What exactly are cataracts in dogs and will your dog go blind or need surgery? We take your through the basics on canine cataracts and what to do if your dog has them.
Cataracts in dogs are cloudiness in the lens of your dog’s eyes that prevents him from seeing clearly. “There are many causes of cataracts in dogs, including inherited (genetic) cataracts, diabetes mellitus, uveitis (inflammation inside the eye) and trauma to the lens, among others,” says Beth Kimmitt, DVM, resident of ophthalmology at Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in West Lafayette, Indiana. Cats can get cataracts too, but they are much more common in dogs.
Inherited cataracts are the most common type of canine cataracts. This means the dog was born predisposed to developing the problem. Certain breeds are more likely to develop cataracts, including Australian Shepherds, Boston Terriers, French Bulldogs and Staffordshire Bull Terriers.
Cataracts are seen in older dogs but they can also occur in young dogs and even in puppies. When young dogs develop cataracts (between 6 months and 6 years old), it’s called juvenile cataracts. Cataracts can affect one or both eyes — frequently, one eye is more affected than the other.
Cataracts in dogs might develop quickly (over a period of weeks) or slowly (over a period of years). You might first notice that your dog’s eyes look cloudy or hazy. “Owners may start to notice a white color within the eye behind the iris (colored part of the eye),” Dr. Kimmitt says. “This may start out faint, and then become more obvious as the cataract progresses. Owners may also notice vision deficits as the cataract worsens. Often, obvious vision changes do not occur unless both eyes are affected because they compensate well with just one visual eye.”
Cloudy eyes don’t always mean your dog has cataracts. A condition in older dogs called nuclear lenticular sclerosis also causes a bluish-gray haze to the eyes, but it doesn’t significantly affect the vision because it’s transparent. Your vet can easily tell the difference. NLS always affects both eyes, whereas cataracts usually affect one eye more than the other.
If you’re wondering if your dog might have cataracts, bring him into your vet for an exam. This is important because cataracts might not be the only issue affecting the eye. “Cataracts can occur secondary to uveitis, and they can also cause uveitis,” Dr. Kimmitt explains. Uveitis is a painful inflammation of the eye. If your pet has this, he might need medications to reduce the inflammation and to keep him comfortable.
Having cataracts doesn’t automatically mean your dog will be blind. Some cataracts are small and affect the vision less. However, if your dog is blind, surgery can remove the cataracts. A veterinary eye specialist will remove the cloudy lens and replace it with a new artificial lens. The procedure is costly (in the thousands), but the results are good and generally permanent. For many pet owners, knowing that their beloved dog can see again is priceless.
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