You start to notice your dog isn’t catching the ball the way he used to do during playtime. Treats end up on the floor with him sniffing around to find it. You might be thinking, “What’s wrong with my dog?” One possibility is a cataract.
What Is a Cataract?
A cataract is an opacity or cloudiness in the area surrounding the lens of the eye. This change causes blurry vision and can lead to other problems. Small ones won’t bother the dog much; but if they are thick or dense, they could lead to impaired vision, increased injuries, glaucoma or blindness.
There are many causes for cataracts. Some of the ones mentioned by veterinarians include:
- Old age
- Eye injury, trauma or inflammation
- Prolonged radiation exposure
- Low nutrient levels, such as calcium
- Excessive tears or drainage
- Excessive pawing at the eye
Deep inflammation or glaucoma can cause the eyes to turn red, painful and produce excess drainage. Dog cataracts can be present at birth or develop later in life. They can also develop quickly or slowly over time, so there is no clear progress for every cataract. Normal age-related lens changes that give a cloudy or thickened appearance are called lenticular or nuclear sclerosis.
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Cloudiness in the eye is a symptom of dog cataracts, but the eyes can also appear bluish-gray, black or white depending on the progress of the cataract. It can also become detached from the tissue that holds it in place and float about the eye. The danger in this event is the potential blockage of an area of the eye that allows drainage to occur. This blockage may cause inflammation and discomfort.
How Is It Treated?
The first step in treating a cataract in dogs is to have your vet confirm the diagnosis. There are other reasons eyes can appear cloudy, usually associated with age, but your vet will also want to check for any underlying causes contributing to the eye troubles (such as diabetes). Once other issues are ruled out or underlying medical issues are treated or managed, you may be referred to a veterinary ophthalmologist.
The treatment will depend on your dog’s conditions and whether your dog is considered healthy enough for surgery. Surgery can remove the damaged lens and replace it with a new lens, typically a prosthetic made from plastic or acrylic. Other surgical options may include alternative methods of treating the cataract, so talk with your veterinary ophthalmologist about what options are available.
This video discusses dog cataracts, their prevalence in dogs and treatment:
Surgery is usually followed by limited activity, a collar to prevent scratching the eye, eye drops and a follow-up visit to examine the progress since the surgery. If surgery is not recommended, the cataract will be monitored periodically by your vet. Drops may be prescribed to reduce inflammation until more invasive treatment is needed depending on the cataract’s progression.
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Who Is Affected?
Cataracts can affect dogs and cats, although the condition is more common in dogs. Some dog breeds have experienced more prevalence with cataracts, and these breeds include:
- Siberian husky
- Boston terrier
- Golden retriever
- Miniature schnauzer
- American cocker spaniel
Although there is no definite cure or prevention for cataracts, there are some things you can do to give your dog the best chance of avoiding them or managing the treatment.
Keeping your dog at a healthy weight will help keep diabetes at bay. Don’t over-medicate or over-vaccinate your vet. Keep your dog’s vet records updated with the same vet. Check the history of the parents of your dog for any health issues if those records are available.
Checking your dog’s eyes regularly will also help you identify changes sooner. If you do notice changes in the eye or your dog’s coordination, don’t delay in taking him to the vet. Earlier identification and treatment can improve your dog’s chances of recovery; ignoring a condition may lead to more serious conditions such as glaucoma or blindness.