Cataracts can significantly impact the quality of life of our furry friends. Not only are they one of the most common causes of vision loss in dogs, but they're also among the most common eye disorders period. Below, we will discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatments for cataracts in dogs, as well as ways to help prevent the condition from occurring. We will also explore the importance of regular vet visits and how early detection can lead to effective treatments. In other words, all of the information you need to protect your pup’s vision and keep them healthy and happy.
Cataracts are caused when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy or opaque, preventing light from passing through and causing vision loss. Age is the biggest determining factor, but your dog's breed can play a role as well. In fact, in some cases, the age during which cataracts can occur depends on the breed. Generally speaking, though, it can happen at six years of age for large dogs and 10 years of age for smaller dogs.
When cataracts are age-related, their development is quite slow and linear. Most cases in dogs are hereditary they can also be associated with systemic diseases as well. Diabetes, for example, is a common cause of cataracts in dogs.
Moreover, uveitis, which is the inflammation of the inside of the eye behind the cornea, can often occur when a dog has diabetes. Sometimes, too, the eye may respond to acute or chronic inflammation with an inflammatory cataract, as well.
Hypocalcaemia, a generally low level of calcium often caused by renal failure or problems in the parathyroid, can also cause cataracts in dogs.
Pure-breed dogs often experience cataracts more than mixed-breed dogs, and studies have found that about 60 dog breeds are predisposed to developing cataracts. Some include:
This is far from an exhaustive list of dog breeds susceptible to cataracts. Also, remember that cataracts aren't exclusive to any specific breed. They can occur in any dog at any age.
Your veterinarian will likely bring cataracts to your attention during a regular physical exam, though there are some signs and symptoms you can watch for.
How cataracts manifest themselves in dogs can vary based on breed, and even environmental factors. Perhaps the most evident sign is a lens opacity in the dog’s eyes. Clinically, this can be detected by veterinarians using a light source at half a meter from the dog’s eyes to see the degree of obstruction of the light reflected by the dog’s eye lens.
Cataracts appear in different shades of color in your dog’s eyes depending on the maturity stage of the condition. As the eye lens thickens with age, the affected eye looks brown to black if the cataract is just beginning to develop. If a cataract is more advanced it looks white to blue—and when cataracts reach the mature stage, they don’t reflect light.
While you may notice these signs of cataracts yourself, you'll need to take your pup to the vet to definitively diagnose cataracts. You're more likely to notice other behavior-related symptoms long before you actually see cataracts in your dog's eyes. These include:
If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your vet for a checkup. However, if you notice sudden clumsiness, make that appointment immediately. In fact, if your dog suddenly starts falling or tripping over things and you can't get a same-day appointment with your regular vet, make an emergency appointment. It could be a sign of something far more serious than cataracts.
Sadly, for the majority of cataract cases, there is no real method of prevention. It is important however that dogs (and especially older ones) have regular veterinarian visits so that any change in the dog’s lenses can be detected at an early stage. Some studies also suggest that antioxidant supplements in a dog’s diet can help maintain healthy eyes for longer periods of time.
However, it's important to understand that "for longer periods of time" doesn't mean "forever." Supplements may stave off cataracts for a few extra months or maybe even years. But there's no surefire way to prevent them. That said if your dog has an underlying condition (such as diabetes) that can lead to cataracts, then treating that condition may help keep them at bay.
Surgery is the only 100% effective way to get rid of cataracts once they develop. A proper examination performed by a canine ophthalmologist will guarantee the best diagnosis and will help determine whether surgery is needed.
Often, clinically evident changes can develop only when the cataract is half complete and when both eye lenses are affected. However, usually, dogs adapt well to vision loss, and most owners decide not to take the surgery path for their dogs.
If you decide not to go through with the surgery, your vet may give you eye drops to administer to help prevent redness, swelling, and other secondary issues.
First, ophthalmologists require a proper history of your dog’s health and eye health and the medications your dog has been taking. So make sure you take your dog's vet records and any prescriptions AND any supplements they're taking.
At your dog's appointment, they will perform an examination which includes a general body and an ophthalmic analysis. This helps differentiate acute conditions from cataracts that have been developing for a more prolonged period of time. It also helps veterinarians rule out any other diseases that can show up along with vision problems.
Cataract surgery involves the removal of the old eye lens and its substitution with a synthetic one. This procedure is necessary in advanced cases if you want your dog to be able to see again. Otherwise, your dog will likely lose his sight entirely. Cataract surgery has a very high percentage of positive outcomes (90% of the cases).
Surgery is not always advised, however. As I mentioned earlier, many factors must be considered and often dogs just adapt to vision changes. Also, if the cause of your dog’s cataracts is a systemic disease (like diabetes, for example), it’s likely your veterinarian will focus on treating the general condition first.
It’s important to follow up with any post-surgical treatments or instructions to help ensure a short but effective recovery. Your dog's surgeon will give you eye drops. Make sure you use them as directed, as they are essential to keep your dog’s eyes hydrated. You'll also likely go home with antibiotics for Fido to help fight off bacterial infections.
Last, your pooch will need to wear a cone collar to keep him from getting at his eyes and causing damage. DO NOT let him guilt you into removing this. His temptation to scratch and paw at that irritated post-op eye will be overwhelming and he WILL give in if you take the cone off.
Some of the behaviors seen in blind or impaired dogs include a more careful approach to surroundings and a search for proximity towards their owners, because, alongside vision loss, affected dogs are also losing their sense of direction. It’s important that you're patient in letting your dog re-discover their surroundings, and, if necessary, create a new space, without stairs and with suitable fencing. Dogs will make a mental map, so avoid moving furniture and suddenly putting things in random places. It’s important that your dog’s bowls and bed stay where they have always been, for example.
Some other thoughtful foresight can include placing bells around the house (and on yourself) to help your dog find people, pets and places. You can also place yoga mats on the floor. Keeping a blind or impaired dog active is essential, too, because it can help dogs more easily learn to use their other senses more, and adapt to their new reality.
How much does it cost to remove cataracts from a dog?
A visit by a veterinary ophthalmologist can cost around $100-$200. Considering the different tests you may need to understand if your dog needs surgery, prices can be up to $500. Cataract surgery may cost $1500 to $3500 per eye, depending on the clinic, so it may be wise to get quotes from different ophthalmologists.
How do you tell if your dog has cataracts or glaucoma?
Canine glaucoma consists of a group of diseases of the optic nerves which lead to the degeneration of the optic nerve and retina. Glaucoma is a leading cause of irreversible vision loss. It is defined as primary and secondary glaucoma, and secondary glaucoma may be a consequence of cataract surgery (incidence of 5 to 19%). Ophthalmologists will be able to spot the difference, so when in doubt always take your dog to the vet.
Does nuclear sclerosis cause blindness?
Sclerosis often consists of a progressive formation of connective tissue where there should not be. By “nuclear sclerosis” (cataracts) we are defining the progressive formation of connective tissue in the central area of the eye lens. This happens normally with age. As said before, if the sclerosis is significant, it may lead to blindness or impaired vision in dogs.
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