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Cataract Surgery for Dogs: What You Should Know

Cataracts in dogs are a relatively common occurrence but do need to be taken care of to avoid eventual blindness. In this blog post, our New Hope vets explain the causes, signs, and surgery required to treat cataracts in dogs.

What are cataracts in dogs?

Cataracts in dogs are a common eye condition characterized by the clouding of the lens within the eye. The lens is normally transparent, allowing light to pass through and focus on the retina, which enables clear vision.

However, when a cataract develops, the lens becomes opaque, obstructing the passage of light and causing vision impairment.

Cataracts can vary in severity, ranging from small, localized opacities to large, complete opacification of the lens. They can develop in one or both eyes and may progress gradually over time. While cataracts can occur in dogs of any age, they are more commonly seen in older dogs.

What are the causes of cataracts in dogs?

Several factors can contribute to the development of cataracts in dogs, including genetics, age-related changes, diabetes mellitus, nutritional deficiencies, inflammation, trauma to the eye, or exposure to certain medications or toxins.

What are the signs that dogs could have cataracts?

The signs of cataracts in dogs can vary depending on the severity of the condition and the underlying cause. Here are some common signs to watch for:

  • Cloudy or bluish appearance in the eye: This is the most obvious sign of cataracts. The affected eye may have a cloudy or bluish tint, obscuring the normal coloration of the eye.
  • Changes in behavior: If your dog is experiencing vision loss due to cataracts, you may notice changes in behavior such as bumping into objects, reluctance to navigate unfamiliar areas, or hesitance to jump or climb.
  • Increased clumsiness: Vision impairment from cataracts can lead to clumsiness or difficulty judging distances, causing your dog to stumble or fall more frequently.
  • Rubbing or pawing at the eyes: If your dog is experiencing discomfort or irritation from cataracts, they may paw at their eyes or rub them against furniture or the ground.
  • Squinting or blinking: Dogs with cataracts may squint or blink excessively in an attempt to clear their vision or alleviate discomfort.
  • Changes in eye appearance:  In addition, besides cloudiness, you may notice other changes in the affected eye such as redness, inflammation, or tearing.
  • Difficulty seeing in low light: Cataracts can impair your dog's vision, particularly in dim or low-light conditions, leading to difficulty seeing in the dark or at night.
If you notice any of these signs in your dog, it's important to consult with your veterinarian promptly. Early detection and treatment of cataracts can help preserve your dog's vision and overall quality of life.

Diagnosing Cataracts in Dogs  

Diagnosing cataracts in dogs typically involves a comprehensive eye examination performed by a veterinarian or a veterinary ophthalmologist. During the examination, the vet will use various tools and techniques to assess the dog's eyes and look for signs of cataracts.

One of the primary methods used to diagnose cataracts is through direct visualization of the lenses using an ophthalmoscope. This instrument allows the vet to examine the clarity of the lenses and detect any opacities or cloudiness associated with cataracts.

In addition, the vet may also perform tests to evaluate the dog's vision and assess the extent of the cataract. 

These tests may include:

  • Schirmer tear test: This test measures the production of tears to assess the dog's tear production, which can be affected by cataracts.
  • Tonometry: This test measures the pressure inside the dog's eyes, which can help detect conditions such as glaucoma that may be associated with cataracts.
  • Electroretinography (ERG): This test evaluates the function of the retina and can help determine the impact of cataracts on the dog's vision.
  • Ultrasound: In some cases, ultrasound imaging may be used to visualize the internal structures of the eye and assess the severity of cataracts, especially if they are difficult to see with traditional methods.

Treating Your Dog's Cataracts

Once cataracts are diagnosed, the vet will discuss treatment options and recommendations based on the dog's age, overall health, and the extent of the cataracts.

Surgery may sometimes be recommended to remove cataracts and restore vision. Alternatively, if the cataracts are mild or in the early stage, your veterinarian may recommend medical management to slow down their progression. This management could include topical medications or supplements aimed at supporting eye health.

Regardless of the treatment chosen, you may need to adjust your dog's lifestyle to accommodate its vision impairment. These adjustments can include modifying its environment to reduce hazards, using verbal cues to guide it, and providing extra support and reassurance.

It's important to work closely with your veterinarian to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for your dog's individual needs. Regular check-ups and ongoing monitoring are essential to ensure the best possible outcome for your dog's eye health.

How much does cataract surgery cost for dogs?

The cost of surgery can vary depending on the severity of your dog's eye condition, its age, and overall health. It's best to discuss pricing with your vet.

Your Dog's Vision After Surgery

Provided that the rest of the eye is in good working order, cataract surgery in dogs has a high success rate. Approximately 95% of dogs regain vision as soon as they recover from the procedure.

The long-term prognosis for your dog maintaining vision after surgery is about 90% at one year, and 80% at two years postoperatively.

Successful long-term outcomes depend upon good post-operative care and regular visits to the veterinarian for eye examinations and monitoring.

Your Dog's Recovery Process After Surgery

The initial healing period after cataract surgery in dogs is approximately two weeks. During those two weeks, your dog must always wear an E-collar (cone) and be limited to leashed walks.

Several medications must also be administered to your dog during this time, including eye drops and oral medications. Following your veterinarian's instructions is critical for a successful outcome with your dog's vision.

When you attend the 2-week follow-up appointment, your dog's medications may be reduced. However, some dogs will need to remain on medication permanently if the cataract is associated with underlying health conditions such as diabetes or other metabolic disorders. 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your dog showing signs of cataracts? Contact our New Hope vets to book an examination for your pup.

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