First Rule - Don't Panic!
Alexa: Spoiled and Loving It
Sometimes in life, beautiful blessings come with sorry side-effects. For example, if you’re blessed enough to live a really long life, you will know aches and pains as well as diminished hearing and vision! If you’re blessed to live a really, really long life, your memories may begin to play hide and seek.
Often BAD rides into town on GOOD’s back.
The same is true with our beloved cats. As they grow older, they very often develop vision problems. Cats over 10 will often have a “foggy” appearance to their eyes and their vision will change.. and not for the better. The good news is that cats adapt beautifully and can often find their way around their home in spite of Father Time’s cruelty.
Of course, some cats have diminished vision and even blindness as the result of accidents or illnesses aside from age. Caring for a precious cat who just so happens to not have perfect vision is both easy (most of it is common sense) and can be a joy. How? It will only lead you to a closer relationship with your furry baby – and that’s always a joyful thing.
In our family, our house cats live a very long time. Since they’re treated and loved like family – which they are – that’s a very good thing! However, we’ve seen, firsthand and firstpaw, that an older cat’s vision can change rapidly.
First Order of Business: Take a Deep Breath and Don’t Freak Out
If you love your cat like I do mine, it’s a love that’s difficult to explain. They are very much like our children, aren’t they? Funny, furry, ridiculously lovable children! When you first see that your cat’s eyes are changing or when you begin to notice that they stand in the middle of a room and “call out” for you rather than walk right to you, it’s easy to… well… fall apart. That’s exactly what I did when my much beloved Prissy lost her eyesight.
I bawled and bawled and bawled. Which, of course, did nobody any good. What I didn’t realize at the time was that she’d go on to live a happy (even more pampered) life after her vision failed.
Now, our much beloved cat Alexa is experiencing diminished vision (again, age-related). As was the case with Prissy, I first noticed it in the eyes – the pupils began to be dilated for the better part of the day and there was (in certain lights) a foggy haze on the eyes.
Prissy, who was known for jumping anywhere and everywhere also began to stop jumping. She’d stand in front of a bed, couch, or chair, and wait to be lifted. Spoiled!
Because Alexa is still able to see (she has more trouble with judging how close/far things are and can’t see in the dark as well as she used to), she gets around find. She still jumps up on her favorite spots and has no problem (at all!) finding her food and water and hasn’t missed a litter box visit once.
At nighttime, for as long as I can remember, we have a routine in our home. My husband and I settle in on the couch in the den and Alexa joins us – she either runs me out of my spot on the couch or she jumps into a big basket that’s all hers. About a month ago, instead of simply coming onto the scene, she began standing in a hallway near the den and “calling out” to us. Then she listens to see where our voices are coming from and slowly joins us.
By that time of night, the house is pretty dark, so that’s really the only time I notice any issue whatsoever.
If you’re experiencing age-related vision loss with your cat (if it’s something different, see your vet), I promise you, it’s going to be fine. You will become even closer to your cat as she/he will now need to be cared for much as a kitten would. This will give you even more opportunities to make her/him feel extra loved and, yes, even pampered.
Below are Tips for Caring for a Cat with Partial or Complete Vision Loss
- If you feel that the vision loss (either partial or complete) could be health-related (as opposed to simply a by product of a very old little girl or boy), make an appointment with the vet. Hypertension in cats is treatable with medicine and I’ve read that often doing so can restore vision loss, if it’s related to the hypertension.
- Keep your visually-impaired cat indoors. At all times. A cat who lacks good vision is very vulnerable and there are far too many things that could go wrong outdoors.
- Again, I can’t say this enough – stay calm. Cats are exceptionally perceptive and they can pick up on our emotions. They hear it in our voice and they sense it. Don’t bring any negative emotions into the equation. IF your cat is annoyed with the vision change, doing so will only make it worse.
- Keep in mind that cats do NOT think like we do. They’d be quick to point out that they’d never stoop to that level! Your cat is NOT thinking, “I used to chase that red dot and… sigh… I’ll never do that again…” More likely than not, they’re wondering why their humans suddenly stopped paying the light bill! Cats adapt quickly, too. The way they’re seeing or not seeing now is their reality. They do NOT think of a time when they could see… they do NOT fret about being able to see tomorrow. They’re beautifully “in the moment” and approach life like, “It is what it is. They didn’t pay the light bill and now we’re all in the dark. Well.. let’s make the best of it.”
- If your cat still has most or even just some of her/his vision, but struggles in dark places, buy a couple of night lights. One placed near their food dish and one near the litter box would, each, be greatly appreciated. You can even find motion-detected night lights which are pretty darn cool.
- Keep noises in your home as quiet as possible. That doesn’t mean you can’t turn on the tv (our cats have always enjoyed the tv actually) and it doesn’t mean you can run the washer or dishwasher – these are all noises your cat is familiar with and they will not startle him/her. However, sudden loud noises (balloons bursting, alarms going off…) can be extra frightening when you can’t see well.
- If you know there’ll be extra noise (company, electric mixer, etc..), carry your cat to another part of the house. Sometimes, when we have company, I carry Alexa into the back of the house and put her to bed – something she never minds (can’t blame her). Try to keep things as calm and peaceful as possible and if you have kids either visiting or living with you – make sure they understand completely that the cat is NOT to be scared or chased under any circumstances.
- Be mindful of making a little extra noise when you enter the room your cat is in. Cats startle easily anyway, but even more so if their vision is diminished. It can cause them to feel pretty vulnerable. Most cats can hear the footsteps and can even identify their particular “human” by the footsteps. I’ll often go ahead and talk to Alexa when I enter the room anyway. Some cat parents hum or whistle so they know they’re approaching, but, since I always over-think everything, I don’t want to do anything I wouldn’t normally do. I don’t normally whistle or hum… but, Heaven knows, I normally talk!
- You can (and should) still play with your cat. Look for cat toys that make noise – ones that sound like a bird or mouse are especially fun for your cat. The “crinkling” toys are also a hoot and a half for them and catnip will be enjoyed as much now as ever. [See: Chickadee Chirp and the adorable Play-N-Squeak at Night Twinkle Mouse Light-Up Toy]
- If your cat has completely lost their vision, consider confining them to a certain portion of the house. Sometimes, for the cat’s safety (and if they have trouble finding their litter box), it’s best to buy gates and confine them to a certain part of the house – even if it means removing them at nighttime so they can join you in the bedroom. Prissy completely lost her vision and had to be confined to a particular area – which she didn’t seem to mind. By the time a cat has gotten so old that he/she loses vision, they’re too old to worry about roaming much anyway. They remind me of a grandfather in his favorite recliner – there’s no place he’d rather be!
- Speaking of litter boxes…. If your cat’s vision “isn’t what it used to be,” they will locate their litter box by memory and/or smell. In other words, this isn’t the time to move it around or mask the odor with a new scent you’ve never used before. Simply keep the routine and location the same as it has always been. Trust me, your cat will adapt much better than you think she will.
- Don’t rearrange furniture or add a new piece unexpectedly. Cats are very much creatures of habit and know where things in their castle are located and they expect them to be there. When Prissy lost her vision completely, I was amazed to watch her navigate through the house. It was as though she knew exactly how many steps would take her from her food dish to her favorite napping place (the living room couch). She’d walk the distance, then veer to the left in order to find the couch or, as she knew it, bed. If I had, for some inexplicable reason, moved the couch or placed a large piece of furniture (or even basket of magazines, for that matter) in her path – she’d have been frustrated and completely thrown for a loop.
- Your cat needs routine, calmness, and NORMAL. In addition to making your cat comfortable and safe, keep in mind that she/he needs a certain set of things from you now more than ever: He/she needs the routine to remain the same – if you always chilled on the couch with your cat each evening, continue to do so. Stay calm and don’t let your emotions get in your way or in your cat’s way. You still have your cat in your life – they simply need you more than ever. It is as though he or she is a kitten again and relies on you greatly. Cherish the extra opportunities to pamper them! I actually read where a woman held her cat and cried onto his fur for 10 minutes when she discovered that he could no longer see. Poor cat! I can’t even begin to imagine what he thought!
- Be PATIENT. Never become annoyed or irritable with your cat if he gets under your feet – I don’t care how busy you are.
- Be CALM. Your cat needs and even craves calmness and good old-fashioned peace and quiet.
If you have any tips of your own, please leave comments below.
~ Joi (“Joy”)
P.S. Stay Calm!
Prissy (at 19) Enjoying Whipped Topping from a Starbucks Drink