Cataracts in Dogs

  • By: Mick Whitefield
  • Time to read: 8 min.

A Cataract is a medical condition which develops when proteins in the eye form clumps, noticeable when the lens of the eye becomes progressively opaque, resulting in blurred cloudy vision. As the lens becomes cloudy it affects the movement of light through the lens of the eye to the retina making your sight appear blurred, hazy or faded in the detail it can focus on, thus creating a variety of visual problems from blurred vision, double vision, a lack of visual clarity and a struggle with light and glare.

The Symptoms of Cataract include:

  • Cloudy or blurred vision
  • Double vision
  • Difficulty in seeing in low light such as night time
  • A Sensitivity to bright light and/or glare
  • Need for brighter than normal light to see objects
  • Seeing a halo shape around lights
  • Seeing objects in faded or yellow colour
  • Eye pain
  • Headache due to changes in vision

For dogs we have to assume that the above problems for humans are the same but these visual problems will obviously make seeing difficult which is why they will bump into objects or perhaps not recognise people (owners) from a distance or often be frightened or wary of something or someone approaching.

The Causes of Cataracts in Dogs

  • Aging
  • Family history
  • Diabetes
  • Injury to the eye including excessive exposure to sunlight
  • Past surgery to the eye
  • Long- term use of steroid medications
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure

Cataracts in Dogs

Cataracts rank among the most common causes of blindness in dogs. A cataract is when the lens becomes cloudy (opaque) and interferes with the passage of light into the retina. In normal conditions, the lens is a transparent disc located behind the colored part of the eye (iris). When healthy, the lens allows the entry of light and focuses it onto the retina to produce a sharp image.

Eyeball 1 Lens Clouded

The lens is made up of water and protein, and the two materials are arranged in a very definitive way. When the proteins start clumping together, either due to trauma or age, these protein strands gradually obscure the lens by forming cataracts. This makes it harder for your pet to see, and it could cause total blindness in some cases.

Cataracts Dogs One Eye
Note that the cataract is a large speck but only in one eye

A cataract might be a speck, hardly interfering with vision or quite severe, leading to total vision loss. Cataracts must be closely monitored because the denser and thicker they become, the higher the odds that they might lead to blindness.

Cataracts Drawing Eplanation
The Cataract explained
A Cataract is an abnormal cloudiness showing at the front of the eye, caused by a change in the structure of the lens. Normally, light will pass through the lens and project an image onto the back of the eye (the retina). A Cataracts stops or deflects light getting through and reduces vision.

However, we should not confuse cataracts with nuclear sclerosis, which is caused by the hardening of the lens. Nuclear sclerosis happens as your dog gets older. 

Causes of Cataracts in Dogs

Causes of cataracts in dogs are advanced age, hereditary lineage, retinal disease, trauma, and one of the most common now in the western world – Diabetes.

The degree of progression is often predictable, and your veterinary ophthalmic can determine that through a detailed examination.

Cataracts are often a hereditary condition, with over 100 dog breeds known to be prone to incidences of congenital cataracts. If a dog happens to be carrying the gene mutation, he is at a higher risk of developing eye cataracts. 

Diabetes is another common cause of cataracts. Nearly all diabetic dogs tend to develop cataracts. The high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes alter the balance of proteins and water in the lens, leading to cataract formation.

When cataracts are the product of your dog having diabetes, cataracts often occur within a year of the dog becoming diabetic.

To increase the chances of a successful surgery and lens implant, it’s essential to have early diagnosis and timely therapy. 

Dogs eyes Vs Humans eyes

Dogs eyeballs are very similar to human eyeballs but there is a major difference in their vision due to the cone rods within the eyeball.

Eyeball Showing Cones

The cones which are within the retina are different in that Dogs have 2 types of cone as opposed to Humans who have 3 types of cone. The result is that dogs see with less colouration then us humans.

Human Sight Vs Dog Sight

Thus when something like a cataract is present in the eye, it causes sight problems far more quickly for dogs than for humans.

Diagnosing Cataracts in Dogs

While only a vet can confirm cases of cataracts in dogs, it helps to know the symptoms and what to look for in managing the condition. If he has cataracts, you are likely to notice some behavior change. He may start bumping into objects such as furniture and walls.

If you suspect your dog has vision problems, consult a vet immediately. The veterinarian will conduct a preliminary eye exam to determine whether the dog has a cataract or suffering from another eye condition that is causing cloudiness. The veterinary ophthalmologist will recommend the steps to take to help manage the vision problem.

Though all dog of all ages and breeds can develop cataracts, the condition is more common in Smooth Fox Terriers, Silky Terriers, American Cocker Spaniels, Bichon Frise, Havanese, Miniature Poodles, Boston Terriers, and Miniature Schnauzers. If a cataract is diagnosed early, management and treatment become easier.

Treatment of Cataracts

Cataracts in dogs won’t disappear on their own, and no pill or eye drop can reverse damage in the lens. Although oral treatments can ease the discomfort, surgery is the only effective treatment.

The goal is to remove the cloudiness and insert an artificial intraocular lens (IOL) implant in the lens bag. 

Cataracts are removed through phacoemulsification or suture-less cataract surgery. The procedure entails the use of special surgical equipment that pulverizes the eye lens into small fragments. The surgeon then removes the pieces from the lens capsule. 

However, surgery may not be the best option for all dogs, and the vet ophthalmologist will determine if your dog makes a good candidate. A dog with eye inflammation, damaged retinas or glaucoma may make surgery unsuccessful.

Immediately after the surgery, the vet is likely to place your dog on an anti-inflammatory cataract eye drops routine for about 4-6 months. The vet will also schedule regular appointments to recheck and monitor your dog’s eyes.

Sometimes dogs may have other illness such as heart or kidney disease that makes anaesthesia too risky. In such cases, your vet may prescribe long-term anti-inflammatory eye drops to help control any inflammation. These drops won’t directly treat cataracts or restore vision, but they can prevent or delay lens-induced glaucoma.

An untreated cataract might slip or “luxate” from the tissue holding it in place. That frees the cataract to float around and settle anywhere in the eye, blocking natural fluid drainage. Not only can that lead to glaucoma and painful eye inflammation but also permanent blindness.

Preventing Cataracts in Dogs

Because many dog cataracts are hereditary by nature, there is not much you can do as a pet owner to prevent them from forming in the first place.

However, giving your dog a high-quality diet plus an antioxidant supplement might help. In general, omega-3 fatty acids are known to promote eye health. Consult a veterinary nutritionist for recommendations on what is best for your dog.

Most importantly, if you see vision problems in your dog, consult your vet immediately to discuss the available treatment and management options for your dog.

Surgery Post-Care Cataract

After surgery, most facilities will require your dog to stay overnight for at least one night for post-operative monitoring and care. Recovery forms an important part of ensuring an excellent surgical outcome.

In some cases, the vet surgeon might opt not to implant an artificial lens. Even in such a scenario, your dog will still benefit from the surgery with improved vision and freedom from pain. 

Recovery at home involves medicating the eye for several weeks with eye drops, oral pain medications, restricted activity, and regular rechecks at the pet clinic. Additionally, you will be responsible for giving the dog pet oral medications to prevent eye infection and inflammation.

Finally, remember that even if your dog has progressive cataracts that make him unsuitable for surgery, all is not lost. With the help of your vet and appropriate oral medication, you can ease his pain. He can learn to cope and compensate for the vision loss with their other senses such as smell. Your vet can help you with recommendations about caring for your furry friend, should he develop cataracts.

Dog Breeds Prone to Cataract

Any breed of dog is prone to cataracts particularly through diabetes, however some breeds are susceptible more than others such as:

  • American Cocker Spaniel
  • American Staffordshire Terrier
  • Australian Shepherd Dog
  • Bichon Frise
  • Boston Terrier
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • French Bulldog
  • Havanese
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Miniature Schnauzer
  • Poodles – Miniature and Standard
  • Siberian Husky
  • Silky Terriers
  • Smooth Fox Terriers
  • West Highland White Terrier

Further information on Cataract

Different Stages of Cataracts in Dogs?

There are a number of progressive stages of cataract – These are:

Incipient Cataract
The first stage of canine cataracts. There will be a small cloud in your dog’s eye, but does not noticeably impair their vision.
Immature Cataract
Also known as juvenile cataract. Immature cataracts are more opaque compared to incipient cataracts. It can affects anything from 15 to 99 per cent coverage of the lens.
You will notice some cloudiness, your dog may be required to undergo surgery removing some of the opaqueness from the lens.
Mature Cataract
One of the advanced stages in cataracts. Most of the lens will be cloudy. In this case, surgery may not be an option because complications can crop up post operatively.
Hyper Mature Cataract
The final advanced stage of any cataract. Due to the severity of this condition, surgery may not be an option. Continued degeneration of the lens will cause it to wrinkle resulting in blindness.
Senile Cataract
Also known as ‘old age’ cataracts. As its name implies, senile cataracts tend to appear on geriatric dogs.

Are Cataracts in Dogs Dangerous?

Canine cataract is not life-threatening condition, but it will restrict your dog from fulfilling a normal happy life. Remember if your dog cannot SEE properly then it may bump into things and will certainly not see cars or bikes coming.

Without proper medical treatment, the cataract may slip away from the tissue that’s keeping it in place. It will then drift around the eye and possibly obstruct the channels for natural fluid drainage.

Cataracts can also lead to the development of glaucoma, which can result to complete blindness. Other times, cataracts may even get dissolved in the eye, causing pain and irritation to your dog.

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