You and your dog have been together forever, you’ve had many adventures, went on walks, and shared memories with it. But for some odd reason, you noticed some white stuff in its pupil. You know it isn’t a cute differently colored eye – it’s cataracts. But how?
What are Cataracts in Dogs?
To be specific, PetMD describes cataracts as a cloudiness in the eye which worsens over time. Now, a dog has a clear lens in its eyes to help him focus, similar to a camera. But much like humans, cataracts in dogs is serious and painful. A cataract usually isn’t painful, but it can impair vision and can eventually cause complete vision loss.
Cataracts in dogs are a disease that clouds the lens of the eye.Smaller cataracts in dogs typically do not impact vision as larger cataracts; however, all cataracts in dogs must be closely monitored to prevent blindness.
Cataract formation is typically caused by old age, disease (such as diabetes mellitus), and eye trauma. It appears as a murky, cloudy, grayish-blue color while some can also become red and irritated.
As the disease worsens, the eye lens can become completely opaque, causing total blindness.
Stages of Cataracts in Dogs
As you may know, cataracts have different stages and levels of severity. Essentially, a cataract is an opacity in the eye lens that can range in size and severity. A very small (incipient cataract) does not typically impair vision.
Incipient cataracts are the very first stage of cataracts in dogs and caught early and treated by a veterinary ophthalmologist can lead to a good outcome for your dog.
Cataracts in dogs that are more opaque (immature cataracts or also known as a “juvenile cataracts”) are more serious and typically cause blurred vision.
Eventually, the entire lens can become cloudy, and all functional vision is lost. This is called mature cataracts.
Furthermore, some mature cataracts will transform over time into hypermature cataracts.
Hypermature cataracts form due to a loss of fluid and proteins from the lens.
Hypermature cataracts vary in cloudiness; some are completely cloudy whereas others allow some vision if the rest of the eye is healthy. Depending on the dog’s age and breed, it can take several months and even up to several years for a mature cataract to transform into a hypermature cataract.
Senile cataracts are dependent on the dog’s age (above 6 years usually); and therefore, is late-onset cataracts in dogs.
Some cataracts in dogs are small and do not impact vision at all, whereas more severe cataracts in dogs can enlarge and cause blurred vision. Over time, untreated cataracts in dogs can damage the internal eye structures, causing the entire lens to become cloudy and total vision loss.
In fact, some advanced cases of untreated cataracts in dogs can prevent fluids from flowing into the eye, causing Glaucoma, which the National Eye Institute (NEI) describes as a group of painful diseases that damage the eye’s optic nerve and subsequently cause total blindness.
Now, although the different stages of cataracts in dogs are pretty clear, not all cataracts in dogs lead to blindness. This is because not all cataracts in dogs develop at the same rate.
Cataracts in dogs due to aging tend to develop at a slower rate whereas cataracts in dogs caused by diabetes lead to blindness in approximately 75 percent of dogs within one year of diagnosis.
What Causes Cataracts in Dogs?
Although the most common cause of cataracts in dogs is age, there are a number of other factors, illnesses, and conditions that can also cause cataract formation.
Here is a list of the most common causes of cataracts in dogs:
- Eye injuries or trauma
- Nutritional disorders or deficiencies
- Exposure to toxic substances
- Birth defects
- Eye infections
- Eye inflammation
- Cancer therapy treatments
Some other causes of cataracts in dogs include Toxicosis, which is the pawing or scratching of the eye, causing excessive swelling, inflammation, redness and tearing. Toxicosis can also be caused by low calcium levels.
As mentioned above, cataracts in dogs can also be caused by nutritional deficiency. The most common example is puppies that are on artificial milk diets. These types of cataracts in dogs are also known as nutritional cataracts, and they often improve as puppies mature.
The most common types of cataracts in dogs are those associated with age.
Most cataracts in dogs develop after the dog is eight years old (depending on the breed, of course). However, cataracts in dogs that are brought on by age are usually relatively small and do not immediately impact vision.
Signs of Cataracts Developing in Dogs
Dog moms and dads can sometimes detect cataracts by looking into the dog’s eyes. An eye infected with a cataract appears bluish-gray, opaque, and cloudy. As the dog ages, his eye lens may also become clouded due to age-related changes, which is a process known as nuclear sclerosis.
It’s important to note that the signs and symptoms of cataracts and nuclear sclerosis are very similar, so an examination by your dog’s veterinarian (or specifically veterinary ophthalmologist) may be required to determine if your dog has a cataract or nuclear sclerosis.
Read on to learn more about the similarities and differences between nuclear sclerosis and cataracts in dogs.
Types of Cataracts in Dogs
Again, much like humans, dogs can also suffer from diabetes.
Diabetes is not only a potentially life-threatening disease for dogs, especially when untreated, but it is also known to cause cataracts in dogs. This is known as diabetes mellitus, or “sugar diabetes”, which is a common metabolic disorder in dogs.
Diabetic Dogs: Why They Have a Higher Risk
Diabetes causes high sugar levels in the bloodstream, which can have a negative impact on many organs in a dog’s body. Insulin can also be used to help treat a diabetic dog, helping to convert glucose into fuel.
Untreated diabetes can lead to damaged kidneys, blood vessels, nerves, the heart and eyes, such as cataracts.
Be sure to be on the lookout for signs of cataracts if you have a diabetic dog.
Nuclear Sclerosis Vs. Cataracts
As we mentioned above, nuclear sclerosis or lenticular sclerosis and cataracts in dogs share many similarities and differences, so it’s important to understand what those are in order to seek the right treatment for your dog.
Most veterinarians and veterinary ophthalmologists can quickly tell the difference between nuclear sclerosis and cataracts in dogs with an exam. But it is important to note that nuclear sclerosis usually occurs by the time a dog is 6 years old.
The exam will involve checking the corneas. If the cloudiness is present on or behind the cornea, then the problem is likely a cataract.
The only clinical symptom of nuclear sclerosis is a cloudiness on the lens. Some dogs may also experience some difficulty with judging distance and range.
If a veterinary ophthalmologist looks deeper into your dog’s eye and can see clearly through to the retina, then the problem is likely nuclear sclerosis.
The good news is that if your dog is diagnosed with nuclear sclerosis, it won’t severely impair vision and no treatment is necessary. Despite popular belief, no, nuclear sclerosis does NOT develop cataracts in dogs.
However, if you notice your dog’s eyes changing color, it’s incredibly important to have your dog evaluated by a vet to determine if the issue is nuclear sclerosis or a more serious condition, such as cataracts.
Are Different Breeds More Prone to Cataracts Than Others?
The size and severity of cataracts in dogs can vary with age and breed. So, does this also mean that different breeds are more prone to cataracts than others?
Although almost all dog breeds are at risk for cataracts as they age, the answer is YES, some dog breeds are more prone to developing cataracts than others.
Listed below are a few dog breeds that are more likely to develop cataracts:
The Shetland Sheepdog – This “sheepish” breed can suffer from a variety of eye problems, including “Collie Eye”, which affects the retina and optic nerve. Some dogs live their whole lives with this condition and never suffer from blindness, whereas other cases can leave some dogs blind. All in all, this particular breed is at a higher risk for also developing cataracts.
The Boston Terrier – Boston Terrier is another dog breed that is prone to developing eye problems, including a disease that is known as “Cherry Eye”, and cataracts.
The Siberian Husky – This beautiful dog breed is prone to a variety of conditions, which can lead to skin and hair loss, particularly on the face. These skin conditions can eventually impact the eyes and cause cataracts.
The Poodle – This pretty pup is susceptible to eye problems, specifically Glaucoma. As we explored above, severe cases of cataracts in dogs—especially those left untreated—can cause Glaucoma.
The Pug – This cute little dog breed is particularly susceptible to eye problems. The most common issue is eye bulging, which can happen in an accident or in a fight with another dog. However, because cataracts in dogs are brought on by excessive inflammation and infection, this breed is also at a higher risk of developing cataracts.
The Boxer – This very proud and attractive dog breed is at high risk for developing lymphoma, which is a type of cancer that involves the growth of tumors on the skin and in the lymph nodes. Although this type of cancer is typically treatable with radiation and surgery, one of the most common side effects of radiation for cancer therapy is cataracts in dogs.
The Miniature Schnauzer – Although any dog can develop diabetes, this “mini” dog breed seems to be at a higher risk for the disease. One of the most common illnesses that arise from diabetes in dogs is cataracts.
However, this doesn’t mean those breeds not listed won’t get cataracts.
Treatment Options for Cataracts in Dogs
Now that you have a better understanding of cataracts in dogs, their causes, and which breeds are at a higher risk for developing cataracts, can cataracts in dogs be treated? If so, what are the treatment options?
The good news is YES, cataracts in dogs can be treated, however, no treatment can guarantee 100 percent restored vision.
Here are the most common treatment options for cataracts in dogs.
Surgery – Surgery is the most immediate, effective treatment for cataracts in dogs, however, it is also the most expensive. Surgery for cataracts in dogs can cost up to $3,000 per eye.
Oral Supplements – As modern veterinary medicine improves, there are some new, cost-effective treatment options for cataracts in dogs, such as oral supplements. These oral supplements act as antioxidants to reduce inflammation in the eyes caused by cataracts in dogs.
Eye Drops – In addition, N-acetylcarnosine eye drops are quickly becoming a viable and effective treatment option for cataracts in dogs. These eye drops have proven to help treat common conditions and issues that cause cataracts in dogs.
All in all, if your dog is one of the breeds that are at a higher risk for cataracts, then you may want to consider purchasing pet health insurance to help cover the cost of surgery or whatever treatment option your dog may need that is recommended by a veterinary ophthalmologist.
Top FAQs for Cataracts in Dogs
We threw a lot of information at you in this article, but you still likely have a number of questions about cataracts in dogs.
Here are some FAQs for cataracts in dogs:
“Can I as a pet owner prevent cataracts in my dog?”
Unfortunately, no, there is nothing you can do to prevent cataracts from developing in your dog, especially if your dog is a breed that is at a higher risk for cataracts or if your dog is aging.
However, what you CAN do is pay close attention to your dog’s eyes. If you notice even a hint of cloudiness or discolor, call your vet right away.
“Does my dog need eye surgery to see if he has cataracts?”
Yes, surgery is the most immediate and effective option for treating cataracts in dogs, and it is likely the primary treatment recommended by your vet, but it is not 100 percent necessary. Like we mentioned above, eye drops and oral supplements might do the trick, but that is a big might.
Most veterinarians and dog ophthalmologists will be able to perform an exam to see if your dog has cataracts. Dogs can also live with cataracts, however, over time their vision will become impaired.
“Is eye vision guaranteed after cataract surgery?”
Although the results and success rates are high, no, vision is not 100 percent guaranteed after cataract surgery.
While vet surgeons/veterinary ophthalmologists can extract cataracts and replace them with an artificial lens, most dogs will have improved vision, up 90 to 95 percent, but 5 to 10 percent of dogs will not regain 100 percent vision after cataract surgery.
Eye Surgery: What Should I Expect and What Are the Risks?
Again, cataract surgery is the most immediate and successful treatment option for cataracts in dogs. Upon retinal testing to prove the dog’s retina is healthy, most vets will recommend cataract surgery for dogs, especially in cases where the disease has progressed and the dog is at risk for blindness.
However, cataract surgery is not recommended for dogs with non-hereditary forms of cataracts. Although most cataract surgeries are successful, regaining up to 90 to 95 percent of vision, like any type of surgery, cataract surgery certainly has its risks.
So, if your dog is about to have cataract surgery, here are some things you can expect as well as the potential risks:
Because different dog breeds react to cataract surgery differently, and because the severity of the infection and inflammation differ, sometimes cataract surgery is unsuccessful.
For example, dogs that suffer from hyper mature cataracts are less likely to regain vision, even after surgery. In the absolute worst-case scenario, sometimes cataract surgery can leave a dog completely blind.
Glaucoma occurs in approximately 30 percent of dogs that undergo cataract surgery, usually within the first 24 hours after surgery.
Although this condition can be temporary and quickly treated within the first few days after surgery, Glaucoma can also occur later in the dog’s life—even months or years after surgery. Glaucoma is painful and can cause complete vision loss.
It also may require additional medications or future surgeries.
Although intraocular infections are rare after cataract surgery, they can still happen. Severe cases can cause vision loss.
Like any type of surgery, whether for humans or pets, undergoing general anesthesia is always a risk, even for healthy pets. However, modern medicine has improved anesthesia greatly in the last five years. Although anesthesia risks are lower, all dogs are closely monitored while undergoing cataract surgery under general anesthesia.
Living with Cataracts: How to Care for Your Furry Best Friend
All in all, the overall progression rate of cataracts in dogs greatly depends on the dog’s age, genetics, breed and the presence of any other diseases or conditions, such as diabetes.
If your dog has recently had cataract surgery, then your dog will need care and monitoring, especially as the eyes heal. Some dogs may require an extended stay in the hospital to ensure that he or she is recovering.
Once your dog can return to your home, he or she will likely require medications for several weeks to help the healing and recovery process.
Remember, not ALL cataract surgeries are successful, but, the overall success rate is still quite high.
Most dogs will have improved vision after surgery. Dogs that suffer from the severe inflammation of the eye or excessive scar tissue are less likely to regain full vision after surgery.
Remember, cataract surgery will help improve the dog’s quality of life, not necessarily reverse vision loss.
Furthermore, some dogs require anti-inflammatory medication for several weeks, months, or even the rest of their lives after cataract surgery. These medications are often antioxidants that prevent future eye issues, such as infections and Glaucoma.
A Happy, Healthy Life for Your Dog
If you believe your dog has cataracts or if your dog belongs to a breed that is more prone to developing cataracts, then it’s important to monitor your dog closely, especially as he or she ages.
Although there isn’t anything you can do to prevent cataract formation in your dog, now you know what you can do to ensure that your dog lives a happy and healthy life—with or without cataracts.