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Blue embraces his blindness

Meet ‘Little Boy Blue’, a very handsome 6 year-old cat. Blue was referred by a neighbouring practice for further investigation of a recent onset visual problem.

Over the past 2-3 months Blue’s owner had noticed that he was not quite himself. He had started to ‘feel’ his way around the living areas, using his whiskers. This problem was quite subtle at first, but very slowly started to progress. Occasionally, Blue would even ‘bump’ into household objects. Despite this, Blue continued to enjoy life to the full, playing & interacting with his two housemates.

Blue’s owner decided to bring Blue to see one of our ophthalmologists at Woodcroft Referrals. After taking a detailed history, the ocular examination showed that Blue had an uncommon retinal disease in cats called ‘Progressive Retinal Atrophy’ or ‘PRA’.  PRA is an inherited disease of the retina (the “film in the camera”). It also occurs in certain breeds of dog and in man (as ‘retinitis pigmentosa’).

Initially in PRA, the ‘rods’ (the cells in the retina that allow us to see in the dark) start to malfunction, causing ‘night blindness’.  In the later the stages of the disease, the ‘cones’ (the cells in the retina that respond to bright light and give us colour vision) also become affected, causing complete (or almost complete) blindness. PRA occurs in both eyes simultaneously and is non-painful.

Sadly, there is no specific treatment for this condition – although supplementation with anti-oxidants is reported by some researchers to slow the progression. Happily, Blue is a shining example of just how well cats can adapt to a significant visual deficit, using smell and hearing in new ways to compensate. Blind cats, like Blue, often have a wonderful life. Sometimes, the owners are more concerned than the pets themselves, who often carry on, seemingly unaffected.

Finally, a great source of information for owners is ‘Caring for a Blind Cat’ by Natasha Mitchell. Having adopted some the helpful tips in this book, Blue’s owner also sourced an exercise wheel for Blue. As you can see from the video – he loves it! Blue’s owner reports that, “he actively seeks out the wheel and will quite happily play on it for long periods”.

Thank you to Blue's owners for allowing us to share his story. 

Tips for helping Blind Cats:

It’s important to keep the food, water bowls, litter box and pet beds in the same spot. Avoid rearranging the furniture, too. Blind pets memorise, and make a "mental-map" of the layout of the house. Blind cats will still make floor-to-counter leaps with confidence as long as his or her memory remains fresh and accurate.

To help your cat navigate, it may be useful to “scent” important objects with strong odours such as peppermint. This will help his or her nose “see” what he or she is looking for.

It’s also important to safeguard dangerous areas. For example, pad the sharp edges of furniture with bubble wrap until your cat learns to avoid the danger. Block off steep stairways with baby gates to prevent falls.

Cats sometimes treat their owners as a guide. They stand very close, and follow you around. Get into the habit of speaking to your cat when you enter or leave a room to help him or her keep track of your whereabouts. To avoid tripping over the pet that’s always underfoot, provide a safe, comfy bed in each room. In multiple pet homes, another cat or dog may serve as a guide for your blind cat. If possible, help your blind cat by attaching a bell or other noise-maker to the other animal's collar.

Blind pets also startle more easily, so encourage others to always speak to your cat before petting him to avoid being accidentally nipped or swatted in reflex.

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