Blind dog flinching on walks
June 28, 2016 1:04 PM   Subscribe

I have a 13 year old Pomeranian with diabetes and cataracts. He can discern light and the absence of light but that's about it. He's been pretty good at navigating his environment for four years now. Certain things would always cause him to flinch, like sharp noises. But recently, about three weeks ago, the flinching started to occur his during walks, and it's more extreme, to the point where I think he is hurting from all the stress. What seems to trigger it is light and shadow.

Nothing in the environment has changed, he's been here for two years now, same building, same walks. He is not sensitive to bright lights. Also, he flinches more if he touches certain items inadvertently, like flower pots outside.
As soon as I noticed these flinching episodes, I took him to the vet and he got a checkup with no issues found. Since then though, the flinching has been getting worse. It's like everything scares him. I don't think it's pain, he is not bothered by bright stationary lights.
I've been limiting his walks and trying to avoid sunlight, but sometimes it even happens in the hallways of the building. I'd like to restore his quality of life.
posted by spacefire to Pets & Animals (13 answers total)
Dogs with canine dementia can lose a sense of their surroundings and become disoriented even in their own homes. Could it be that he's losing his ability to navigate the world around him on his walks and becoming frightened by being unable to orient himself around objects that emerge suddenly and are unfamiliar? Maybe the vet has already ruled dementia out but if not it could be an avenue worth pursuing.
posted by mymbleth at 1:08 PM on June 28, 2016

He can discern light and the absence of light but that's about it.

I mean, I am not a dog vision expert, but how sure are you that this is still the case? It's possible his vision might be getting worse, and the changes to the little he was able to see before might be making things more difficult for him.
posted by phunniemee at 1:10 PM on June 28, 2016

I have seen him flinch when I turned off the lights. He might think there's an object heading towards him.
posted by spacefire at 1:24 PM on June 28, 2016

Maybe try some kind of doggie eyepatches? Like, if you put them on when you go outside he won't be able to see changes in light and dark, so maybe he'd be calmer. Most completely blind animals do just fine (especially on a lead).
posted by clone boulevard at 1:44 PM on June 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Is he interested in walking around outside (his indoor space) if he's not being lead or accompanying you? It might be nicer for him to just stay in as small an area as possible.

Can you carry him to his little grass patch outside?

Is it possible that his hearing has deteriorated, so that he has less confidence than before about what the brightness changes signify? He might not be able to tell how far away anything is.
posted by amtho at 1:52 PM on June 28, 2016

I thought of eye-patches, but he's pretty skittish. Same with being picked up.
With diabetes, exercise is very important and I think walks helped. Since the flinching started, he also doesn't want to walk far even when it's darker outside and the sun is not a factor.
posted by spacefire at 2:02 PM on June 28, 2016

I wonder if, in addition to eyepatches, a bumper harness would improve his confidence?

How to make a bumper harness.
posted by jamaro at 2:04 PM on June 28, 2016 [7 favorites]

Yes, yes, YES to the bumper buddy. Once you've got it, do a lot of serious training with very smelly favorite treats like hot dogs and Pupperoni. Give the Pom LOADS of praise and tasty treats when he walks with her new bumper.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:11 PM on June 28, 2016

Ok, the bumper buddy looks useful, but, how will it stop the dog from flinching at things that don't exits?
posted by spacefire at 3:14 PM on June 28, 2016

From what I've read about the dogs who are outfitted with something like a bumper buddy, the owners report their dogs had lost confidence because they keep running into things due to poor eyesight. I suspect dogs in this situation feel like they are getting continually reprimanded with taps to the nose (even though the tap is being delivered by a wall or a door) and eventually shut down.

For your dog, eyepatches/shades to reduce his reaction to shifts in light and a bumper so he isn't getting the nose taps. He might also benefit from a Thundershirt.

For further reading, below are some threads posted by owners of blind dogs who are now using bumpers. The reddit user _Blur who came up with the harness shown in the above videos invites other blind dog owners to contact him directly for assistance.

Our dog recently went blind. Today, we gave him his confidence back!
Made our dog one of those "canes..." now she can comfortably work her way around a room again! (Bonus, they have a Pomeranian too)
posted by jamaro at 3:39 PM on June 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Bumper Buddy is so cool!

I have to wonder if poochy might be falling and/or running into stuff when you're not around, causing the increased skittishness.
posted by rhizome at 6:54 PM on June 28, 2016

Ok, the bumper buddy looks useful, but, how will it stop the dog from flinching at things that don't exits?

You train the dog to feel comfortable wearing it and also give it high-value treats to learn that walking and hitting things with the bumper is a VERY GOOD THING. In a short while it will associate the bumper as being something positive and he won't feel as anxious. Being skittish and flinching over shadows and loud noises may minimize because he in general feels more confident wearing the bumper.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 5:53 AM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Is it summer where you are? It may be that the ground is uncomfortably hot during the sunny parts of his walk, and thus he's learned to associate light with pain.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:30 AM on June 29, 2016

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