Cataracts are common condition of the lens within the eye in dogs.
Cataracts may be age-related, hereditary, or due to other diseases
Some breeds of dog are more prone to cataracts
They may affect your dog’s vision, but some dogs cope remarkably well
They be treated medically, but can be treated surgically
Your dog will need to be referred to a specialist for surgery
What is the lens?
The lens is a transparent crystalline structure within the eye. It focuses light onto the back of the eye (retina) similar to how a camera lens focuses light on a film.
What is a cataract?
A cataract is the name for any cloudiness or opacity of the lens. This prevents passage of light through the lens to the back of the eye. It is not the same as nuclear sclerosis, which is a hardening of the central part of the lens that does not affect vision.
Cataracts can be due to old age (known as “senile” cataracts) or be due to other underlying diseases such as diabetes, uveitis and generalised progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). They can also be caused by trauma to the eye and some breeds have a hereditary predisposition to cataracts.
What signs should I look out for?
If your dog is developing cataracts, you may see a blueish tinge to the lens especially when they are looking at a bright light source. You may notice your dog’s vision starting to be affected especially in low light conditions.
How are cataracts diagnosed?
Your vet will likely examine the eye with an ophthalmoscope in order to visualise the lens. Specialist eye vets (veterinary ophthalmologists) may also use an ultrasound to examine the internal structures of the eye including the lens.
How are cataracts treated?
There are no medical options for treatment of cataracts and unfortunately they are not reversible. However, any underlying disease, such as diabetes, may be treated.
In more severe cases cataract surgery is an option. This involves breaking down the cataract with a process called phacoemulsification, then inserting an artificial lens into the eye to restore vision. It is performed by veterinary ophthalmologists, and is successful in around 85% of cases.
What is the long-term outlook if my dog has cataracts?
For uncomplicated age-related cataracts, dogs usually cope very well as the deterioration in vision is very slow and they adapt to rely more on their other senses. Where the cataracts are secondary to another disease, it is important to identify and address these underlying causes.
If your dog has surgery, your specialist will arrange regular checkups after the procedure. If all goes well, your dog’s vision, and quality of life, should be restored.
If you’re concerned about your dog’s sight, or wonder if they might have cataracts, the MyDogDoc vets are happy to help.