Cataracts in Dogs: How to Spot and Treat Them

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Cataracts in Dogs

You know to worry about your dog’s weight, teeth, and joints, but what about his eyes?

It turns out that your grandmother isn’t the only one susceptible to cataracts. Old age, diabetes, and genetics all pose a risk to your pup’s healthy vision. If you don’t know how to recognize the signs of cataracts in dogs, this disease can quickly destroy your pet’s vision.

It doesn’t have to happen though! Learn more about common signs and best treatments for cataracts, so that your pet’s biggest worry is catching that squirrel in the backyard.

What Are Cataracts in Dogs?

Cataracts in dogs develop on the lens of the eye, just like cataracts in humans. They cause a loss in transparency on the lens of the eye, eventually creating blurry vision and blindness.

The lens of the eye is composed of cells that produce fibers made of protein. In a healthy eye, these proteins sit in a straight and normal matrix. This allows light to move through the lens to the back of the eye in a linear fashion. When the cells or protein fibers in the eye lens sustain serious damage, they start to crisscross or sit perpendicular to each other. This misalignment blocks light as it attempts to pass through, leading to the formation of a cataract.

Some cataracts begin as small as pinpoints that dogs and their owners don’t notice. Over time, however, a cataract may grow large and thick enough to overtake the lens and cause partial or full blindness.

Signs Your Dog Has Cataracts

Just like any other disease, early identification of cataracts increases the chances of successful treatment. It’s easy to misinterpret symptoms of cataracts for signs of old age, but there are a few specific differences to remember.

Remain alert for these signs of cataracts in dogs:

  • Fogginess in the eye
  • Impaired vision
  • Clumsiness
  • Eye irritation and redness
  • Rubbing and scratching of the eyes
  • Sudden resistance to jump, run, and climb
  • Bluish-gray tinge in the eye
  • Growing difficulty navigating through the house

Cataracts alone don’t cause your dog physical pain, but they diminish his entire quality of life. If you have any concerns about your pet’s vision, a visit to the vet is always the best choice.

Canine Risk Factors for Cataracts

If your dog has always been active and healthy, you may wonder why he is now the victim of cataracts. Unfortunately, most dogs inherit cataracts as a genetic predisposition. Smaller dogs like Poodles, Boston Terriers, Scottish Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, and Yorkies develop inherited cataracts more often than larger breed dogs.

Aside from genetics, diabetes is the most common cause of cataracts in dogs. As your dog’s blood sugar rises, a type of sugar called sorbitol accumulates in his eyes. This sugar buildup creates a hazy, crystal-like appearance that eventually triggers the development of a cataract.

Research shows that diabetes is such a severe threat to your dog’s health that 75% of all diabetic dogs develop cataracts within 6-12 months of diabetes diagnosis. If your dog has diabetes, especially untreated diabetics, the formation of cataracts is virtually guaranteed.

Dangers of Untreated Cataracts in Dogs

Cataracts in the eye behave like a progressive disease. What begins a light haze in the eye or a small blind spot eventually becomes partial blindness. This progression doesn’t take long, either. Your dog’s vision can spiral from functional to blind in just weeks.

If you want to save your dog’s vision, treating cataracts is a race against time. Cataracts cannot heal themselves, so only rapid and aggressive treatment from your dog’s veterinarian can save your pup’s gift of sight. Untreated cataracts lead to several unpleasant side effects.

Glaucoma

Untreated cataracts often become detached from the connective tissue of the eye lens. This triggers a domino effect when a loose cataract blocks the eye’s fluid drainage and causes another condition called glaucoma.

Glaucoma is a severe eye disease of the optic nerve. It develops when undrained eye fluid accumulates and places excessive pressure on the eye. High intraocular pressure (IOP) causes damage to the optic nerve, ultimately resulting in full or partial blindness.

Painful Inflammation

Untreated cataracts of all sizes also cause reactive inflammation inside the eye. This is known as Lens Induced Uveitis (LIU). Inflammation is always painful in the body, but LIU leads to especially intense side effects:

  • Inability to open eye
  • Intense reddening in visible parts of eye
  • Bleeding into the eye
  • Excessive tearing
  • Intolerance to bright light

When you combine the effects of cataracts with the pain of inflammation, it equals terrible results for your dog. Fortunately, the eyes are also quick to heal with proper treatment and attention.

The Best Cataract Treatment Options

Cataract surgery is the most common treatment for cataracts in dogs. This process begins with a full evaluation to confirm your pet has health retinas. The retinas are tissue paper-like membranes in the back of each eye. They make vision possible by working like film in a camera. If your dog’s examine determines that his retinas are damaged, then cataract surgery won’t offer any vision improvements.

As long as your dog is cleared for cataract surgery, a veterinary ophthalmologist can perform the outpatient procedure using general anesthesia. An ultrasonic hand piece is used to break up the cataract and remove it from the eye. An artificial lens is then placed to restore your dog’s normal, unobstructed vision.

The results of cataract surgery are impressive. Most pets experience improvements within one week and eventually regain near-normal vision! This is why cataract surgery is the preferred treatment option for dogs with healthy retinas and a strong likelihood of recovery.

On the other hand, if your dog’s cataracts developed due to diabetes, treating and controlling his diabetes should be your first priority. Healthy blood sugar levels may slow or stop the onset of blindness, cataracts, and glaucoma. Even if your dog has already lost vision in one eye, it’s still possible to preserve his sight in the other eye.

The Bottom Line: Prevent the Threat of Cataracts

Cataracts are known to cause serious side effects, but with the right prevention, they don’t have to. Even dogs predisposed to cataracts can protect their vision with timely veterinarian attention and cataract treatment.

Work with an experienced veterinarian to regularly evaluate your dog’s eyesight and catch the signs of cataracts when they first develop. By addressing any root causes of cataracts like diabetes and seeking proper treatment, you can help your dog enjoy a happy, vibrant life with plenty of time to take in the view.

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