Canines and Cataracts

Many dogs face the problem of cataracts. As a health issue, cataracts affects your dog's eyesight.

What Are Cataracts?

A cataract occurs when the clear lens inside of a dog’s eye that allows for focus of vision, begins to cloud. This cloudiness prevents light from reaching the retina and can lead to a range of vision problems. Dogs can experience blurred vision (considered an “immature cataract” to a complete loss of sight (considered a “mature cataract“).

What Causes Cataracts?

In canines, cataracts are usually inherited and are passed down from parents to offspring. There are certain breeds that are more prone to this condition than others including: Afghan Hounds, American Cocker Spaniels, Bichon Frises, Boston Terriers, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Miniature Schnauzers, Old English Sheepdogs, Rottweiler, Siberian Husky, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Standard Poodles, Springer Spaniels and West Highland White Terriers.

When the condition is genetic, it can occur at any age. Some dogs may even have cataracts at birth.

Aging can be another cause of cataracts. As dogs mature they may develop this issue. However this should not be confused with the normal hardening of the lens of the eye (Nuclear Sclerosis) that occurs in all dogs and creates a bluish-grey appearance within the eye. This condition rarely causes vision issues.

Cataracts can form in dogs who are suffering from diabetes mellitus. When glucose levels are too high, cataracts can form rapidly on the lens of the eye.

Trauma and malnutrition are other causes of this condition.

What Are Symptoms Of Cataracts?

How is Cataracts Diagnosed?

If you suspect your dog may have cataracts, they should be seen by their veterinarian for a complete physical. While most vets have the technology to diagnose cataracts, some may refer you to a veterinary ophthalmologist for care and treatment. The eyes should be examined using a indirect ophthalmoscope and a slit lamp biomicroscope. Bloodwork should be run to make sure there are no undiagnosed causes for the cataracts (such as diabetes). Then a ERG test will be conducted to evaluate the retinal function behind the cataract. Other diagnostic examinations may be run depending on the severity of the cataracts. These tests will allow your vet to decide on a treatment option for your pet.

How Can Cataracts Be Treated?:

Once a lens has been clouded by a cataract, there is no way to make it clear again. However, some dogs are candidates for a surgery that can remove both immature and mature cataracts. During this procedure a tiny incision is made in the bag that holds the lens. Then a process called Phacoemulsification is preformed, where a specially designed probe is used to ultrasonically remove the cataract. Once that step is complete the lens is removed and replaced with an artificial lens and the incision is closed with very delicate sutures. In most cases this surgery is very successful and dogs have a great increase in their ability to see once they have recovered. Post operative care requires keeping the dog quiet and calm for a period of 2-3 weeks. There are usually many medications, usually in the form of eye drops and you will be required to see your vet often for follow-up visits.

I Am Interested In A Breed That Is Prone To Cataracts. What Can I Do?

CERF is the Canine Eye Registration Foundation, and is located at Purdue University's School of Veterinary Medicine. It collects information from breeders with the goal of "eliminating eye diseases in purebred dogs through registration, research, and education". If you are speaking to a breeder about purchasing a puppy, make sure they have their dogs eyes examined by a board certified ophthalmologist and ideally, submit the results to CERF.

For more information on dog health, make sure to check out the other articles in our Dog Health Guide

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