Our Schnauzer Has Cataracts And Is Blind: Our Experience So Far

Not long ago, I wrote about our Miniature Schnauzer, Angelo, getting diabetes. Well, not long after that, he had a white spot appear in his eye. It happened overnight pretty much. The next day, he had a white spot appear in his other eye. We went to the vet and he tested his eyes for a few things and told us he had cataracts. Within a week he couldn’t see a thing. It’s been almost two weeks now since he lost his eyesight because of cataracts, and there have been many ups and downs. Here’s his and our experience so far.

He Can’t Map Out Our House

He’s lived in our house his whole 12 1/2 years, but he cannot map out our house that well. He keeps walking in the wrong direction and sitting in front of the wall (that he thinks is the door or kitchen or something else). He just can’t seem to grasp our house.

I’m part of a few blind dog groups on Facebook. People keep saying that it takes time and they will figure it out, but it doesn’t feel like that. He walks so slowly in our house that it takes him forever to get anywhere. He doesn’t want to run into a wall and I’m sure he’s just trying to blindly figure out where to take his next step.

He won’t use his nose, which doesn’t help. It’s almost as if he’s just trying to see through his eyes despite not being able to, so it’s not working out very well for him.

This requires a lot of effort on our part. We are constantly trying to help him figure out where to go and how to get there, and it’s continuous.

We know he’s got to figure it out on his own too, and we’ve tried to give him space to do it himself, but he usually just ends up laying down in defeat.

Angelo Has Always Had Anxiety

A blind, diabetic dog and anxiety don’t mix well.

Ever since he was a baby he’s had anxiety. I’m not sure if other Schnauzers are like this or just our Angelo, but he’s always overreacted to things and been high anxiety.

For instance, when he was about 3 months old, he was on a walk with our two other dogs. He started screaming bloody murder. I thought he had broken his leg. I let go of the other dogs and was trying to figure out what was in pain when I noticed a bird about 20 feet away from us. Angelo was shrieking at that bird! For the rest of his life (until a few weeks ago) he would lose his mind when he saw an animal of any kind – in person or on TV. Despite being socialized, other animals always caused him to go out of control.

His anxiety is likely causing him to stay in his head instead of using his nose and ears to get around. He tends to overthink things and then get upset, and I’m sure losing his sight is the pinnacle of stress for him. It’s not helping him map out the house and get a grasp on things.

He Does Well Outside

Even though he moves like a turtle in the house, he does better outside. He still can’t see because of his cataracts, but he loves being outside on a walk.

Sometimes he’s slow, but for the most part, he’s very confident and walks with the trademark Schnauzer trot with his head up.

We live near a field with a lot of gophers and he can still track the gophers to their holes.

He has run head-on into a few things. We are watching 99% of the time to make sure he doesn’t run into anything, but when something distracts us for that 1% of the time, you can be sure there’s an object in the way that he will run into.

Thankfully he hasn’t hurt himself or his eyes running into things (we are debating a helmet) and he doesn’t let that ruin his confidence.

His Ophthalmology Appointment

Angelo has always been a visual boy.

The first day we got him, we tried to get him to lay down on the car ride home, but he wanted to sit up and see where we were going.

He’s been like that ever since.

He stares out the window all day and yells at dogs going by.

He sits in his car seat and watches the world go by on car rides.

And he stares into our eyes as we talk to him and pet him.

He can’t do that anymore, and it’s breaking our hearts. That’s his life. That’s what he does. He doesn’t like to play; he likes to look.

So, we wanted to learn more about getting cataracts removed.

They Checked Out His Eyes

Besides cataracts, he has low tear production, dry eyes, and some inflammation. He’s now getting three separate eye drops.

Here’s the summary we got:

Angelo has developed cataracts and “dry eye” secondary to his diabetes mellitus. Cataracts are vision impairing and cause intraocular inflammation, which often requires topical anti-inflammatory treatment. Cataract surgery is the only treatment that has the potential to restore sight after development of cataract but additional testing and treatment would be required prior to considering Angelo a suitable candidate for the procedure. As discussed, we need to ensure that his tear production improves with treatment and that his diabetes is well controlled before moving forward with additional steps for cataract surgery. Today we have prescribed a topical tear stimulant medication, an artificial tear, and a topical anti-inflammatory.

Even though covid restrictions have relaxed, our emergency vets still don’t allow people to come into the rooms for examinations. So we didn’t get to see everything they did.

I wish they would let us in. We would triple mask and wear anything else they wanted us to if they would let us in.

But, she did let us stay in the waiting room. (I should say, most people aren’t even allowed in the building, so I’m grateful we could at least go inside the building with Angelo.)

She basically told us that diabetic dogs have a high chance of losing their sight, regulated or not. This was nice to hear because we were feeling so guilty about him losing his sight. We haven’t been able to get him regulated.

But, even though she said that I think we still blame ourselves our some level for both his diabetes and his cataracts.

She told us that Angelo would have to get his diabetes under control and his eyes would have to be good in order to get the cataract surgery.

She told us that there was no damage in the back of the eye, which is good, and basically made another appointment for August 4th to get a recheck. That’s over a month away, so we now have to pray that Angelo can start to do better without his eyesight sooner than later. There’s no choice anymore.

The Cost Of Cataract Surgery For Dogs In Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

She told us that the cost of cataract surgery for dogs is about $6300 – $6800. That’s just for the surgery, though.

We would also have to get a bunch of tests done on his eyes (ultrasound and other things) to make sure he could get the surgery, which would run about $1800.

Moreover, he has to get his diabetes under control, so we are seeing an internist next week, which starts at $240, but sounds like it’s going to run us over $1000 after tests are done. And that will be just for that appointment.

So, in the end, it’s going to be about $10,000 or more when everything is said and done.

Are We Going To Get The Cataract Surgery?

At first, we thought yes, without a doubt we are going to get cataract surgery. We want him to be able to see.

But, a few things have happened that are making us wonder if we should.

First, he’s developed problems with his bowels since losing his sight. And we’ve noticed that anytime he’s stressed out, things get worse – way worse.

Even his simple vet appointment with the optometrist caused him to wake up in the middle of the night and have the kind of poop that you don’t need to share with other people.

We are NOT looking forward to the internist appointment because he has to stay there for a few hours by himself. This is going to be stressful, and we are sure he’s going to suffer (along with us) afterward.

The optometrist told us that the surgery will require a ton of aftercare for three weeks and there are possible complications.

Here’s what they wrote about the cataract surgery:

Possible Complications: Although cataract surgery is very successful in restoring vision in many animals, complications do occur and may include, but are not limited to, postoperative glaucoma, retinal detachment, infection, lens capsule tears, inability to place an artificial lens and intraocular scar formation (e.g., capsular fibrosis). These complications, although rare, may require additional examinations, long-term medication, or even additional surgery and could result in blindness or loss of the eye.

In short, it may or may not work, and there may or may not be complications.

We are now on the fence about getting the surgery.

If Angelo can start to master his blindness a bit better, should we put him at risk for all these things? Should we stress him out with the surgery and the weeks of recovery afterward?

We Did Get A Sign

We feel like we’ve failed Angelo with his diabetes, and we’ve been talking about following our intuition more when it comes to his care.

As we were waiting to go into the emergency vet, a butterfly was trying to get into their doors. I’ve had a few incidences with butterflies acting weird this year and have been wondering if they are a sign from someone deceased. (That’s always where my brain goes first.)

While we were waiting for Angelo in the waiting room, there was an annoying woman who literally turned her face towards us to cough. And she had no mask on. We kept moving seats down because she seemed intent on coughing on us. Because of this I was paying attention to her and heard her ask someone about their dog.

I looked up and saw a big guy with a little Miniature Pinscher in his arms. My first dog was a Miniature Pinscher, and he died only a few years ago. I loved him dearly and still ache over his death.

The Miniature Pinscher was blind. The guy said that he had gotten cataract surgery a year ago… but it didn’t work.

This felt like a huge sign for us. The breed of dog that we just lost, the surgery we are thinking about, and the unwanted results that are possible.

Obviously, his Miniature Pinscher had to be a candidate for cataract surgery or he couldn’t have had it done. While it was a no-brainer when we thought it would work wonders, this was a real-life example for us that not all cataract surgery is going to be effective.

We have time to decide if we are going to get the surgery.

We are trying to take it day by day.

I just pray that Angelo can get out of his head and start using his nose and ears better.

There are many people who say that you would never know their dogs are blind. I wish Angelo could get to that point.

One Big Win He Had

I was telling my friend that it feels like we are going two steps forward and then one step back sometimes, and then two steps back and one step forward other times. There’s no just progression or decline with Angelo’s cataracts and diabetes. There are wins and there are setbacks constantly.

The other day, though, Angelo did something he hasn’t done in weeks since he’s gone blind. He stood up in the car to put his head out the window. Before going blind, this was one of his favorite things to do, so it was so nice to see him attempt it and be successful at it. We were parked, but still, he’s gone on many car rides since going blind and hasn’t even attempted it while in park.

A Few Things We Are Using

There are a few things that we are using that seem to help Angelo a bit.

First is this water fountain.

He was having a hard time finding his water, and this seems to help. It’s noisy, for sure. It’s not a quiet water fountain. We can’t have it plugged in at night around us because it’s too loud and keeps us up. But that’s why it works wonders for a blind dog!

The second is this anti-collision harness. 

Pet Collision Ring

We weren’t sure if it was going to help him, but we wanted to help build his confidence around the house.

He does benefit from it. It helps him know where the wall is before his face hits it. But he often just gets stuck against the wall with it and doesn’t know how to turn. We haven’t put it on him that much, but it does seem to help a bit when we do.

I do like the softer ring around his head, as he can push a little against something and smell it if he wants to. But, if he was going full speed towards a wall, this soft ‘halo’ wouldn’t help much.

He can lay down in it though.

I think this anti-collision harness is good for dogs like Angelo who go slow and just need to touch the wall with the halo to help guide them.

This Is A Journey For Sure

Never in a million years did we think Angelo would get diabetes.

Never in a million years did we think he would get cataracts and go blind.

Never in a million years did we think we would win the lottery…

(It’s worth a try.)

This is a journey that we have to take day by day.

I don’t know if he will get cataract surgery.

I don’t know if we can get his diabetes under control.

I don’t even know if he’s going to live another month or so.

And I can’t guess because I’ve been there and done that and it’s too stressful to live in that space.

Update Two Seconds After Publishing This Post

After I published this post, I went to check on Angelo. He was sitting by the back door to go outside. That’s a HUGE win. He hasn’t been able to find that door on his own since his cataracts and going blind. One huge step forward!!!

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