Several conditions can affect your pet’s eyes as they age, and some can also cause discomfort and impair their vision. Pets don’t always exhibit signs that their eyes hurt, and they adjust remarkably well to vision loss, making these conditions difficult to recognize. Our team at Veterinary Vision Center will help you keep an eye on your aging pet’s ocular changes, to ensure they receive the care they need.

Cataracts in geriatric pets

Highly organized protein fibers make up the eye lens, and when these fibers are broken down, they change the clear protein to a milky, white, opaque structure. Cataracts can affect only a small area, or change the entire lens. When this occurs, your pet’s eye will be functionally blind. Cataracts are a natural aging consequence, but other issues can cause cataracts, including a genetic predisposition, trauma, infection, and toxicities, or they can occur secondary to metabolic diseases, such as diabetes. Diabetic dogs commonly develop cataracts in a year or less after diagnosis. Management options for cataracts include:

  • Medical management — When medically managing cataracts, the primary goal is to decrease inflammation and prevent secondary complications, such as glaucoma and lens luxation. This approach cannot restore vision in pets who have a fully developed, mature cataract. Medical management typically includes lubricant application, to maintain the pet’s corneal health, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, to manage the inflammation. These pets will need to be monitored closely for glaucoma and other conditions that can affect their eye health.
  • Surgical removal — Not all pets are good candidates for surgical cataract removal. If a pet already has significant inflammation or glaucoma, surgery is contraindicated. Also, the pet’s retina must be healthy for surgery to be useful.

Glaucoma in geriatric pets

Glaucoma occurs when the normal fluid outflow in the eye is impaired. This can be attributed to a primary eye disease, or secondary to other disease processes, such as lens luxation, cataracts, eye tumors, and trauma. Secondary glaucoma is more common in pets, but certain breeds, including beagles, cocker spaniels, and Persian cats, are predisposed to primary glaucoma. The increased eye pressure damages the optic nerve and retina, and, if not promptly treated, blindness can occur. Glaucoma is painful for pets, and signs include excessive blinking, tearing, eye redness, eye rubbing, and varying pupil sizes. Treatment depends on the severity of your pet’s case, and options include:

  • Medical management — Initially, an injectable medication can help lower your pet’s intraocular pressure, as quickly as possible. Once their condition is stabilized, topical medications to lower the pressure can be administered up to three times a day. Systemic pain medications may also be necessary.
  • Cyclo photoablation — This technique uses lasers to destroy the cells that produce the fluid in the eye. When performed in the early stages, this procedure can slow down or stop glaucoma progression. 
  • Gonio valve implantation — This procedure involves surgically implanting a tube-like shunt in your pet’s eye, to aid fluid drainage.
  • Enucleation — If the pressure in your pet’s eye cannot be controlled, enucleation may be necessary, to prevent the eye from being painful.

Keratoconjunctivitis sicca in geriatric pets

Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), or dry eye, is caused by decreased tear production, or poor tear quality. Common clinical signs include squinting, eye redness, and a thick, mucoid discharge. KCS usually affects both eyes, and secondary corneal ulcerations and bacterial conjunctivitis are common. Causes include an immune-mediated inflammation of the tear glands, infectious diseases, such as canine distemper and FHV, and endocrine diseases, including hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, and diabetes mellitus. Treatment options include:

  • Medical management — Topical tear stimulant medications are needed daily for the duration of your pet’s life. These medications reduce inflammation, and stimulate natural tear production. Tear replacement lubricating drops may also improve your pet’s comfort level.
  • Parotid duct transposition — In severe cases, the parotid salivary duct can be redirected from the mouth to the eye, to provide salivary secretions to the eye.

Corneal endothelial degeneration in geriatric pets

Corneal endothelial degeneration (CED) is an age-related degenerative condition most commonly affecting dogs. CED affects the cornea’s clarity, and can result in blindness, and severe ocular pain. Endothelial cells compose the innermost corneal layer, and these cells use pumps to maintain a proper fluid balance in the corneal tissue. When these cells malfunction, the cornea becomes water-logged, swollen, opaque, and bluish-tinged, impairing the pet’s vision. As the swelling progresses, fluid-filled blisters can form on the corneal surface. These blisters are fragile and can rupture, causing discomfort. Treatment options include:

  • Medical management — Hypertonic saline ointments can be administered topically, to stabilize the corneal tissue, and decrease blister formation.
  • Thermokeratoplasty — This procedure involves making multiple, pinpoint burns on the corneal surface, causing the eye to form scar tissue, which reduces blister formation. This procedure does not restore your pet’s vision.
  • Corneal transplant — Replacing your pet’s cornea with a healthy cornea can cure CED.

Your pet’s eyes don’t have to suffer as they age. Frequent monitoring by a veterinary professional will help catch any problematic issues in the early stages, so they can be addressed and managed as soon as possible. If you suspect that your pet is affected by an age-related eye disorder, contact our team at Veterinary Vision Center, so we can help preserve their sight.