If your dog is having difficulties seeing, and you have noticed that their eyes seem cloudy, your dog may have cataracts. Here our Cordova vets share a little about how cataracts develop in dogs, and what pet parents should know about this condition.
Within your dog’s eye there is a lens which is similar to the lens of a camera. The purpose of this lens is to focus your pet's vision and provide clear sight. Cataracts are an opacification or cloudiness that occurs on all or part of the lens, and interferes with a clear image being focused on the retina, hampering your dog's ability to see.
Why has my dog developed cataracts?
Cataracts in dogs occur when proteins in the lens of the dog's eye start to break down and clump together. This clumping is what causes the cloudy area on the lens. Cataracts in dogs can occur for a number of reasons including:
- A hereditary genetic predisposition to the condition (often seen in poodles, cocker spaniels, and huskies)
- High blood sugar levels associated with diabetes
- Damage from exposure to UV light
- Progressive retinal atrophy
- Lens luxation
Are cataracts painful for my dog?
Cataracts can be painful or uncomfortable for your pooch. Discomfort is caused by the inflammation that often accompanies cataracts as the protein structure of the lens changes. Inflammation of the eye, if left untreated, may also lead to glaucoma which is very painful for dogs. Once cataracts have been diagnosed, your vet may prescribe anti-inflammatory eye drops for your pup, to help fight the inflammation and soothe your dogs eyes. In most cases these drops will be required throughout the dog's lifespan.
Is my dog completely blind due to cataracts?
How much your pup is able to see depends upon whether their cataracts are classified as incipient, immature or mature.
If your dog is diagnosed with incipient cataracts it means that the cloudiness only affects less than 15% of the lens surface. In most cases that means your dog's vision will be somewhat impaired at this stage however they will still be able to see pretty clearly. In a few cases, the small amount of cloudiness occurs on a particularly important portion of the lens and the dogs vision may be very poor.
Immature cataracts range from 15% - 99% coverage of the lens and as such the extent of your dogs visual impairment will range. Significant visual impairment typically occurs when the lens is about 75% covered by the cataract. However, many dogs adapt well to the gradual loss of sight since it occurs slowly and they are able to adjust their behavior as their eyesight deteriorates.
If your dog has mature cataracts the entire lens is affected, leaving your pet blind except for the ability to detect changes in light.
How can I tell if my dog has cataracts?
In the early incipient stage of cataracts you will may not notice that your dog is developing the condition, or you may notice small changes in behavior such as difficulties fetching and retrieving, or catching treats. If your pup's cataracts are in the mid to late stages you will notice that your dog's eyes appear cloudy.
When cataracts are caused by diabetes these symptoms may appear very suddenly, and you should contact your vet immediately to schedule an examination.
What treatment is available for cataracts in dogs?
Cataracts are not an issue that will clear up if left untreated. The surgical removal of the damaged lens is the only way to restore your dog's sight once cataracts have developed. Unfortunately not all dogs are suitable candidates for cataract surgery.
Dogs that do undergo surgery will need to be monitored carefully, with regular veterinary examinations throughout their lifetime, and may also require the ongoing use of mediated eyedrops to keep the eyes healthy.
What should I do if I think my dog has cataracts?
If you think that your dog may be having difficulties seeing due to cataracts contact your vet as soon as possible to make an appointment. If you'd like to bring your dog to see our Board-Certified Veterinary Ophthalmologist speak to your primary vet about a referral. At Memphis Veterinary Specialists & Emergency in Cordova, our ophthalmology professionals will work together with your primary care vet to ensure that your pet’s needs are provided for at all times.