Pet Care

Cataracts

What Are Cataracts?

A cataract is an opacity in the lens of a dog’s eye, causing him to have blurry vision. If the cataract is small, it won’t likely disturb the dog’s vision too much, but cataracts must be monitored because the thicker and denser they become, the more likely it is they will lead to blindness.

What Causes Cataracts?

Cataracts can develop from disease, old age and trauma to the eye, but inherited conditions are the most common cause. Cataracts may be present at birth or develop when a dog is very young—between one and three years of age. A high-incidence of cataracts is also often attributed to diabetes.

How Can I Tell if My Dog Is Developing Cataracts?

If your dog’s eyes look cloudy or bluish-gray, you should take him to the vet for an exam. Be aware, though, that it’s natural for a dog’s lens to become cloudy, or gray, with age. This condition, called nuclear sclerosis, doesn’t put a dog’s vision in as much danger as cataracts might, and treatment isn’t usually recommended. However, any cloudiness at all in your pet’s eye is a sign for you to take him to the vet.

What Happens When a Cataract Goes Untreated?

An untreated cataract may “luxate” or slip from the tissue that holds it in place, freeing it to float around in the eye where it may settle and block natural fluid drainage. This can lead to glaucoma, which can cause permanent blindness. Cataracts may also begin to dissolve after some time, causing deep, painful inflammation in the eye.

Which Dogs Are Prone to Cataracts?

Though dogs of all ages and breeds can develop cataracts, they are more commonly found in cocker spaniels, poodles, miniature schnauzers, terriers and golden retrievers. Dogs with diabetes are also especially prone.

How Are Cataracts Diagnosed?

A preliminary eye exam by your veterinarian will tell you whether you are dealing with a cataract or another condition that causes cloudiness in the eye. You should then consult with a veterinary ophthalmologist to determine the extent of the cataract and what steps to take to manage the problem.

How Can I Help Preserve My Dog’s Vision?

In most cases, cataracts cannot be prevented, but there are steps to take to ensure that your dog’s vision can be preserved, especially if they are caused by a medical condition like diabetes.

  • Examine your dog’s eyes regularly.
  • Take your dog to the vet if his eyes look cloudy or bluish-gray.
  • Take your dog to the vet if you suspect she’s having trouble seeing.
  • If possible, find out the medical history of your dog’s parents, since cataracts are often inherited.
  • Be aware of any conditions your dog has that may cause cataracts, such as diabetes or eye trauma.

How Can Cataracts Be Treated?

Vision loss due to cataracts can often be restored through surgery. A veterinary ophthalmologist will surgically remove the lens, replacing it with a plastic or acrylic lens. Cataract surgery generally has a good success rate, but your veterinarian will need to determine whether your dog is a good surgical candidate. The procedure also requires extensive postoperative care.

Note: If your pet has an underlying condition such as diabetes, treating the underlying condition may lessen the chances that cataracts will develop.

How Can I Care for My Pet After Cataract Surgery?

After surgery, your pet will have to wear a protective (Elizabethan) collar until his eye heals. You’ll need to keep him relaxed in a calm environment, and he’ll also require eye drops several times a day for a few weeks.