Dog Cataracts - Everything You Need to Know

Just like in humans, the eyes are extremely important sensory organs for canines. Mild eye disorders among dogs typically cause no harm and may sometimes go away without needing any treatment. However, severe eye injuries may significantly compromise a dog’s vision, and can sometimes inflict irreversible harm. One of the most common eye disorders among dogs is cataract, which occurs when clouds or fogs develop in front of the eye lens.

When the lens of the eyes are partially or completely blocked or clouded, light may not pass through the retina, or the pigmented area of the dog’s eye. This may result in decreased, sometimes even loss of vision. 

There are many different possible causes of dog cataracts, some of the most common are:
    Dog Cataracts
  • DiabetesDogs with diabetes are at highest risk of cataracts. Unfortunately, diabetic dogs suffering from this eye condition have a 75% chance of getting blind within 12 months
  • Older age – it is normal for some dogs to develop cataracts as they age, although it is not as severe and as fast-developing as cataracts caused by an underlying medical condition or trauma
  • Drug toxicity – Toxic amounts of tick and flea medications and vaccines may cause cataracts
  • Trauma – A direct injury in the eye may cause the lens of the eye or the capsule protecting it from rupturing, causing the clouding of the eye
  • Other eye conditions – Inflammation of the uvea (uveitis), glaucoma, and retinal atrophy may all cause cataracts

Heredity – Certain dog breeds are at higher risk of developing cataracts as compared to others. Examples of these breeds are poodle, spaniel, Siberian husky, Maltese, golden retriever, Boston terrier, Yorkshire terrier, schnauzer, Labrador retriever and old English sheepdog.

Consulting a vet for cataract detection

If you suspect that your dog’s pupil changed from black to bluish and white and if you noticed any fogginess in your buddy’s eyes, visit a veterinarian immediately for a cataract diagnosis. Your vet will conduct a thorough assessment of the signs and may also recommend one or more of these tests to determine any underlying condition that might be causing the cataract:

  • Urinalysis
  • Complete blood count
  • Biochemistry profile
  • Electroretinography – Checks abnormal eye function by measuring the function of the retina’s light-sensitive cells
  • Ultrasounds

Cataract surgery on dogs explained

For mild cases of cataracts that do not significantly affect vision, treatment may not always be necessary. For cases that slightly trouble vision, the use of anti-inflammatory eye drops can be prescribed. However, for a fast-progressing or severe cataract, the dog may be required to undergo cataract surgery to remove the fogginess.

There are many ways on how vets perform cataract surgery. One known surgical procedure found to be more than 90% successful among dogs is phacoemulsification. This procedure involves breaking up and removing the cloudy lens with an ultrasonic device. After aspirating the emulsified cataract, an intraocular lens is sometimes implanted to improve vision. In some instances, however, the intraocular lens may become displaced, which means it should be removed. Dogs that have had their intraocular lens removed after a cataract surgery can still see. However, they are more at risk of far-sightedness.

Understanding the difference between cataracts and nuclear sclerosis

In most instances, dog owners tend to mistakenly identify the discoloration of their dog’s lens as cataracts, instead of nuclear sclerosis. Nuclear sclerosis is the normal graying of the lens due to the condensation or hardening of the fibers that line the lens. This is a more common eye condition among dogs compared to cataracts. 

Dogs are more prone to nuclear sclerosis if they are more than six years of age. During this condition, both of the eyes’ lenses become slightly grayish at the same time, although it poses no serious harm among dogs.

There are some genetic and natural factors beyond your control that might increase the risk of dog cataracts. As pet parents, however, we have to ensure that these factors will not be aggravated by risks that we could have somehow been prevented. We can do this by ensuring that our best buddy is at his optimum health, and that his environment is clean and safe.