Dogs' eyes are not that different from our own. They have pupils, corneas, lenses, rods, and cones that work similar to ours, although they see things a little differently.
Since their eyes are similar, they can develop some of the same eye conditions that we do. One of the eye conditions our canine friends share with us is cataracts — or clouded eye lenses.
It’s important to know what cataracts are, how dog cataracts are caused, and what veterinarians can do to treat them. This way, you can take measures to reduce the chances of your dog developing cataracts and get them the treatment they need.
What Are Canine Cataracts?
As they age, dogs develop cataracts in much the same way that humans do. A cloudy film sets into the eye’s lens and keeps light from entering.
Your dog's eyes have water and proteins in them. Cataracts form when the proteins begin to clump together and form into a cloud-like substance in the eye’s lens.
More and more proteins gather, eventually clouding the entire lens. Cataracts can start small and grow large, or they can appear overnight and completely blind your dog.
What Causes Cataracts?
Cataracts are an inheritable trait, so if a dog is one of the breeds known for cataracts, there is a good chance they might develop them.
Diabetes Mellitus (sugar diabetes) can also cause cataracts in dogs.
It’s also possible for eye injuries, which can cause inflammation, to lead to cataracts. Age is another leading cause of cataract development, appearing suddenly without an underlying condition.
How Can I Tell if My Dog Is Developing Cataracts?
It's important to know that another condition is similar to cataracts — nuclear sclerosis, or hardening of the lenses as your dog ages.
This condition causes their eyes to become more cloudy but does not cause blindness. Your dog can see even though their eye lenses have changed. Your veterinarian will examine your dog’s eyes to determine if they have nuclear sclerosis or cataracts.
Dog’s eye structures change as they age, much like ours do. If your dog is aging and begins to develop a cloudy look in their eyes, or if they have an underlying eye disease cataracts can start to appear.
They might stay small or grow, depending on the condition that has caused them and where they are in the lens. If cataracts develop because your dog has diabetes, they might expand rapidly to cover the entire lens.
What Happens When a Cataract Goes Untreated?
When a dog with cataracts is left untreated, they can become blind. The cataract completely blocks light from entering the eye through the lens and keeps your dog from seeing. The condition is still treatable at that time with surgery, but without treatment, it can develop into glaucoma.
Glaucoma is a condition where there is too much pressure in the eye, which damages the optic nerve. If the nerve is damaged, your dog will be permanently blind in the eye where the nerve sustained the damage.
It’s important to note that not all cataracts can lead to glaucoma or blindness. Sometimes, they develop only enough to cause some reduction in sight.
Glaucoma isn’t the only condition that can be caused by untreated cataracts. Another is lens luxation, or a condition where the lens can float around out of place. Cataract dissolution, where the cataracts dissolve on their own, can cause deep inflammation within the eye and lead to uveitis or glaucoma.
Uveitis is an inflammatory condition within the eye that is painful for your dog and can cause blindness.
Which Dogs Are Prone to Cataracts?
All dogs can develop cataracts, but some breeds are more prone to the condition because of genetic traits.
Some of these are:
- American Staffordshire Terrier
- Australian Shepherd
- Bichon Frise
- Boston Terrier
- Cocker Spaniel
- French Bulldog
- Labrador Retriever
- Miniature Schnauzer
- Siberian Husky
- Silky Terrier
- West Highland White Terrier
How Are Cataracts in Dogs Diagnosed?
Your veterinarian will examine your dog’s eyes using a light. Veterinarians also use blood tests to determine if any underlying conditions might have caused your dog's cataracts.
How Can I Help Preserve My Dog’s Vision?
In most cases, you cannot prevent cataracts, but there are ways to ensure that your dog’s vision is preserved, especially if a medical condition like diabetes causes it. These include:
- Examine your dog’s eyes regularly.
- Take your dog to the vet if their eyes look cloudy or bluish-gray.
- Take your dog to the vet if you suspect they're having trouble seeing.
- If possible, find out the medical history of your dog’s parents, since cataracts are often inherited.
- Be aware of any conditions your dog has that may cause cataracts, such as diabetes or eye trauma.
How Can Cataracts Be Treated?
One of the goals of cataract surgery in canines is to return functional vision. There are no known remedies that can reverse the forming of a cataract — surgery is the only option for cataracts once they have formed.
Cataracts are removed with a surgical procedure under general anesthesia. The lens is removed, and the veterinarian replaces it with a lens made from plastic or acrylic. There may only be a need to operate on one eye, or the veterinary ophthalmologist may need to perform the procedure on both eyes.
Veterinarians also run tests to look for underlying conditions that are known to cause cataracts. Treating any conditions that can cause cataracts to form is essential because it reduces the chances that those conditions might cause further health issues.
How Can I Care for My Pet After Cataract Surgery?
Your dog’s eyes will be sensitive after the surgery, so they have to be placed into a protective collar to keep them from rubbing them and causing damage. Veterinarians also give you eye drops to put in your dog’s eyes a few times per day to keep them moisturized and let them heal correctly.
Your pet will need to rest and stay in a calm environment for a few weeks as their eyes heal. If you notice any complications, notify your veterinarian immediately.
The Benefits and Costs of Treatment
Surgery for canine cataracts can be costly. The procedure itself can cost up to a few thousand dollars per eye. If your dog has any underlying conditions, the costs continue to rise as you continue visiting the office and your veterinarian prescribes medications for them.
Depending on the severity of your dog’s health and cataracts, you might face medical bills of over $5,000. In general, pre-operative costs are between $500 and $1,000, while the price of surgery ranges from $3,000 to $4,500.
While this might seem steep, when everything is complete, your dog will see you again and be able to enjoy time with you to the fullest. Be sure to monitor your dog's eye after cataract procedure, because they can still develop glaucoma and other eye conditions after surgery.