Cataracts in Dogs

A cataract refers to the cloudiness in the lens of the eye.  Sometimes this is just a partial opacity, while sometimes it is a complete opacity.  When the eye lens is clouded, it prevents light from passing to the retina, resulting in vision loss.  Your dog will stumble around and bump into things, especially if they have been moved in the household.  He may seem confused and have trouble finding such familiar objects as his food and water bowl.  His eyes will look cloudy, with a white circle in them that is the cataract.

Most cases of cataracts are inherited. For example, cocker spaniels, miniature schnauzer, golden retrievers, and Boston terriers are all predisposed to cataracts.

Symptoms depend on how poorly the dog is seeing.  Thirty percent opacity or less is generally not a problem, while dogs with more than sixty percent opacity are essentially blind, particularly in dimly lit areas.  It is important to not only get the cataract treated, but to leave everything in the house in its place, so the dog can navigate around while blind.

Cataracts are largely inherited.  However, other things can cause the problem.  Things such as diabetes, old age, electric shock, inflammation of the eye’s uvea, low calcium in the blood, and exposure to radiation or some toxic substances can all cause cataracts in dogs.  Some of those substances are dinitrophenol, naphthalene .  Naphthalene is in moth balls.

If you see cloudiness in one or both of your dog’s eyes, you should bring your dog to the veterinarian.  The veterinarian will take a through history of the problem, including onset, any other symptoms, and anything that might have caused the problem.  The veterinarian will then perform a complete eye exam to see if the problem is a cataract.  If so, he will determine the degree of opacity to determine how blind the dog is.  Sometimes ultrasounds or electroretinography (which measures the electrical responses of the cells present in the retina) are performed to determine if the dog is a candidate for surgery to remove the cataract.

If surgery is recommended by your veterinarian, do not delay.  Cataracts are progressive and will only get worse.  This is especially the case with cataracts caused by diabetes.  They progress very rapidly.

Cataracts in the dog are treated much like cataracts in people.  An ultrasonic hand piece emulsifies the lens, which is then aspirated out.  The aspirated fluids are replaced with a salt solution.  A lens may be implanted during surgery to prevent extreme far sightedness.  This technique has a ninety percent success rate with dogs.

The rate of progression of the cataracts depends on the underlying cause of the problem.  If your dog has undergone surgery to treat the cataract, it may require some time in the hospital to complete his recovery.  Once he gets home, you will probably have ophthalmic medicine to put in the eyes of your dog for several weeks.