Living With a Blind Cat

When the little white Siamese mix kitten arrived at our shelter several years ago as part of an abuse rescue from a farm, no one expected her to live. Indeed, all the other injured kittens died within a week, along with two of the 3 adults. One had broken ribs, two probably had internal bleeding, and another had severe breathing problems. The white kitten had had her eyes poked out and was so sick her ears were plastered down with dried pus, and she could hardly breathe.

Our vet pronounced a bleak prognosis for all and pretty much advised against treatment as it would be costly and useless. But the white one did make it, and I named her Ciego, Spanish for "blind." I gave her super mega doses of antibiotics for several weeks, and feel that may have helped her reach the turning point. It was a long time, however, before we knew she would make it.

She still has breathing problems and we have to give her antibiotics from time to time. However, she's been with us for quite a while now and is a very happy kitty.

It must have been horrendously painful and frightening when "it" happened, but that was a long time ago, so maybe she has forgotten about it. This is important: To help forget the initial trauma, she needed constant love and gentle care. In time, she has learned to trust humans again.

Now, she is the one who runs to the front door when anyone visits and insists on being petted. She likes everybody! So how did I raise a kitty with a major disability to be so well adjusted? Certainly, her blindness dictated a few differences in the way we live with her, and it's all based on love, respect and consideration.

Here are some pointers:

  • Don't give up on life so easily. Many people give up way too fast. Sure, some die anyway, but patience and persistence do pay off many times, and often when we least expect it.

  • Love goes a long way toward healing, too. It is this love that will guide you to consider others' needs and feelings.

  • Respect others' right to occupy a space in this universe. I believed in Ciego, and she believes in me. With that in mind, I neither expect her to behave a certain way, nor do I demand it. I let her be herself, to "be her own cat." Don't you appreciate people who let you be yourself ... who like you for who you are?

  • Realize that blind individuals need physical and sound cues to help define their space. Those of us with sight can quickly size up our environment simply by looking around. Those without sight need to hear it and feel it.
  • ~When approaching your blind cat, speak to her. Never creep up silently and startle her. Imagine being startled umpteen times a day. How many times would it take to finally cause a heart attack or something? At the very least, you would wind up with a very nervous cat. And nervous cats bite more often.

  • ~Lightly brush the tips of her whiskers with your fingers before you pet her. Let her know you respect her physically.

  • ~Leave her on the floor or chair or shelf she's on. Never pick her up suddenly. Try this: Close your eyes, then have someone sneak up on you and without warning, grab you, hug you, lift you off your feet. Did that freak you out? If you must pick her up for some reason, such as a trip to the vet, approach gently, speak, touch whiskers, pet, then gently lift. Expect resistance. Place her quickly into her pet taxi and remain calm and reassuring.

    [Last year, when Ciego had to visit the vet to be spayed, I put another cat into the pet taxi with her, sort of as a guide cat, for emotional comfort. It worked. She remained calm, and trusted everyone. However, her buddy cat was not allowed in the taxi with her after surgery, as one could have injured the other if she'd had a reaction during recovery from the anesthesia, according to the vet.]
  • Even blind cats enjoy playing, so just remember to use toys that employ sound or predictability. One of Ciego's favorite toys is a "fishing pole" with a tiny bell inside a crochet ball on the end of the string. People who watch her chasing it swear she can see. Her other favorite toy is a plastic "tray" with a track around the outside, with a ping pong type of ball that rolls around and around as the cat bats it. It goes only in a circle and makes noise, so Ciego can keep track of it.

    She also enjoys wrestling with the other cats, though they generally leave her alone. (I think cats make eye contact as part of their communication system, and since Ciego can't do that, they take it as ignoring and do the same.)

One final thought here: Please reread the above pointers and imagine how the listed considerations might help ANY animal adjust to life as your happy pet, whether they are blind or not.

Copyright 2009 - Dr. RJ Peters 
The Problem Cat