Cataracts interfere with light reaching the retina, resulting in blurred vision and eventual blindness. Today, our Cordova vets explain the causes, and symptoms of cataracts in dogs and how they can be treated.
What are cataracts?
Each dog’s eye has a lens inside, much like the lens of a camera. These lenses are used for focusing vision. A cataract is an opacification or cloudiness of all or part of the lens, which prevents a clear image from being focused on the retina and interferes with the dog's vision.
How did my dog get cataracts?
Typically cataracts in dogs are inherited, however they can develop as a result a metabolic disease such as diabetes, inflammation in the eye, ocular trauma, or retinal disease. Cataracts are most often seen in older dogs.
Are some breeds more at risk of developing cataracts?
Yes, a number of breeds such as Boston terriers, miniature schnauzers, poodles, and American cocker spaniels tend to be predisposed to developing cataracts.
How are cataracts diagnosed in dogs?
If you suspect that your dog is having vision trouble or if you notice that your dog's eyes appear cloudy see your vet for a thorough examination. Your vet may refer you to a Veterinary Ophthalmic Specialist (eye specialist for pets) who will be able to run tests to confirm the diagnosis, and recommend appropriate treatment for your dog.
What treatments are available for cataracts in dogs?
Once a cataract has formed in the lens of your dog's eye, there is no treatment available to reverse it. However, cataracts can be surgically removed in order to restore your dog's vision. That said, it's important for dog owners to understand, that not all dogs with cataracts are good candidates for surgery.
Early diagnosis is key to saving your dog's eyesight. Visiting your vet regularly for wellness exams gives your vet the opportunity to check your dog's eyes for signs of developing cataracts and recommend treatment before they become more serious.
If your dog is diagnosed with cataracts and is a good candidate for surgery, the sooner the surgery can be performed, the better the long-term outcome for your pet.
What is the cataract surgery process for dogs?
If your dog is going in for cataract surgery you will likely drop your dog off at the vet's office either the night before the surgery, or the morning of the cataract surgery.
Dogs who suffer from diabetes will require special management. Your vet will advise you on caring for your dog before cataract surgery. Be sure to follow your vet's instructions carefully.
Priory to surgery your dog will be sedated and an ultrasound will be performed in order to check for problems such as retinal detachment or rupture (bursting) of the lens, then an electroretinogram (ERG) will be done to confirm that your dog's retina is working properly. If these tests turn up any unexpected issues, your dog may not be suitable for cataract surgery.
Cataract surgery on dogs is performed under general anaesthetic. A muscle relaxant is also administered to your dog so that the eye comes into the correct position for the surgery.
The cataract is removed using a technique called phacoemulsification. This procedure utilizes an ultrasonic device to break up and then remove a cloudy lens from the eye, and is the same procedure that it used in cataract surgery on people. In most cases it is possible to put in an artificial lens specially created for dogs, where the old lens was.
Typically the surgeon will recommend that your dog stay in hospital overnight for monitoring then head home in the morning if everything looks good. Most dogs will have some of their vision restored the very next day, but it generally takes a few weeks for vision to settle as the eye adjusts to the effect of surgery and the presence of the artificial lens.
Following your dog's cataract surgery, intensive aftercare will be required which will include the use several types of eye drops, multiple times a day.
How well will my dog see after cataract surgery?
If the rest of the eye is in good working order, cataract surgery in dogs is considered a very successful treatment with a high rate of positive outcomes. 95% of dogs regain vision as soon as they recover from the procedure. The long-term prognosis for your dog maintaining vision after surgery is 90% at 1 year, and 80% at 2 years post-operatively.
Successful long-term outcomes depend upon good post-operative care and regular visits to the vet for examinations and monitoring.
Are there any risks with cataract surgery?
Complications from cataract surgery in dogs is rare, but some post-surgical complications that veterinary ophthalmologists are prepared to encounter include corneal ulcers and pressure elevations within the eye.
In order to prevent issues from developing after the surgery, a follow-up exam with your dog's surgeon is essential.
What is the recovery time for cataract surgery in dogs?
The initial healing period following cataract surgery in dogs is about 2 weeks.
Throughout that 2 week period, your dog will need to wear an E-collar (cone) at all times and have their activity restricted to leash walks only.
Several medications will also need to be administered to your dog during this period, including eye drops and oral medications. Following your vet's post-operative instructions is essential for achieving a good outcome for your dog's vision.
At the 2 week follow-up appointment your dog's medications may be reduced, however some dogs need to remain on medication permanently.
If your dog is having trouble seeing, contact our Cordova Animal Hospital today to book an appointment.
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