Most dog owners are diligent about their pet’s well-being and do what is necessary to keep them healthy. However, sometimes things will come up that require veterinary care. The eye is a common area where serious problems can develop. You can treat some eye issues, like uveitis, with anti-inflammatory medication or eye drops for dogs. However, other eye issues can be much more serious, affecting the dog’s retina as in the case of retinal detachment. One of the most common problems is cataracts in dogs.
Cataracts can occur in one or both of your dog’s eyes. It causes cloudiness, along with blue-grey or white spots, in the pupil. It can also cause varying degrees of vision loss depending on how bad the cataracts are. If only one eye is affected, it is usually associated with an injury to the eye However, you should keep in mind that cataracts can also occur in both eyes.
The degree of cataract formation will determine how much of your dog’s vision will be impaired. Cataracts in dogs can progress slowly over time or it can appear to show up overnight. The impairment can range from mild vision loss to complete blindness. Even though all breeds of dogs can contract cataracts, there are breeds that are more susceptible to this problem. This list includes:
Fox terriers (smooth-haired)
Causes of Cataracts
There are several factors that can contribute to cataracts in dogs. The most common cause is heredity. Other causes include diseases such as diabetes, trauma to one or both eyes, and old age. This problem can affect all ages of dogs, showing up when a dog is as young as one to three. They can even be born with it. If you have a dog with diabetes mellitus, (a diabetic dog) the incidence rate is higher as well.
When a dog is suffering from cataracts, the opacity of the lens will cause blurry vision. This is also known as a cataractous lens. When the cataracts are small, the vision problem may not be too bad. However, if left unmonitored, it can become denser and thicker, eventually leading to blindness.
Right now, the treatment that is available for cataracts in dogs is cataract surgery. Unfortunately, an anti-inflammatory drug won’t do anything to correct this problem. If you sense your dog may have cataracts, take them to an experienced veterinary ophthalmologist.
Types of Cataracts In Dogs
There are several types of cataracts that a dog can suffer from throughout his life. The age of your dog when cataracts develop is critical in determining the type of cataract that the dog is has developed and if it is a hereditary issue or caused by some other reason. Below we’ve listed the different types of cataracts that dogs can have.
Early Onset Cataracts (Developmental) – Early-onset cataracts in dogs shows up relatively early in the dog’s life. Diabetes mellitus, toxicity, trauma to the eyes, infection, or hereditary genes can cause this juvenile cataract. Breeds like Standard Poodles and Afghan Hounds can commonly develop early-onset cataracts due to hereditary reasons.
Congenital Cataracts – When a dog is born with cataracts this is known as congenital cataracts. This condition it is usually present in both eyes. Even though the puppy is born with cataracts, it doesn’t mean that they are definitely hereditary. Other causes in puppies can be due to infections or toxicity before they are born. The only exception to this is miniature schnauzers. If these little guys are born with cataracts, it IS inherited.
Senile Cataracts (Late Onset) – If your dog develops cataracts over the age of six years old this is known as Senile Cataracts. This type of cataract occurs a lot less in dogs than it does humans. A lot of people confuse aging of the eye, nuclear sclerosis, with cataracts when the dog is older. Nuclear Sclerosis is not a medical problem though, just simply a result of aging.
Symptoms of Cataracts in Dogs
There are a few clues that you can be on the lookout for that can alert you to potential vision issues going on with your dog. If you notice that your dog seems unsure when they are walking around, walking into walls, tripping often, not recognizing people they know, or develop an odd high-stepped walk, they could be having vision problems that need to be checked out with your vet.
If you notice any cloudiness in your dog’s eyes, however slight it is, you should also take them to the vet or a veterinary ophthalmologist for further examination. Cloudiness doesn’t always indicate cataracts; age will also cause the lens of your dog’s eyes to become gray or cloudy.
This age-related condition is nuclear sclerosis. This problem doesn’t cause as much trouble or danger to your dog’s vision and most vets don’t recommend treatment for it. The best course of action for you to take is to take your dog to the vet if you notice anything out of the ordinary with your pet’s eyes or vision. It is better to be safe than sorry.
The Results of Not Treating Cataracts In Dogs
Cataracts in dogs are not something that will go away on its own. Left untreated, the cataract can slip loose from the connective tissue and float around in the eye, blocking the eye’s fluid drainage. This can lead to a condition known as glaucoma which can cause the dog to go blind permanently. Another problem that can occur with untreated cataracts is that they can start to dissolve which causes very painful inflammation in the affected eyes called phacolytic uveitis.
Cataracts in dogs typically go through several stages of progression. An Incipient cataract is in the earliest stage and takes up less than 10-15% of the lens. The outcome for catching cataracts this early is very high. Other stages include immature cataract, mature cataract, and then hyper-mature. Each of the stages takes up progressively more of the lens, causing more vision loss.
Your vet will be able to take a look at your dog’s eyes and determine whether it is cataracts or another problem that is causing any cloudiness you observe. Once the vet has conducted the exam, if they determine it is cataracts, you can set up an appointment with a veterinary ophthalmologist who will assess the extent of it as well as determine the right course of treatment.
If your dog has lost its vision due to cataracts, it is possible that vision can be restored through cataract surgery to restore the retina back to its healthy state. The process is not overly complicated and vision is usually restored. The ophthalmologist will remove the lens during cataract surgery and replace it with an acrylic or plastic lens instead. The artificial lens replaces the damaged lens. There is a lot of post-op care required after the cataract surgery but the cataract surgeon will ensure that you have all the information you need to take care of your dog properly and there will be follow up visits as well.
Post-op care will include wearing a special collar to prevent him from scratching his eye and causing inflammation. If inflammation occurs, that will require special eye drops for dogs in addition to the medication they will already be taking. He or she will need to wear this collar until the eye is healed.
Keeping your dog in a calm and quiet environment will also be necessary. This can be one of the most challenging aspects of recovery so just do your best to keep things quiet. You will be required to put eye drops for dogs in his or her eyes several times a day for a few weeks after the cataract surgery to prevent infection and take care of the eye lens.
Even though cataracts in dogs are common, it can be scary when a young dog or puppy has it, especially if it affects their vision. Knowing what to look for and staying on top of preventative eye maintenance can help keep your dog’s eye health better, but if the cataracts are hereditary or they are congenital there is nothing you can do to prevent them. The good news is that treatment is available and the success rate is good, especially for younger dogs.
Your veterinarian will be happy to give you information about treatment for cataract and inflammation prevention, especially if your dog is a breed that is susceptible to this problem. Education about cataracts in dogs as well as the signs to watch for and what to do once it has been diagnosed will help you take care of your dog the best way possible. While cataract surgery is a tried and trued treatment for cataracts, we want to do as much as possible to prevent our pups from going under the knife.
Don’t forget to take your new puppy to the veterinarian right away so their eyes, including the retina and lenses, can be checked properly and regularly. If there are any warning signs, your veterinarian will refer you to the ophthalmologist so any problems can be dealt with early on rather than waiting until it has reached the immature or mature cataract stages where it is much harder to bring the vision back fully.
Is your dog plagued with sneezing, watery eyes, or excessive paw licking? If so, they may have dog allergies! Check out our post to learn the signs of dog allergies and more importantly, what to do about it!
Alisha Land is a professional freelance writer and mom of 8. She has been writing for over 20 years and has a passion for animals of all kinds, especially dogs and horses. In addition to writing, Alisha has a child safety education company and has written and published two books on Amazon Kindle.