Can Dogs Tell If Another Dog Is Blind?

They definitely know that something's different.

When an Akita named Kiaya got glaucoma and started losing her vision, her dog brother, Cass, immediately noticed.

"I don't know how [Cass] knew, but I would see him consistently staying on her blind side," Jessica VanHusen, Kiaya and Cass's owner, told The Dodo. "He would brush up against her going up the stairs, and he would position himself and sit on her blind side in the back yard. I don't know how it happened - it was definitely not something I facilitated."

A blind dog with his 'seeing' dog friend
Kiaya and Cass | Jessica VanHusen

VanHusen ended up adopting a third Akita - a puppy named Keller - and he seemed to pick up on Kiaya's blindness too.

A blind dog with his two 'seeing' dog siblings
Keller, Kiaya and Cass | Jessica VanHusen

"It was like the two boys knew to take care of the matriarch," VanHusen said.

A blind dog with his two 'seeing' dog siblings
Keller, Kiaya and Cass | Jessica VanHusen

Cass and Keller aren't the only canines who have picked up on another dog's blindness.

Gladys DiCanio, a volunteer with Blind Dog Rescue Alliance, has also cared for dogs who have guided each other. "I had a blind and deaf cocker spaniel and my golden retriever became her seeing-eye dog, helping her go up and down stairs, staying by her side in the yard and following her through the house," DiCanio told The Dodo. "It was truly amazing."

So how can dogs tell if another dog is blind? Dr. Erika Loftin, a veterinarian at DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital in Portland, Oregon, thinks it has to do with dogs' keen observation skills.

"[Dogs] would be able to tell that there's something different about [blind dogs] from the way they interact," Loftin told The Dodo. "They would be able to sense that the other animal is vulnerable."

A blind dog and a seeing dog cuddling together
Blind Dog Rescue Alliance

It's possible that a blind dog might act more "clingy," Dr. Gwen Sila, a veterinarian from BluePearl Vet Clinic in Southfield, Michigan, told The Dodo. And once a dog notices this, his relationship with the blind dog might change.

"I think the nonvisual dog will follow the visual dog around, and a new dynamic kind of develops," Sila said. "One almost becomes the seeing-eye dog for the other dog."

This is exactly what happened with Hoshi and Zen, two adopted dog siblings who live in Washington state. After Hoshi lost his vision from glaucoma, Zen started leading him around.

"They are hiking buddies," Pauline Perez, the dogs' mom, told The Dodo last year. "We attach a leash together and Zen does the leading. Even if they're on two separate leashes, Zen walks beside him."

Even if a blind dog doesn't have the advantage of a nurturing companion, they can usually manage just fine on their own.

"Dogs in general are pretty adaptable and it's pretty amazing what they can do," Sila said. "Their sense of hearing is incredible, and their sense of smell is much better than ours. So they start to rely on these other senses to navigate."

"Also, when they're in a familiar environment, they'll map everything out, so as long as things stay consistent in the house that they're familiar with - then they're not going to bump into things," Sila added. "For unfamiliar places, their other senses will kick in, and they'll rely on those things to get around."

A blind dog with his two 'seeing' dog siblings
Jessica VanHusen

Dogs are pretty amazing creatures, and when they lose their sight, they can certainly manage on their own. But it's always nice to have a friend who's willing to show you around.

"I do think it's better if a dog is going blind that they do have a companion in the household," Loftin said. "It's beneficial, for sure."