Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
My sister’s cats are about 11 years old. One cat, Dusty, has suddenly become blind. She is adjusting well to her new condition. But sometimes she walks into doors, furniture, etc. Occasionally she will bump into her sister, BB. BB gets very upset and growls and hisses at her poor blind sister. Why is she suddenly hissing and fighting with her blind sister? She never had a problem with her in the past.
Thomas: Well, Cathy, there are probably a couple of things going on here. The first of these is that Dusty is still getting used to being blind. That’s why she’s still walking into things–including her sister.
Bella: Before we get started with our explanation, we want to make sure that your sister has taken her blind cat to the vet to find out what’s going on.
Tara: The most common causes of blindness in cats are high blood pressure and glaucoma. High blood pressure can be secondary to kidney disease, so we’d definitely recommend a vet check if Dusty hasn’t had one yet.
Thomas: Now, back to the meat of your question. Will the growling and hissing ever stop?
Bella: We think the answer is yes. And here’s why.
Tara: First of all, Dusty has lost the ability to interpret the visual cues cats usually give each other.
Thomas: Most inter-cat communication is done in the form of body language. A blind cat doesn’t have that reference point anymore. That means Dusty and her sister are going to have to get used to communicating in other ways.
Bella: And BB understandably gets grumpy when Dusty bumps into her. That’s why she’s hissing and growling, not because she suddenly hates Dusty.
Tara: You see, BB now has to get used to living with a blind cat, something she’s never had to deal with before.
Thomas: Dusty and BB are both going to have to adapt to Dusty’s disability. We suspect that with time and patience, this will happen.
Bella: I like to think that if Thomas went blind, I wouldn’t growl and hiss at him if he bumped into me, but it’s hard to say!
Tara: I might like it because Thomas wouldn’t chase me around anymore.
Thomas: Tara, that’s mean! I just want to be your friend! You don’t have to wish me blind. *sniffle*
Bella: There, there, Thomas, it’s all right. I’m sure Tara wasn’t wishing blindness on you.
Tara: Anyway, Cathy, don’t despair for Dusty and BB’s relationship. Once they figure out a new way to communicate, we bet they’ll be friends again.
Thomas: Meanwhile, you can decrease the stress level in your home by investing in some pheromone diffusers. These are marketed under the brand name Feliway or Comfort Zone. You can get them at pet stores and vets’ offices, as well as online.
Bella: Although they’re sold as a remedy for inappropriate urination, the way they do that is by decreasing cats’ stress levels.
Tara: And when their stress levels go down, we suspect that Dusty and BB will gradually become good friends again.
Thomas: As time goes on, Dusty will learn to navigate her surroundings using her hearing, sense of smell, and her whiskers.
Bella: Did you know, cats’ whiskers are so sensitive they can detect even tiny changes in air currents? The whiskers are a very important part of Dusty’s “radar,” and she’ll eventually learn to use all those other senses to navigate around your sister’s home…
Tara: …and around BB as well!
Thomas: If you ever want to read a lovely story about a blind cat, we strongly recommend Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper. It’s a great story about an incredibly smart, brave, and wise kitty who just happens to be blind.
Bella: Do any of you other readers live with a blind cat and a sighted cat? What other tips do you have for Cathy and her sister? Please share them in the comments!
A few years ago my 19 year old Jezzabel suddenly went blind and only then was she put on HBP (high blood pressure) medicine. I checked the web for how to care for a cat who goes blind and found a good tip for you and your sister – try to not surprise her, gently blow on her before you stroke or touch her, it makes a world of difference to her. She also seemed to feel the vibration of my voice when she was on my stomach so I spoke to her a lot when she came and sat on me! We suffer watching them more than they do it seems, when they seem to bounce off walls and obstructions which doesn’t upset them – only us :-) – and I felt guilty that I did not have her tested before it happened, but she turned out to be quite OK with her changed condition and lived happily for a few more years.