When you gaze lovingly into the depths of your dog’s soulful brown eyes, you realize that they are looking a bit cloudy. Come to think of it, he doesn’t notice the squirrels taunting him from across the yard anymore, and the treat you threw for him yesterday bounced off his nose, instead of being effortlessly snatched out of the air. You wonder, could he be having trouble seeing? To put your mind at ease, you schedule an appointment at Veterinary Vision Center, where the team diagnoses your best buddy with cataracts. As you embark on the cataract journey with your dog, keep this information in mind.

Pet cataract basics

Inside each of your pet’s eyes is a clear lens that works to focus light on the retina, much like the lens of a camera focuses to create a clear image. If your camera lens is dirty, taking good pictures becomes difficult, and if you forget to take off the lens cap, you can’t take a picture at all. In the same way, cataracts are changes that make the structure of the lens opaque, and limit or block your pet’s ability to see clearly. Cataracts are classified as incipient when less than 15% of the lens is opaque, immature when 15% to 99% is opaque, mature when 100%  is opaque, and hypermature when a mature cataract was present, and the lens starts to break down.

Causes of pet cataracts

Pets develop cataracts for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Genetics — Some dog breeds may be genetically predisposed to develop cataracts, which usually occur in both eyes as a juvenile or young adult.
  • Diabetes mellitus —Approximately 75% of diabetic dogs will develop cataracts 6 to 12 months after becoming diabetic, no matter how well their blood sugar is controlled.
  • Old age — As dogs age, they may experience lens degeneration that leads to cataract formation.
  • Other conditions — Eye inflammation, low blood calcium, nutritional deficiencies as a puppy, eye trauma, radiation, and toxins may also cause cataracts. 

Diagnosis of pet cataracts

Our Veterinary Vision Center team will conduct a complete eye examination, including evaluating your dog’s vision and the eye’s reaction to light, and viewing the lens to determine if a cataract is present, and if so, its location and severity. As dogs age, their lenses normally become denser and stiffer in a process called nuclear sclerosis, which also makes an eye appear cloudy, but does not affect vision significantly and requires no treatment. Thus, having your pet’s eyes evaluated by our Veterinary Vision Center ophthalmologist is vital, to distinguish between a cataract and nuclear sclerosis, rather than assuming your dog has a cataract because their eye looks cloudy. 

Complications of cataracts in pets

Cataracts have several potential effects on your pet, such as:

  • Sight loss — Depending on the severity, a cataract may decrease your pet’s vision, or lead to blindness, once the cataract approaches the mature stage. 
  • Lens luxation — The microscopic fibers that hold the lens in place sometimes weaken, allowing the lens to fall out of place.
  • Lens-induced uveitis — The immune system may mount a response to a lens with a mature or hypermature cataract, causing inflammation and pain.
  • Glaucoma — Because of inflammation or lens luxation, excessive aqueous humor (i.e., fluid in the eye) may build up and cause glaucoma, a painful increase in eye pressure that may lead to retinal damage and permanent blindness.

Treatment of cataracts in pets

Our Veterinary Vision Center team will evaluate your pet’s cataracts, and develop a management plan based on cataract severity, underlying medical conditions, and overall eye health. Some effects of a cataract, such as inflammation or glaucoma, can be managed with topical or systemic medications. Once a cataract impairs vision, however, the only way to restore your pet’s sight is surgery, to remove the cloudy contents of the lens, and insert a new clear lens in its place. Before undergoing this procedure, your pet must pass a battery of tests to ensure they are a good surgery candidate, and will have the best possible chance of regaining their sight.  

If you think your pet may have cataracts, or hope to give your pet the gift of sight through cataract surgery, contact our Veterinary Vision Center team. We promise to do all we can to ensure your pet has as many happy years of vision as possible.