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Like humans, dogs can develop cataracts as well. The lens of the eyes, which focus light onto the retina in a process called accomodation, is transparent in healthy dogs. In some dogs, parts of the lens become opaque and cloudy, usually with age, and if this coverage is sufficient, there can be vision problems and other eye complications.

Why does the lens become cloudy? In some dogs, and some breeds in particular, cataracts are congenital. The genes play a role in other cases and these cataracts affect younger dogs usually under the age of five. Diabetes also causes cataracts as the excess blood glucose alters the composition of the aqueous solution surrounding the lens. Less frequently, trauma such as accidents and electric shocks can also cause cataracts. 

Cataracts vary in severity. Incipient cataracts cover less than 15% of the lens and are not visible to the owner or noticed by the dog. Mature cataracts cover a greater part of the lens and penetrate deeper into its layers. Vision impairment may occur and the retina may not be visible under observation. 

While cataracts by themselves are not usually painful, they can cause glaucoma and uveitis which can cause a great deal of pain. Glaucoma is caused by increased pressure within the eye and can lead to blindness, while uveitis is an inflammation of the middle layer of the eye. 

In the case of incipient or immature cataracts, eye drops can help by dilating the eye and allowing more light to hit the retina. However, in more severe cataracts, surgery is required. In a process called phacoemulsification, sound waves are used to dissolve the cataract and a vacuum pump sucks out the damaged tissue. An artificial lens is then inserted in its place. Surgery does have its complications and the dog is put on eye drops indefinitely. Post surgery bleeds are dangerous and can cause blindness - they can be triggered by excessive barking or physical activity. Inflammation in the eye can also occur, which is painful and can lead to glaucoma and uveitis. 

The choice to go for surgery involves a cost benefit analysis. If the dog is relatively young and pre-operational inflammation is minimal, then surgery is more likely to be effective. Further, an electroretinogram, which determines functioning of the retina, should also be conducted first to check if the retina is still functioning. If it is not, then it doesn't necessitate putting the dog through the trauma of surgery. 

Since diabetes can lead to cataracts, a healthy diet and regular exercise is vital for your dog. If the cause is congenital, there is unfortunately not much that can be done in terms of prevention. It is helpful to remember that dogs rely more on their sense of smell and hearing than on seeing to interact with the world. A blind or near blind dog can have a high quality of life with some support from its owner.

  1. Causes of cataracts in dogs
  2. Symptoms of cataracts in dogs
  3. Diagnosis of cataracts in dogs
  4. Treatment for cataract in dogs
  5. Management of cataracts in dogs
Doctors for Cataracts in Dogs

The most common cause of cataracts is genetics. Poodles, Cocker Spaniels and Huskies are some of the breeds that are more likely to develop cataracts. In other cases, cataracts are congenital, meaning that dogs are born with them. Veterinarians suggest that the way to avoid this possibility is not to breed dogs that develop cataracts at a young age. 

Some owners will notice that as their dogs age, their eyes become cloudy. While this may be evidence of cataracts it is not necessarily the case. The lens is made of tissue fibre that become more compact and fibrous with time and look cloudy. This is called nuclear sclerosis and is not the same as cataracts.

Cataracts occur when the functioning of the capsule holding the lens is disrupted. An inflammatory reaction is triggered as the body picks up on the abnormality causing cataracts and other conditions like uveitis. 

Diabetes mellitus can often lead to cataracts. The excessive sugar cannot be absorbed fully by the solution in the eyes. Instead, the sugar is turned into a substance called sorbitol which has the tendency to draw water towards it. The excessive water leads to cloudiness and causes cataracts to form.

As suggested above, what appears to be a cataract may not necessarily be so. It is a good idea to go to your vet if you suspect a cataract, but do not come to the conclusion yourself.

Luckily with cataracts - unless they progress and become larger - your dog will not feel its effects. In more advanced cases the following symptoms will be present:

  • Blindness: This will manifest in your dog walking into furniture, having trouble with stairs and being startled by noises.
  • Cloudy eyes: This is the signature symptom of cataracts but it can also be misinterpreted. 
  • Red, inflamed eyes: Uveitis is a complication/accompanying condition with cataracts and causes the eye to redden. 
  • Increased thirst and panting: These symptoms are seen in diabetic dogs which is commonly associated with cataracts.
  • Heightened confusion and aggression: Cataracts brought on by diabetes or trauma can suddenly diminish vision. Some dogs may react to this with fear and react aggressively.

While the cloudy appearance of the eyes is indicative of cataracts, it is not conclusive. Your vet may ask behavioural questions about your dog such as if there has been a tendency lately to walk into furniture, to sniff for food rather than looking at it, issues playing games and if the dog appears lost in darker conditions. 

If your dog has a history of diabetes or you suspect that it is a possibility, tell your vet. Your vet will likely conduct a thorough physical exam, take blood samples and order imaging tests if he suspects that an underlying cause is responsible for your dog’s vision loss. 

An electroretinogram, which looks at the functionality of the retina, may be conducted to check the severity and nature of the cataract. Further, if there is retinal damage then surgery to fix the cataract will rendered pointless as well. 

If the vet is able to see the retina on observation it is unlikely to be a cataract and nuclear sclerosis is the more likely explanation for the cloudiness.

Surgery is the treatment of choice if you and your vet decide to go ahead with it. If there is no retinal damage, the capsule holding the lens is soft and there isn’t much inflammation in the eye then surgery can be an option. Also, the health condition of your dog is an important consideration. In the case of diabetic dogs, it is important to ensure that the dog will be able to sustain the trauma of surgery and anaesthesia. 

  • If the dog’s vision is not impaired and the cataract(s) is small enough, then no surgical intervention will be required either. 
  • Phacoemulsification is a new technique wherein cataracts are dissolved using sound waves. The damaged parts of the lens are then sucked out and a replacement lens is put in. 
  • Post surgery, the dog has to be monitored for bleeds and inflammation. An Elizabethan collar or a cone is necessary as it prevents scratching of the area. Further, anti-inflammatory eyedrops will be prescribed for at least three months to reduce the likelihood of glaucoma and uveitis. 
  • If you decide not to choose surgery, the vet may prescribe anti-inflammatory eye drops. While no eye drops can get rid of cataracts, they can help the spread of infection within. Cataracts can dissolve and trigger an inflammatory reaction; anti-inflammatory eye drops can prevent this to an extent.

Diabetes often causes cataracts, so lifestyle changes such as a healthier diet and exercise can be preventative. If you do suspect cataracts, you must take your dog to the vet at the earliest since those that are detected earlier have a better prognosis.

Deciding against surgery is in many situations the right choice. If your dog gradually loses vision - which is not a given - it is important to remain supportive and put in a little extra effort to make life a little more comfortable for your furry friend. Move away furniture that your dog may run into and put protective barriers on stairs. Since a dog relies more on smell and hearing, it may not be as affected as you may think. Blind dogs can still live happy lives with support.

Dr. Khushali Vyas

Dr. Khushali Vyas

Diabetology
11 Years of Experience

Dr. Pradeep Aggarwal

Dr. Pradeep Aggarwal

Diabetology
11 Years of Experience

Dr. Shailendra Mishra

Dr. Shailendra Mishra

Diabetology
20 Years of Experience

Dr. Sanjay Chatterjee

Dr. Sanjay Chatterjee

Diabetology
35 Years of Experience

References

  1. Veterinary Partner. [Internet]. Veterinary Information Network. Davis, California; Cataracts in Dogs and Cats
  2. VCA. [Internet]. VCA Inc.; Cataracts in Dogs
  3. Pet MD. [Internet]. Pet MD, LLC; Cataracts in Dogs: Everything you need to know
  4. MSD Veterinary Manual [Internet]. Merck & Co., Inc.; Disorders of the Lens in Dogs
  5. American Kennel Club. [Internet]. AKC Inc. New York.;Cloudy eyes in dogs
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