Thursday, June 10, 2021

Caring for a Cat When You Are Visually Impaired

I have a severe vision impairment caused by a degenerative eye condition called optic nerve atrophy. Having very little vision makes everything from finding what I need at the grocery store to reading books by my favorite authors a challenge. Though caring for my two special needs cats can be challenging as well, I find caring for my precious fur babies to be the most rewarding thing I do each day. Through the years, I've learned several tricks for caring for cats I'd like to share in hopes that other visually impaired and completely blind individuals can care for their kitties with ease and confidence.

Kitten in bowl

Locating Your Cat

Some people find the bells on cat collars annoying. Personally, I find them to be very helpful in locating my cats. While my two cats are different colors – Carmine is an orange tabby while Lita is a blue lynx-point Siamese – I cannot differentiate between the two if they are more than a few feet away from me.

I learned that putting differently-pitched bells on their collars helps me know who's who when they're moving around. Lita has a high-pitched bell on her collar while Carmine's bell has a lower pitch. It can be challenging to find bells with different pitches, but if you check your local pet supply stores, you should be able to find collars with differently-pitched bells on them for your cats.

I have next to no vision in environments with low lighting. I am fortunate that Carmine seems to understand my vision limitations. From the time he was very young, he has meowed at me whenever I get near him in the dark. Lita, on the other hand, doesn't let me know if I'm getting near her. In order to prevent accidentally stepping on a paw or a tail in the dark, I walk very lightly and shuffle my feet.

If you cannot see well enough, check your seat with your hands before you sit in it to avoid accidentally squishing your kitty.

Orange cat eating


If Carmine and Lita eat fish, it could have disastrous consequences for their health. Shopping for cat food online easily allows me to check the ingredients in food before I purchase it. I can rest assured that when I order their favorite cat kibble and canned food, it's safe for them to eat.

It's important to keep track of how much your cat is eating as appetite changes often indicate something may be amiss with your cat's health. If you have one cat, this task will be simple. Just check how much kibble is left in your kitty's dish before you refill it for the day or how much canned food is left on her plate when you pick it up.

If you have two or more cats and lack the vision to see who is eating what, you may want to feed your cats scheduled meals in separate rooms. That way, you can feel how much food is left on each cat's plate when mealtime is over to monitor how much your kitties are eating.

Gray cat

Maintaining the Litter Box

When you can't drive, getting litter home can be challenging. I've taken litter home on the bus countless times, but it's quite cumbersome. Fortunately, many online retailers now deliver litter to your home, which makes things so much easier!

Scooping the litter box is no cat owner's favorite job, but it's a necessity. Monitoring your cat's bathroom habits is important as changes in her bathroom habits can indicate that something's amiss with her health.

When you lack the vision to see what your cat's urine and feces look like, noticing changes in bathroom habits can be a little challenging – but it's not impossible. Use your litter scoop to get to know the feel of your cat's usual urine and feces. You'll be able to detect when something might not be right when you notice a change in the consistency of your cat's output.

Nail Trimming

When Carmine and Lita need their nails trimmed, I ask a friend of mine to help me with it. If you don't have a friend who can help you trim your cat's nails, you can always take your cat to her veterinarian or to a local groomer to have her nails trimmed on a regular basis.


Home Health Checks

Between vet visits, it's important for us, as cat parents, to perform regular at-home health checks in order to catch potential problems as early as possible. While you may not be able to give your cat a visual inspection, there are many things you can notice through touch or smell. For instance, bad breath may be a sign of dental disease. An unpleasant odor coming from your cat's ears may indicate that she has an ear infection.

Gently feel your cat's entire body, and note any lumps or bumps you feel. Take note of any areas you touch that cause your cat discomfort as well. If your cat's coat feels different than usual, she may not be keeping up with her grooming routine, which may indicate that she isn't feeling well or that she's experiencing pain. Address any noticeable weight changes with your cat's veterinarian.

Pay close attention to your cat'daily behavior. Changes in eating or drinking habits, litter box habits, sleeping habits, or grooming habits may indicate that your cat needs a trip to her veterinarian. Sneezing, coughing, vomiting, and diarrhea should be discussed with your cat's vet promptly.


Medicating Your Cat

It's almost inevitable that you'll need to give your cat medication at some point in her life, even if she is generally healthy. Having two special needs cats who need daily medication, I've learned a lot of tricks on how to give your cat medication more easily.

Whenever possible, I get medication in liquid form rather than in pill form – unless the liquid tastes really horrible. With liquid medication, you can stick the syringe into your cat's mouth and squirt it in. With pills, you have to be concerned about whether you got the pill down your cat's throat and if your cat spit it out.

For liquid medications, I use syringes with contrasting colors. Personally, I prefer clear syringes with black numbers, but they make syringes in different colors, so find what works best for you. If you cannot see well enough to fill your cat's syringes with the correct dose of medication, have your vet tech or a friend help you by pre-filling the medication syringes for you.

In some cases, pills are a better option. For instance, I hear that Paxil, a medication used for anxiety in cats, doesn't taste bad in pill form, so you can grind it up, and put it into your cat's favorite canned cat food. You may want to put the pill powder into a small amount of food to ensure your cat eats all of her medication, and then feed her the rest of her dinner.

Perhaps the easiest way to medicate your cat when you have a visual impairment is by using a transdermal gel. However, it's important to note that not all medications can be compounded into a transdermal gel, it can be costly, and some medications aren't as effective in a transdermal gel as they are in liquid or pill form. To give your cat medication in transdermal gel form, simply rub the gel into your cat's ear.

You can also get some medications compounded into cat treats. However, since Carmine and Lita are picky about their treats, I haven't tried using these yet.

You can get some medications compounded into medi melts. Medi melts are small tablets that dissolve in your cat's mouth. Carmine and Lita both take Prednisolone medi melts for chronic pancreatitis and asthma, respectively. To give the medi melt, I pick Lita up, put the tablet into her mouth, and hold her for a couple of minutes to ensure that the tablet has had time to melt in her mouth. Before I let her go, I check her body and the floor around us to make sure she didn't spit out the tablet. I repeat the process with Carmine.

Orange cat
I use a similar process when I need to give my cats regular pills. I pick up my cat, put the pill into her mouth, gently blow on her nose, and feel her body and the floor around us to ensure she didn't spit the pill out before letting her go. Gently blowing on your cat's nose encourages her to swallow.

It's vital that you don't mix your cat's medications up with human medications. I suggest keeping your cat's medication somewhere distinctly different than you keep any medications you take. For instance, I keep my kitties' medications on a shelf in my kitchen - nowhere near any human medication so that there's no chance that their medications get mixed up with mine.

You'll need to find a way to distinguish between medication bottles if your cat takes more than one medication on a regular basis. The print on medication bottles is typically quite small. You can purchase medication bottle magnifiers that fit around medication bottles and make the label's print larger.

Alternatively, you can purchase stickers, and put a different-colored sticker on each medication bottle to differentiate them. Be sure to write down what color sticker you put on each medication bottle so there's no chance you accidentally mix up the medications. If you are completely blind, you can invest in a braille labeler and make labels for each of your cat's medication bottles.

While I face numerous daily challenges due to my visual impairment, caring for my kitties is truly rewarding. I would do anything for my two precious fur babies – and I'm pretty sure they know it, too. With the adaptations I've made, I'm confident in my ability to give my cats the care and love they need and deserve.

If you're visually impaired or blind, you'll undoubtedly face some challenges when you're taking care of your cat. As you can see, though, there are many adjustments you can make to ensure that you're giving your precious fur baby the very best care you can.

Do you have any tips to add? Please share them with us in the comments section.

This article was originally published on the CANIDAE Pet Foods blog in 2019.

This article won the MUSE Medallion in the Lifestyle category in the 2019 Cat Writers' Association Communications Contest. 


  1. Sighted people take so many of these things for granted. This is such a valuable resource for cat companions whose vision is lacking or limited.

  2. That sure can be a challenge but your sweeties will always help you find them.

  3. This is very valuable advice for other visually impaired people.

  4. Great tips. You are a wonderful cat mom. XO

  5. Thank you so much for sharing. I enjoyed learning how you care for your kitties. You are a great cat mom!