While our ophthalmology departments treat a wide range of diseases and conditions of the eye, canine cataracts are among the most common. Each year, plenty of pet owners make trips to their veterinarian with complaints about their dog’s eyes appearing cloudy or noticing that their vision seems impaired. While various conditions and normal aging of the eye can contribute to these symptoms, it is important that cataracts be ruled out.
What are Cataracts?
Similar to a camera, our dog’s eyes have a lens inside of them that is used for focusing. A cataract is an opacification or cloudiness of the lens that prevents a clear image from focusing on the retina.
Why Do Dogs Get Cataracts?
Dr. Jane Ashley Huey is a veterinary ophthalmologist. She is board-certified by the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists and treats various diseases and disorders of the eye.
“Cataracts in dogs are most commonly inherited,” Huey says. “They can also develop secondary to metabolic disease (diabetes mellitus), trauma, retinal disease, or inflammation in the eye.”
Certain breeds of dog may be predisposed to developing cataracts. Boston terriers, miniature schnauzers, poodles, and American cocker spaniels are just some of the many breeds that are genetically predisposed to developing cataracts.
Signs & Symptoms of Cataracts in Dogs
Some symptoms of cataracts are impaired vision and discoloration of the eye (white pupil). A dog who has cataracts secondary to diabetes mellitus may exhibit other clinical signs including thirst, increased urination, and weight loss.
Treatment for Cataracts
Once a cataract has formed in the lens, there is no way to reverse it. The only way to remove a cataract is with surgery. It is important for owners to understand, however, that not all cataracts require surgery, and not all patients are candidates.
Over the years, there have been several medical therapies (such as eye drops) developed to “dissolve” cataracts, but none have proven successful. These preparations can actually be detrimental, as they can provide false hope to the owners while the cataract progresses to a point where surgery would no longer be beneficial.
It is optimal for a dog to have an exam as soon as an owner or primary care veterinarian notices cloudiness or vision deficits so that a team approach can be developed with an ophthalmologist. If a patient is eligible for cataract surgery, the sooner the surgery can be performed, the better the long-term outcome.
How Well Will My Dog See After the Surgery?
Before surgery, you veterinary ophthalmologist will perform a full ophthalmic exam and determine retinal function.
“If the rest of the eyes are in optimal condition, we expect vision to return to a full, functioning level,” Huey says. “It is important for our post-op patients to receive continuous post-operative therapy and regular follow-up exams.
What are the Risks Involved With Cataract Surgery?
Rarely are there complications with cataract surgery, but some post-surgical complications that ophthalmologists are prepared to encounter are corneal ulcers and pressure elevations within the eye.
“We do multiple follow-up exams after surgery to get ahead of any issues that may arise while the eyes are healing,” Huey says.
Although uncommon, retinal detachment and glaucoma may also develop after cataract surgery.
How Do I Know if My Dog is Candidate for Cataract Surgery?
“The best way to determine if your dog is a candidate for surgery would be for them to have a full ocular exam by a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist,” Huey says. “There are several types of cataracts and not all of them are operable or will necessarily return vision.