Posted on 14th Apr, 2015: When we started to live together, back in 2010, I was very worried for my little grey tabby, shorthaired kitten. A coin-sized wound above his right thigh looked like someone had gouged out his flesh. He was disoriented and dehydrated from spending god-knows-how-many days and nights in a drain outside a private school in south Delhi. And worst of all, he had no eyeballs. He was completely blind. Hence, he came to be called Blindey.
Vets at the time, told me many things that could have caused his blindness – monkeys that like to torture kittens and puppies; a cruel human being or an infection that affects felines wherein their eyeballs burst or shrink. While it is true that cats lose their eyesight, for varied reasons, as they age; Blindey was much too young to have been blinded by natural causes. Either way, it hardly matters today and it has never mattered to Blindey.
In fact, I’m pretty sure the cat doesn’t even know that he is blind. He would run around and play with my other cat, Nube, like a crazed maniac. He bumped his head a lot, till he got used to navigating his way around the house – with some help from us, of course. He climbed up the curtain and slept on the pelmet, mostly to get away from our dog. He also scaled the seven feet high boundary wall of our garden and went ‘exploring’ the neighbourhood. He stopped doing this when he got thrashed by the prowling moggie who ruled the territory around our house.
I am very often asked – But how does he do anything? How does he know what’s what? He is disabled! And I usually say the same thing (unless I’m feeling particularly cheeky at that moment), which is - someone needs to tell Blindey that! Because that rambunctious little furball has gotten into the scrappiest of scrapes – fallen off the fourth floor and broken his hip; tried to get it on with the neighbour’s female cat and failed miserably; and fallen into a rain water recharge pit. You see, cats are a resilient bunch. Not only can they withstand more pain, they can also bounce back from injuries and accidents sooner and not let disabilities phase them. There is research that says purring of cats is at an optimal frequency to promote bone healing.
Caring for a cat…
… A blind cat, to be more specific, is actually no less different from caring for a cat with perfect vision. You know what they say - once a cat slave, and it doesn’t matter if your cat is disabled or not… or something like that.
The vision of cat is, normally, close to or less than that of a human being. They are long-sighted, so they can spot the mouse across the yard, but seem to overlook the last few cat food kibbles in the bowl. As cats age, most of them develop problems with their vision. There is a certain degree of normal alteration of vision, known as nuclear sclerosis, where objects appear hazy to the animal due to the lense in the eye losing its flexibility and effectiveness. Then there is cataract and the more painful glaucoma that can take your cat’s vision away. In both cases, treatments are available, with pain relief in glaucoma being very important. But cataract surgery is restrictively expensive and very few veterinary surgeons in India can perform veterinary ophthalmological surgery (I found just the one).
Before Blindey, I had a black cat who went by the name of Nim Nim, who went blind from old age. He would have gotten better with surgery, but at the time I was told that it would cost Rs 45,000 and I would have to additionally ship a cat’s eye lense from Canada. I was heartbroken that I couldn’t help Nim Nim and he had to deal with being blind. Again, it didn’t slow him down either.
You will notice a few changes in your cat when his/her vision starts to fail. It will get slower and start hugging the walls to walk around the house. It may cut down outdoors time, though this didn’t happen in the case of Nim Nim or Blindey.
Being blind to blindness
From the (most memorable) time I spent with Blindey, I learned that a) cats adapt to disability beautifully. And b) human beings are NOT the higher mammal. Blindey’s sense of hearing was so finely developed, he could chase a ball around the room just from the sound of it. His sense of smell was sharp enough to help him smell his food from outside the house!
When one sense fails, two others develop acutely to compensate for it. Here are some things you can do to make it safe and comfortable though:
Always keep food and water bowls in the same place, so that your cat doesn’t have to bump into too many things trying to find it. You don’t have to create a special environment for your cat, as his/her sense of smell and hearing will take care of the rest.
Remove as many things that can be bumped into, as possible. Try not to move furniture around too much and of course, keep sharp objects and things that can fall off of high places to the ground to a minimum.
You are now the cat’s Seeing Eye Human. Your cat may start to follow you around or stand very close to you. You can reassure your kitty by talking to it, every time you leave or enter the room. Get your cat accustomed to hearing your voice and taking some orders.
If your cat’s vision fades due to old age, its demeanour might also change. They might become more aggressive and defensive or sad, listless and uninterested in play or company. Spend regular hours a day reassuring the cat of your presence and affections.
Blind cats startle very easily. Avoid making loud noises or moving bulky stuff around the house. Keep the dogs away from the cat, if you have any.
Basically, it is love and understanding that a disabled animal needs, nothing special. Just like human beings, cats and dogs cope with disability, like heroes, and figure out their life around it. All you really need to do is be there for them.