Cover Image: Pugley (follow her on Instagram @candyfloss_69)
Pug eyes...As beautiful as they are, those little eyes are prone to problems. From ulcers caused by dry eyes and injuries, to conditions like glaucoma and cataracts, blindness is common among pugs. So what’s it like, living with a blind dog?
Well,as luck would have it, pugs often cope and adjust quite well to visual impairment. First of all, pugs like many dogs rely heavily on their other senses--smell, touch, taste and hearing, rather than sight. Secondly, pugs are often very attached to their humans, meaning that they are attune to your emotions and follow you for instructions. If you have confidence and patience with your dog, they’ll be just fine. In fact, in many ways owners become their pug’s “seeing eye humans”.
Pee Wee’s Story
We (Sam & Jen--the people behind this fine publication) adopted Pee Wee the pug about three years ago. We have two other pugs, Frankie and Tatanka. Frankie has had some eye issues in the past, including an injury that led to a corneal graft. So we were fairly adept at coping with pug eye issues. Additionally, as luck would have it, Sam’s uncle happens to be the head of veterinary ophthalmology at UW Madison.
Frankie was adopted from Homeward Bound Pug Rescue in 2010. We had continue to stay in contact with the rescue and followed them on social media. One day they posted a photo of Pee Wee asking for funds to help him. He had just been surrendered to the rescue after an urgent call from a shelter. Someone had brought him into the shelter saying they found him.
Pee Wee was under three pounds and was approximately 6-8 weeks old. He had a ruptured eye that could have been caused by injury, neglect or an untreated birth defect. He had parasites and was extremely skinny and running a high fever due to the infected eye. The rescue rushed him in for surgery and they removed his eye. Overnight, donations poured in for this little pug and they quickly raised over $8,000 to cover his surgery and help the rescue as well. Pee Wee’s story resonated with everyone.
Although his situation was touch and go at first, Pee Wee stabilized quickly and grew. From the moment Sam and I saw him, we connected with him and wanted to help. Even though Pee Wee was in Oklahoma and we are in Wisconsin, we were able to coordinated his adoption. Once he was well enough to come home, Sam flew to Oklahoma to get him.
He was a darling tiny little puppy with a big personality. He was brave and tough, despite the fact that he was very small. We were immediately in love with him. We noticed that his remaining eye looked very cloudy, but he seemed to navigate around our house well, following his brothers, Frankie and Tatanka everywhere. We made an appointment with Sam’s uncle at the college to have them look at his eye to ensure we kept it as healthy as possible.
When we took him to Madison, he met with a team of residents and veterinary students. They did an ultrasound on his eye and several tests.
“He’s completely blind. His retina isn’t attached and the back of his eyeball is essentially just a ball of nerves,” our uncle informed us. We were shocked because he navigated so well around our new house. We asked what cause it and were told that he would have been born this way. He was possibly bred to be a “teacup pug” (which isn’t an ethical way to breed dogs) and it had resulted in several issues. His body is very uneven, he has some joint problems including hip issues and luxating patella. Basically, as cute as he is, he was very lucky to have survived.
Realizing there wasn’t anything we could do to help our baby see, we both felt a little sad on our drive home. We concluded that no matter what, we were going to help Pee Wee live a very full life and were never going to view him as disabled. After all, he was born blind, so to him, it’s completely normal.
Pee Wee went to puppy school and did great! He learned to follow clicker commands in his class and he loved it. He can run around the yard with his brothers and walks anywhere we go on a leash. He’s been to Milwaukee Pug Fest and met countless friends who helped his rescue when he was found and who have continued to love this little pug.
Everyone who meets him tells us what joy he brings to them. He was featured on The Dodo and has a big following on Instagram. One of his friends wore a Pee Wee teeshirt at Coachella and had several people come up to her and say, “Oh, that’s Pee Wee!”
People love our little guy, who’s grown to be a healthy three-year-old and weighs about ten pounds. He inspires people to be happy and appreciate life. We feel so lucky that we get to be his parents.
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The Realities of Living with a Blind Dog
Is living with a blind dog challenging? Yes. Sometimes it’s tough. As Frankie has aged, we’ve also had many issues with his eyes, including idiopathic inflammation that’s slowly causing him to go blind (he’s ten). We see him adjust to life without sight and in a way, it’s harder to see him losing his sight than it is to watch Pee Wee, who’s never known what it’s like to see.
Honestly, though? Both dogs do just fine (and fortunately, Tanka’s eyes have remained quite healthy). These are the tips we’ve learned about living with blind dogs.
1. Keep a Routine
The biggest tip for living with a blind dog is to embrace routine. Pee Wee in particular is very anxious when something is a little off (like, when we have guests or go somewhere new). It’s not that blind dogs can’t and don’t adapt to new situations, but it takes them a little longer to get their bearings.
He goes for his walks at regular times. He eats at normal times. Most of his life is on a pretty routine schedule and this really helps him feel confident and comfortable. Whenever we go anywhere he is always on a leash. We think of it like holding his hand. The only time he runs around off-leash is in the house and supervised in our fenced-in yard (same holds true for all three dogs).
2. Move Slowly
When we do something new we take it slow. While I’m constantly amazed at how smart all of our pugs are and how quickly they pick up on cues, we try to take new experiences slowly. Pee Wee has a carrier backpack (we usually wear on the front), so he can ride in safety when we go somewhere new. This helps him feel secure.
Similarly, when we meet new people we ask them to be slow when they come in to pet him. I always appreciate when people ask first (when we go in public he wears a “blind” tag). We keep the furniture in our home in similar spots. When we change something, we do it a little at a time, so he can adjust.
3. Verbally Communicate
Pee Wee knows many commands, but one we use frequently is “uppies” which means we’re about to pick him up. Because he can’t see it’s a little unnerving to be swooped up without warning. When we say the magic “uppies” he practically jumps into our arms, because he knows he’s about to be carried.
Another command we use when walking is “step up”. This way he knows when we’re going over a curb or stairs. He doesn’t do the staircase in our home, but he can do the 2-3 porch steps up to our backdoor. He knows many other commands and words as well and we try to explain what we’re doing all the time, using similar phrases like, treat, eat, get a drink, come, down, off, no (and many many more). Even if he doesn’t understand every word, I find it helps him to listen to our voice and know that we’re there.
4. Take Them to the Vet Regularly
We have a very close relationship with our vet and our veterinary opthamologist. As we’ve been dealing with Frankie’s eye issues over the last several years we’ve become “regulars” at Eye Care for Animals. Frankie loves his friends there and is excited to go to his appointments.
Our vet has been able to detect many issues long before we would have noticed them and points us in the right direction. All the boys get regular checkups and vaccinations. We work closely with our vets to keep everyone healthy and happy. This is important for any dog, but with a blind dog, it’s very important to keep everything else in ship shape. After all, they rely on their other senses to help them navigate the world, so you have to keep those ears and noses working great!
5. Help them Get Plenty of Exercise
Again, this is important for all dogs, not just blind dogs of course. There’s always a worry that blind dogs won’t be able to run around and play like other dogs, but we’ve never found that to be an issue AT ALL. Pee Wee zips around the yard chasing his brothers like any dog with sight. He has the entire yard, trees, rocks, and trim mapped out in his mind. The only time he bumps into anything is if it’s out of place.
In the home, we play and do activities together regularly. Pee Wee’s not as fond of traditional toys, like balls, because he can’t see them. He does however, like toys that he can chew on like his Kong.
Most of all though, Pee Wee likes to be with us. He loves to go for walks with us and follow us around the house. He loves going anywhere in his leash and harness as long as he’s following Mom or Dad’s heels.
Best Toys for Blind Dogs & Products to Help
Many people ask us about toys and items that blind dogs need. This is what we’ve found helpful:
Pee Wee likes little toys with tags or crinkle wings. We found that with most toys he prefered to just attack the tag rather than the stuffed part. So we got him a taggie blanket (made for babies) and he really liked it, especially when he was little.
2. Snuffle Mats
Snuffle mats are interesting because they encourage dogs to use their sense of smell to find treats and food (rather than sight). These can give your pug plenty of entertainment and slow down eating.
3. Halo Vests
We don’t use a halo for Pee Wee. He’s just never needed it. We do watch him in the kitchen, especially, when cupboard and fridge doors are open (because he’s run into them a few times). The halo can be helpful for dogs who have sudden blindness and need to learn to safely navigate.
4. Heartbeat Puppy
Blind dogs are often more attune to noises and sounds. We found that this heartbeat puppy really helped Pee Wee sleep when he was a puppy. It seemed to bring him a lot of comfort. We still listen to white noise or wave noises at night, if there’s wind or thunderstorms, which seem to really frighten him.
Similarly, because loud noises and new situations can make blind dogs nervous, a Thundershirt can help keep them calm.
Your veterinary ophthalmologist may recommend additional products, like a gel eye lubricant (blind dogs can suffer from dry eyes, m