyhound was losing her sight because of her uveitis. Her eyes were cloudy but as you know her spirit was vivid until the end. And her hearing although selective was sharp as she knew someone was at the front door long before I did.

    Focus on the teeth as that can cause bacterial issues and other health problems. Dogs adjust; they really do. We can learn a lot from their resilience. Ask your vet if he accepts the Care Credit card. GE Capital puts it out and I got approved on the spot. The cool thing about the card is that you don’t have to pay interest on it if you pay the minimum every month and pay it off by a said date.

    When I took Girlfriend greyhound to the emergency vet and incurred a $514 charge, I paid it off in five $100 monthly increments. I’m using the card for Jett’s dental and to have a nodule removed from his leg. Not every vet accepts the card though. Our dentist also accepts the card. I heard the receptionist explain it to a patient.

    1. Thanks, Karyn. One of my problems is that I have lots of credit cards that send me checks to use that don’t incur any interest for a year or more (there’s a low — something like 2% or 3% — fee). So I have a lot of no interest debt — I’d say at least $5,000 worth that I keep shifting around. And that’s not counting my car loan.

  6. For what it’s worth, we had a couple of old Border Collies (16 & 17) with limited sight in their last couple of years. They managed so well we did not realise how bad the problem was until one of them got lost off-lead on a twilight walk. Fortunately it was a familar walk and he was able to take himself home. The episode ended off-lead walks for the dogs, and they spent a lot less time chasing lizards in the backyard, but they never had trouble getting around at home. Once we knew their sight was poor we stopped moving furniture around until after they were gone.

    1. That’s encouraging. If a border collie can cope with the loss of sight, a small terrier mix who is very happy to follow me around on the leash should have no problem.

  7. Edie, I didn’t realize it until a couple of days before he died, but Archie was nearly blind too. I had chalked up his staring and meandering to the increasing dementia (and I think I was right), but to tell you the truth, he got around well enough and never seemed limited by lack of sight. He had a helluva nose up to the end, and that kept him pointed in whatever odd direction he cared to go. I say forget about the cataracts, attend to the teeth if necessary.

    1. I didn’t realize that either. Thanks, Clare. I guess I’m fated to be bedeviled by dental work…

  8. OMD – just saw this…I am so sorry to hear it and especially that it may be making Frankie a bit more cranky:( I am glad you brought this up – I am taking Tashi of his eyes has gone cloudy, the other seems fine. He has a depth perception problem on the stairs. I’ve been having fits about it, creating my own little negative space about his age – he’s only 10.5. Thanks for discussing the cost of treatment too…I thought it might be something like that. Damn.

    1. Sorry to hear about Tashi, Mary. For a small dog, 10.5 is middle aged! Well, if it’s only one eye, the surgery cost is less. I thought about doing one eye but there is that depth perception issue, as you say. Anyway, good luck with the vet. It could be something else that’s treatable. Do let us know.

  9. The nose is the main sense for every dog. With all the good care you give Frankie I feel there is still plenty of life quality left for him even if his eyesight is decreasing. If you would play all your cards now, you are also left without options financially if something else would happen with his health in the future. Sometimes you have to pick your battles.

    It’s a horrible dilemma you are in. I wouldn’t know how I would react when I was in your shoes. Sending good karma and wisdom your and Frankie’s way.

  10. A bit late I know, but to add to the reassuring tales – I had an irish setter go blind at a young age due to cataracts, and it wasnt until he got himself trapped in an unfamiliar garden that we realised how bad it actually was. You’d never had known otherwise, he still stalked pigeons (albeit slightly in the wrong direction!), still romped merrily on his walks (in unfamiliar parks he was a bit more cautious, but not much!) and still had an uncanny sense for when food had been dropped. He was familiar with the layout of the house and garden, so rarely bumped himself on things, although we were careful to try not to move things around to much or leave anything lying in the middle of the floor. I honestly don’t think he ever even noticed there was a problem. As someone above said, their world is mostly scent and dogs are remarkably adaptable creatures!

  11. Don’t feel bad. Our overly expensive mattress is also on the floor! lol
    As to the eye situation let me ask you this. How would you feel if you had Frankie put under to have his cataracts fixed and he died? Would it seem worth it? My guess is no. That’s how I work with it. As you may know Chloe has had some back issues so we have faced similar money vs comfort issues. And yes, we went into a bit of debt for her. But we didn’t head for surgery and looking back on it I feel I did right. As long as the dog is not in distress or pain that can’t be controlled I say leave it be. Like you say, the teeth I get- that could become a quality of life thing fast especially with these little dogs. But why roll the dice if you don’t have to?

    1. Thanks, Jenni. You’re right, the risk of surgery is real, and I would never forgive myself if something happened to Frankie as a result.

      Glad to hear I’m not the only softie with a mattress on the floor!

  12. I can relate. My dog Freddie (a Dalmatian) was 15 when he died from cardiomyopathy, which caused him to slowly waste away, poor guy.

    He developed vision problems about a year before the diagnosis of heart problems came.

    We used to play a game where I’d say, “How many fingers am I holding up?” And he’d bark one, two, three, four or five times. It was a trick I’d taught him. I gave him a subtle clue to stop barking when he’d reached the proper number.

    In a funny way I found it very satisfying to take care of Fred, carry him up and down the stairs, hand feed him all his meals, etc., as he grew weaker and weaker.


    1. Yes, I agree there is a certain satisfaction in that kind of care taking, difficult as it is. Sometimes it’s fun to get creative. I pretend that I can’t pull the squeaky carrot from Frankie’s mouth even though he doesn’t have as many teeth to hold on to it as he used to.

      Of course, Frankie fits into the proverbial grumpy old man category. Now he’s started barking at me irately if I don’t deliver his food to him quickly enough.

  13. Sorry to hear about this – I’ve worked with several blind dogs over the years and yes, they adjust well – esp. since you take such good care of Frankie. Here is a site I like to recommend: Lots of help for Frankie and you.

  14. My Chelsea went blind at the end of her life. She lived to be almost seventeen. I knew that I needed to take her to the vet one final time but lacked the courage to do so. When I could no longer bear to see suffer (she had a stroke and couldn’t stand up by herself) I bathed her one last time and took her to the vet. Chelsea passed away in my arms as we waited for our turn. I’m crying as I write this and has been almost four years ago. You truly never stop loving them or missing them.

    1. I’m crying as I read this too. I’m sorry for your loss and the pain you’re still feeling but it’s clear that Chelsea was very well loved and had a wonderful life.

  15. When my dog Shadow had vision issues as she grew older, she adapted quite well. Her hearing was also impaired, but she still enjoyed the little things, just not as long. I would kick her ball for her and she’d chase after it and then run through the dog door with it and I knew the game was over. When she was younger the game would last longer than one kick of the ball. Her nose made up for her lack of seeing and hearing though. She could still sniff out treats – I don’t think she spent a single moment fretting about not being able to see or hear as well. She trusted me and knew she was safe.

    I think as humans we see vision loss as some great tragedy, but as with everything else, dogs just seem to roll with it and they don’t waste their time bemoaning their old age and the infirmities it can sometimes bring. They adapt and still enjoy life moment by moment.

    1. Yes it’s true, both parties adjust. When Frankie had several teeth removed, he had trouble holding on to his squeaky carrot so I pretend that I can only pull it out of his mouth with great difficulty. So both parties compensate and only one is probably upset about the adjustments!

  16. By the end of her life, Agatha was nearly deaf and her eyesight was severely compromised. I’m not sure how she did it but she got around just great. Maybe by smell?

    Because she seemed ok with it I didn’t let it stress me too much.

    Getting Frankie’s teeth cleaned can do a lot to keep him happy and comfortable. But since his vision is not as important to him as yours is to you, I don’t think the cataract surgery would mean as much to him even if you could afford it.

    I wish you good luck in coming to terms with these changes in your wee pup. I hope you enjoy as many wonderful moments with your blind boy as I did with my sweet Agatha.

    1. Thanks, Pamela. My comfort is at stake with Frankie’s teeth too. He loves to give me doggie kisses — and I love to get them — but his breath could be better.

      Good luck to you if you haven’t already given your talk — and I’m sure you did great if you did!

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  18. Thank you for sharing your stories it is the only way I can fill this emptiness inside of me.
    What a touching story. It is exactly how we feel right now. Thank you for sharing it!
    Joycey is our little Shih Tzu. She came to us with her mother four years ago. They have been so happy here. We have a few other rescue dogs all of them friendly and well adjusted.
 In the last year Joycey and her mother have been fighting. Last week it got so bad Joycey got her eye bit. We took her to a vet immediately, an ophthalmologist followed, and we even got second opinions. The eye needs to be removed.
 My husband and I have been crying our eyes out ever since. She will go into surgery tomorrow morning. The doctor is putting something in the eye so it does not appear sunken then closing the eye shut. We took her to an emergency vet at 11 pm last night because her pain appeared worse. They shaved the fur around her and eye and cleaned it. They sent us home with antibiotics and enough pain medicine to last 14 days. That is past the scheduled surgery date. She also has a little cone around her head now.
She is not the fun loving spunky little dog we knew. We are taking this so hard. I can’t remember us being this sad in the 15 years we have been together. Joycey is our baby! She crawls in between us at night. She catches balls at the beach, rolls in the sand, lays in he water, and barks with excitement at the birds that take to the sky. We are beating ourselves up for not having known that this could happen. I don’t know if we can ever forgive ourselves. We love her immensely and would do anything for her yet feel so helpless. 
We have asked about the option of an artificial eye. The information is very confusing. We have been told there are prosthetic eyes for animals but can’t find any images on the internet. One vet hospital told us there are doctors that put in artificial eyes that look real. Another vet clinic said they knew of a kind of artificial eye that is smaller than the animals natural eye. It would be nice to not be reminded of the terrible thing that happened but we don’t have time to do any further research. The operation is tomorrow morning and Joycey can’t wait. We want what is best for her. I am not quite sure how we are going to cope with this afterwards. We need lots of moral support.

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