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Dog Cataracts

Updated 12/28/2010

Dog Cataracts The eye is a complicated structure with many different parts that all have to work together and function correctly for a dog to see. The part of the eye that focuses light is called the lens. It is located in the middle of the eye within the pupil and is surrounded by the colored tissue that forms the iris. A healthy lens is clear, so it is invisible under normal circumstances.

A cataract is an abnormal, cloudy area within the lens through which a dog cannot see. Cataracts can involve just a part or the entire lens in one or both eyes.

What Causes Cataracts

Cataracts can form for a variety of reasons. Eye injuries or inflammation play a role in some cases and so can genetics in certain breeds including cocker spaniels, Siberian huskies, poodles, schnauzers, bichon frises, Old English sheepdogs, and some types of retrievers, spaniels, and terriers. Cataracts are more common as dogs age, probably because damage caused by ultraviolet light and other sources has a chance to accumulate.

Dogs that have diabetes mellitus almost invariably develop cataracts, even if their disease is otherwise well controlled with insulin. The extra sugar in the blood stream of a diabetic dog is absorbed by the lens causing it to retain water, swell and lose its transparency.

The Symptoms of Cataracts

Cataracts look like white or blue-grey areas of discoloration within a dog's eye. They can come in different shapes and sizes depending on how much of the lens is involved. Some progress over time, while others do not change. Depending on the underlying reason for cataract formation and possible damage to the eye caused by the cataract, other symptoms like redness and discharge may also be present.

If only one eye is affected or cataracts involve just a portion or one or both lenses, a dog will still be able to see very well. But, if cataracts completely block both pupils, blindness is the result. Symptoms of poor eyesight in dogs vary. If they are in a familiar environment, they may move around so well that it is almost impossible to believe that they can't see. But, if they are moved to a new location they may stumble, bump into things, act nervous, and not want to move around much at all.

A condition that is frequently confused with cataracts is called lenticular or nuclear sclerosis. This causes a fogging of the lens, but it is actually a normal age-related change seen in older dogs and their eyesight is not significantly affected by it.

Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention

To differentiate between cataracts, lenticular sclerosis and other eye abnormalities, a veterinarian will look into a dog's eyes using an ophthalmoscope. If cataracts are the diagnosis, blood work and a urinalysis will also be run to rule out diabetes as a cause and to plan appropriate treatment.

If a dog has only small cataracts that are not significantly affecting his vision, treatment is not necessary. If, however, a dog is blinded by his cataracts but his eyes otherwise function normally, surgery to remove one or both of the cataracts is an excellent option. This will require referral to a veterinary ophthalmologist. Cataract removal is not appropriate for every dog and owner. Medications that dilate the pupil may help some dogs see around the cataract to a degree. Dogs with cataracts should be monitored closely. In some cases, cataracts can cause eye inflammation or increased pressure within the eye that is painful and needs to be treated.

Unfortunately, no method of preventing the formation of cataracts in dogs has been found, but wise breeding decisions help to decrease this incidence in at risk breeds. The Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) maintains a registry of dogs that have been examined by a certified veterinary ophthalmologist and have been determined to be free of cataracts at the time of the examination.

The above is provided for information purposes only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of any condition. This information does not cover all possible variables, conditions, reactions, or risks relating to any topic, medication, or product and should not be considered complete. Certain product or medications may have risks and you should always consult your local veterinarian concerning the treatment of your pet. Any trademarks are the property of their respective owners.