ABSTRACT: Cats with vision problems need special care from their owners, with the support of the veterinary team. Part I reviewed signs and causes of blindness, with potential treatment options. Part 2 concentrates on the emotional perspective for the owner, and how he or she might adapt their home to create a stimulating and comfortable environment for their visually impaired cat

The emotional side

It is difficult for owners to imagine their cat without an eye – or even two eyes – and thus they can be very reluctant to go ahead with enucleation, despite the positive implications for the comfort and health of the cat.

They may be reassured by the fact that the vet would not recommend enucleation unless it was going to benefit their pet. If the eye is blind, the cat is already used to not seeing with it. Its removal, therefore, will not affect the way the cat interacts with them or with the environment.

Looks are very important to owners, as we love our cats and are proud of how good looking they are! However the cat with the eye problem is totally unaware of his or her appearance. If the eye is painful, the cat will benefit hugely from the operation, which provides long-term pain-relief which is so important for any creature.

It is a good idea to have some photographs of cats after enucleation so that the owners can see that it is not as disfiguring as they might imagine (Figures 1, 2 and 3). Relief from pain may well alter the personality of the cat, which may sleep and hide less, and be more active and interactive.

Figure 1: One week after placement of an intraorbital prosthesis following enucleation of an eye affected with an iris melanoma

Figure 2: Baby, several years after enucleation following herpesvirus

Figure 3: Barley, three months after enucleation, without an intra-orbital prosthesis because of glaucoma

Another cogent reason for eye removal is if it contains a tumour. It can be stressed to the owner that is important to remove the tumour quickly – and unfortunately the majority of the time the eye must come with it – in a timely fashion so that the cancer is much less likely to have a chance to spread to other parts of the body with life-threatening consequences.

Some owners do not understand that a tumour and cancer mean the same thing, and this can be gently pointed out. Enucleation gives the opportunity for ocular histopathology, which usually provides a definitive diagnosis and allows the vet to make a prognosis and come up with an informed treatment plan.


Some owners think that blind animals should be euthanased. In this situation, it is best to suggest that the owner takes time to make his or her own decision, as usually the cat has adapted well by then, and is living a perfectly happy and relatively normal life. The good quality of life of a partially sighted or blind cat has to be seen to be believed.

While certain restrictions need to be applied for safety reasons – for example, limiting outdoor access – the blind cat can lead a richly fulfilling and comfortable life.

Their other senses, such as hearing, touch and smell, become more highly attuned in order for them to successfully navigate to seek out food, water, toileting opportunities and comfort. Blind cats seem to grow extra-long whiskers!

Therefore, vision loss alone is not enough justification for euthanasia although, of course, there may be other contributing factors which would lead to this decision.

Coping skills

Blind cats can behave perfectly normally and fool the casual observer into thinking that they must retain some visual perception. Blind cats can play with toys and follow them, they can successfully hunt and seem to specialise in catching insects on window panes.

They will explore a new environment enthusiastically until they have made a memory map of the area. Once they have learned their surroundings, they can still jump up onto familiar objects and jump down from them. In the early days, they sometimes turn around and climb down from a height with their back feet first as a safety mechanism although they usually start jumping with their front feet first once they re-gain their confidence (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Evie was born blind and is blissfully unaware that she is any different from any other cat, and lives life to the full

Home environment

Small changes to the cat’s environment can help it to overcome the challenge posed by blindness. It can make full use of its other senses to enrich its experiences.

Ideally the layout of the house should be altered as little as possible. A litter tray should be provided, even if the cat is allowed into the garden, in case it should ever feel that it was unsafe to go outdoors. Food and water should be placed away from the litter tray and these areas will provide good points of reference should the cat get disorientated.

Potential hazards, such as fire-places, window ledges and balconies, may need to be blocked off, with toilet seats left down. Private resting places with easy access should be provided, as cats love to be elevated from the ground, whether or not they can see. Many blind cats still use scratching posts and activity centres. Toys should be made available, and they may require the help of the owner to start off their games.

Many cats (but not all) enjoy cat-nip, and thus scented toys may provide great enjoyment. Otherwise toys which make some noise are interesting to the blind cat who can easily track their progress. There are a variety of toy mice and balls which contain bells and rattles. Indeed, much fun can be had with simple home-made toys such as scrunched up balls of tin-foil. Toys which are suspended by elastic can be secured to suitable places, such as door handles, so that the cat always knows where to find them (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Ginger, blind as a result of chronic uveitis, enjoys playing with toys even though he has no sight

The great outdoors

Blind cats can derive great enjoyment from going outside, and they may still be allowed access to safe, enclosed gardens. Of course, potential hazards, such as ponds, should be fenced off; and the owner can attach a bell to his or her shoe when outs
ide so that the cat knows where he or she is. There are companies, such as Purrfect Fence, which can cat proof any garden or a section within a garden. This is an excellent idea for blind cats who love the outdoors, as they will be safe from straying onto busy roads and protected from rival cats and predators in the area.


It is important that the cat has permanent identification as he or she is more at risk of getting lost. It is a good idea to have a safe collar with a tag containing the owner’s and vet’s details, and microchipping should also be done in case the collar gets lost.

A guide cat?

The question may arise as to whether another family pet should be introduced in order to help the blind cat. Blind cats don’t require a new playmate in order to enrich their lives if the owner can provide environmental stimulation and spend time with the cat, themselves. However, a blind cat should be well able to adapt to a new companion; although there is no guarantee that two animals will get along or enjoy each other’s company, whether or not one, or both, can see!

The initial problem in introduction of a sighted and blind animal is that the sighted animal may initially interpret the blind animal’s stares as aggressive. However, they quickly realise that the blind animal is simply different, and learn to interact in their own way. Blind cats can use the sounds – consider using a collar with a bell – and smells from their companion to be more active and stimulated (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Seamus the blind cat (right) enjoys the companionship of his partially-sighted companion, Finnegan

It can be humbling to appreciate the simple pleasures of life enjoyed by handicapped pets. They can be a real inspiration to us and make us very proud. The rewards can be great indeed for the blind cat, their owners, and the veterinary staff who provide support for them.

A detailed technical guide which covers all of the topics discussed in this article in much greater detail was published in August 2008 entitled Caring for a blind cat by Natasha Mitchell.


With thanks to cat owners Karen and John Hutt Anette Hans, Liam and Melanie Arstall and Karen Hysell for providing images of their blind cats.


Natasha Mitchell MVB Certvophthai


Natasha graduated from University College, Dublin in 1998. She developed a keen interest in ophthalmology and obtained a RCVS Certificate in Veterinary Ophthalmology in 2004. She now runs her own referral ophthalmology service in Limerick, Ireland – e-mail, natasha@eyevet.ie or visit www.eyevet.ie to find fact sheets, newsletters and helpful tips for both veterinary personnel and cat owners.


• VOL 25 • No6 • June 2010 • Veterinary Nursing Journal