Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
We saw your website and was wondering if you could help.
We recently found a kitten in the street (there are a lot of strays here), which had an eye infection. We managed to catch her and to take her to the vet. She has one eye completely gone, and the other is dead — a mess, and the vet says she is completely blind. We think she’s no more than 2 months old.
We have other cats and dogs. Are there some tips or advice you have on how we can integrate her into our family? We have done it before, but not with a blind cat.
~ Andrew & Alexandra
Siouxsie: First of all, we want to thank you for taking it upon yourselves to rescue this poor little kitten, who probably would have died on the streets if it hadn’t been for your kindness and generosity.
Thomas: There are some special things you’ll have to do to help your new baby get used to living with you. First of all, because she’s blind, you’ll need to make your home as safe as possible for her. It’s going to take a while before she gets used to the layout of your house, and you’ll want to make sure she won’t accidentally injure herself as she makes her way around.
Dahlia: Your kitten is probably used to being blind by now, since her vision has been deteriorating for some time. But it’s still frightening for her to be taken away from a place she knows and thrust into a whole new world.
Siouxsie: Your first task is to create a “safe room” for her. This room should have a door that closes firmly, so the other animals can’t get in and she can’t get out. It should be comfortable and free of potentially dangerous things (such as objects that can fall off tables or shelves and hurt your kitty, or areas where she could get trapped). Place bedding, food and water dishes, and her litterbox in that room, making sure to keep the litterbox as far away from the food and bedding as possible.
Thomas: Make sure to introduce her to her kibble by moving it around with your hand and her water by splashing gently in it, while calling her name. Her natural curiosity will encourage her to approach the sound. If she stops to take a bite or a drink of water, talk to her lovingly and tell her what a good kitty she is. Then you’ll want to introduce her to her litterbox by using the same approach. Swirl the litter around with your hand or a litter scoop and encourage her to come to it.
Dahlia: Because your kitten can’t see, she’s going to need to learn where things are by walking to them. Don’t pick her up and carry her to the food or the litterbox right away; let her find them. That way, she’ll be able to orient herself to the locations of important objects in her space.
Siouxsie: Your kitten will also need to be able to play. You can get toys that make subtle noises, so your kitten will be able to play because she can hear the objects as she bats them around. Hollow plastic balls with rattles inside, “crinkly” toys, chaser toys (that have a ball inside a track), and cat teasers with noisemakers are all good choices. By playing with her using these toys, you’ll increase her confidence and help her learn to use her hearing and other senses to compensate for her blindness.
Thomas: You’ll also want to make sure your new kitten has a scratching post. Training a cat to scratch on posts rather than furniture is most easily done during kittenhood. There are the standard vertical scratching posts, as well as scratching objects that have rattles inside (a tempting choice for a kitten that can’t see) and horizontal corrugated cardboard scratchers. Although cats don’t start reacting to catnip until they’re about six months old (and some cats don’t react to catnip at all), the smell of it may attract your kitten to scratcher toys.
Dahlia: Once your kitten has gotten used to “her” room, you can begin introducing your other animals’ scents. Rub each of your cats and dogs with a dish towel or washcloth and bring them into the kitten’s room, one at a time. See how she reacts to the animals’ scents; if she’s curious, you may be able to begin physical introductions pretty quickly. If she growls or acts scared, you may need to get her used to their smells before bringing in the animals. If stress levels seem too high, use a feline calming pheromone to help the new kitten (as well as your other cats) calm down.
Siouxsie: Generally we recommend introducing animals outside the “safe room.” But since your kitten is blind, we think it would be better to introduce your other animals, one at a time, in her room, after a few days to a week. By then, your kitten will know her way around “her” room, so she’ll be able to find hiding places — if she feels the need to do so — without hurting herself.
Thomas: There may be some issues between the kitten and the other cats at first, since cats do most of their communication by means of body language. And of course, since your kitten can’t see, she is missing a very important tool for understanding other cats’ moods. Also, she may “stare” at other cats because she doesn’t know she’s doing it. Staring is generally interpreted as a challenge among catkind.
Dahlia: But what will most likely happen is that at least one of your other animals will recognize your kitten’s handicap and take it upon themselves to take special care of her. We’ve known of some incredible, loving bonds between disabled kitties and able-bodied animal companions. She’s also got her kittenhood in her favor; most adult cats will react more positively to kittens than they would to other adults.
Siouxsie: If you take your time to make sure your kitten feels confident in her space and gradually introduce her to your other animals, you shouldn’t have any major problems integrating her into your home.
Thomas: Of course, it goes without saying that a blind cat should never go outside unsupervised. It’s just too dangerous, even with the fact that her other senses will compensate to some degree. If you want to bring her outside on a harness and lead, you can get her used to that, but we’d recommend you let her get used to the inside of your house first. Also, outdoor enclosures or screened porches can be a great way to make sure your kitten gets fresh air and sunshine.
Dahlia: Indoors, you’ll need to make sure that you “cat-proof” your whole house before you let your kitten have the run of the place. Help her find the stairs, if you have stairs in your home, and watch her as she learns to negotiate them. Keep balconies off-limits. Tell visitors that the kitten is blind and that they need to talk to her and introduce themselves vocally — they could call her name and gently tap on the floor to arouse her interest or make that kissing noise some people use to call their pets.
Siouxsie: Make sure to “show” your kitten where all the litterboxes in your home are located. We’d recommend having at least two, particularly if your home has more than one floor. That way, your kitten will be able to find a litterbox more easily, and this can help prevent accidents.
Thomas: Keep physical changes in your home to a minimum. Avoid rearranging the furniture, for example. Or if you do rearrange or purchase new furniture, realize that it’s going to take a while for the kitten to get used to the new layout.
Dahlia: We’ve written a couple of other articles on helping blind cats adjust to their disability. These go into more detail on some of the things we’ve discussed briefly here. The most important thing is that you get the kitten used to a space before you begin introducing the other animals. If you do that, all should go well. Good luck, Andrew and Alexandra!