Cataracts In Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment & Costs

Your dog uses his or her senses all the time, and conditions like cataracts, which can greatly disrupt and endanger your dog’s vision, can disturb your pet’s quality of life. Thankfully, early detection of cataracts is one of the best ways to prevent blindness and other complications.

As a pet owner, here is what you need to know about your dog’s vision and how to protect it.

What are cataracts?

A cataract is an opacity of the lens of the eye, causing blurred vision. The lens of the eye projects images onto the retina, similar to the function of the lens of a camera. When proteins begin to clump together, for a variety of reasons, a cataract forms. A small cataract may cause minimal disruption to vision, but, the larger and thicker a cataract becomes, the more likely it is to cause blindness. For this reason, cataracts in dogs must be monitored closely.

Symptoms of Cataracts in Dogs

The first indication of a cataract is typically when a pet owner notices his dog’s eyes looking cloudy. This cloudiness does not automatically diagnose a cataract, as many dogs develop some cloudiness in their eyes as they age. However, it is important to have a dog that develops cloudiness in the eye(s) evaluated by a veterinarian in order to check for cataracts or other health concerns.

Other signs of possible cataracts include:

  • Eye redness that doesn’t go away

  • Inflammation of the eye socket(s)

  • Vision problems

  • Pawing at eyes

  • Disorientation/confusion

How do I know if my dog is having vision problems?

One of the most challenging things about owning a pet is the fact that they can’t tell you what is wrong. So, it can be difficult to detect dog vision problems before they have become significant. Some indications that your dog may be having trouble seeing include:

  • Bumping into things, particularly in low light

  • Suddenly sniffing for treats instead of looking for them

  • Changes in your dog’s usual ability to fetch/retrieve

What complications can cataracts cause?

Left untreated, cataracts can cause many uncomfortable symptoms and conditions, including:

  • Painful inflammation

  • Blockage of fluid drainage in the eye, caused when an untreated cataract slips from the tissue and floats to another location

  • Glaucoma, which can lead to permanent blindness

Are there any conditions similar to cataracts?

Many dogs will develop some cloudiness in the eye in old age, and this condition is called nuclear sclerosis. This condition varies from cataracts in that it doesn’t typically cause significant vision problems aside from some trouble focusing. Nuclear sclerosis typically does not require treatment, and a veterinarian can tell the difference between nuclear sclerosis and cataracts by examining the eye through an ophthalmoscope.

Dogs with nuclear sclerosis can, however, still develop cataracts, so regular veterinary check-ups are important.

Causes of Cataracts

Canine cataracts are most commonly inherited through genetics, meaning they may be present from birth or develop when a dog is young. Some dog breeds are also more susceptible to cataracts, including:

For more on the unique qualities of dog breeds, review our breed guides here.

Cataracts can also develop as a result of:

  • Old age

  • Trauma to the eye

  • Nutritional disorders or deficiencies

  • Diabetes

  • Electric shock

  • Hypocalcemia (low calcium in the blood)

  • Uveitis (inflammation of the eye’s uvea)

  • Some cancer treatments

Treatment of Canine Cataracts

If you suspect a cataract, your veterinarian will examine your dog’s eyes. If your dog has no other health conditions, your vet may test your dog’s blood or urine to check for conditions that may be causing your dog’s eye condition.

If a cataract is suspected, your veterinarian will likely refer you and your pet to a veterinary ophthalmologist. This specialist has more advanced equipment to look more closely at your dog’s eye to diagnose a cataract. He or she may also perform an ultrasound or electroretinography (ERG) for closer examination of your dogs retinas or a CAT scan to examine the areas in and around your dog’s eyes.

Does medication treat cataracts?

Eye drops will likely be started upon diagnosis of a cataract. However, these eye drops treat the inflammation associated with the cataract; they do not treat the cataract itself. Some experts believe that certain antioxidant eye drops can slow the progression of small cataracts by improving the overall health of the eye. Professionals have varying opinions about and familiarity with these drops, so this is a good question to ask your veterinarian.

Is there a “cure” for cataracts?

Cataracts can only go away with surgery. Some topical eye ointments or eye drops may postpone the need for surgery, but cataracts can progress quickly.

During cataract surgery, the surgeon will remove the cataract and replace the lens of your dog’s eye with an artificial lens to restore vision. This surgery has a good success rate in pets who are generally healthy and are good candidates for surgery.

Will my dog need cataract surgery?

If your dog’s cataract is covering the entire lens and, therefore, greatly impairing his or her vision, surgery will likely be recommended. Immature cataracts, those covering from 15-99 percent of the lens of the eye, vary when it comes to the need for surgical intervention. A general estimate is that a cataract covering 75 percent of the lens or more will likely be treated surgically, but your veterinary ophthalmologist may recommend surgery for a smaller cataract depending on your dog’s particular situation

Can my dog’s cataracts come back after surgery?

No. Cataract surgery in dogs involves removing the natural lens of the eye and replacing it with an artificial one. Cataracts cannot grow on an artificial lens.

Treatment Costs

On average, cataract surgery for dogs costs between $2700 and $4000.(4) Aside from the surgery itself, this estimate includes additional expenses like examinations, anesthesia, ultrasound and other testing, operating room use, medications, etc.

Prevention of Cataracts in Dogs

The best way to prevent canine cataracts is to keep your pet as healthy overall as possible, since cataracts can be caused by medical conditions like diabetes. If your pet develops diabetes or another medical condition associated with cataracts, working closely with your veterinarian to manage your pet’s condition as well as possible can help prevent the development of cataracts.

Cataracts themselves can be difficult to prevent, but early detection can be very helpful in preventing blindness or other complications associated with cataracts. Check your dog’s eyes regularly and try to obtain information about the health of your dog’s parents if possible to keep in mind any risk factors that may be present. Genetic testing can be done to determine if your dog is more susceptible to cataracts, but is not necessary and does not prevent the condition.  

Consult your veterinarian if you:

  • Notice cloudiness or abnormal bluish-gray coloring in your dog’s eye

  • Suspect your dog may be having trouble seeing

 

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To understand other common dog health problems, be sure to review our post called:

31 Most Common Dog Health Problems

 

References

  1. Anderson, K. (2019). Cataracts in Dogs: Stages, Causes, Treatments, and More. Retrieved from https://www.certapet.com/cataracts-in-dogs/

  2. ASPCA. (2014). Cataracts in Dogs. Retrieved from https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/cataracts-dogs#1

  3. Gilpatrick, J. (2020). Cataracts in Dogs: Everything You Need to Know. Retrieved from https://www.petmd.com/dog/care/cataracts-dogs-everything-you-need-know#

  4. Jones, S. (2019). How Much Does Cataract Surgery Cost? Retrieved from https://www.caninejournal.com/dog-cataract-surgery-cost/

  5. Meyers, H. (2020). Cloudy Eyes in Dogs. Retreived from https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/cloudy-eyes-in-dogs/

  6. McCalla, T.L. (2020). Cataracts and Cataract Surgery in Dogs. Retrieved from http://animaleyecare.net/diseases/cataract/

  7. Veterinary Eye Institute. (2016). Cataract Surgery. Retrieved from http://www.veterinaryeyeinstitute.com/cataract-surgery/

  8. Ward, E. (2016). Cataracts in Dogs. Retrieved from https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/cataracts-in-dogs