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Like humans, dogs can also get cataracts. Most dog owners assume that cataracts are just a part of the aging process. While this is sometimes true, cataracts can also be a sign of other health issues such as diabetes. Cataracts can cause inflammation in your dog’s eyes which can lead to pain. Pain and poor eye health can ruin the quality of your dog’s life. Therefore, it is important to monitor cataracts to prevent pain, vision loss or complete blindness in your furry friend.

What Are Cataracts?

Cataracts occur in the lens and make the center of the eye look cloudy or completely white.  The size of a cataract can range from a small dot or cover the entire lens. Small, or immature, cataracts are usually harmless, causing little disturbance to your dog. On the other hand, cataracts that cover the entire lens can cause the lens to become opaque. When this occurs, light cannot reach the retina, resulting in vision loss.

What Causes Cataracts?

Toxin exposure, old age, trauma, and genetic factors are common causes of cataracts in dogs. Cataracts can occur early in life, between the ages of one and three. There are over 100 dog breeds that are prone to cataracts, but some of the more common ones are Boston Terriers, Poodles, German Shepard’s, Siberian Huskies, and Golden Retrievers.

Diabetic dogs have a higher risk of developing cataracts. One study reports that 80% of diabetic dogs develop cataracts after a year. High blood sugar levels change the balance of water in the eye, resulting in cataracts. Diabetic cataracts can form quickly, even overnight. Urinating frequently, increased thirst and weight loss are signs of diabetes. Progressive retinal atrophy and glaucoma can also cause cataracts to form. Both conditions are painful and can lead to blindness.

Signs of Cataracts in Dogs

As a dog owner, you can tell if something seems unusual about your pet. A simple walk in the park becomes strenuous for your dog. Perhaps your dog isn’t as playful as they used to be. In the early stages of cataracts, you may see very few symptoms. Look out for any of these symptoms of cataracts:

  • Changes in pupil shape or size.
  • Watery eyes.
  • Trouble navigating through dimly lit areas.
  • High-stepping walk.
  • Clumsiness or bumping into objects.
  • Scratching or rubbing the eyes.
  • Trouble judging distance.

The Difference Between Nuclear Sclerosis and Cataracts

Another condition that results in a cloudy appearance in a dog’s eyes is lenticular sclerosis. Lenticular sclerosis occurs when the inner layers of the eyes become dense.  Unlike cataracts, lenticular sclerosis does not impact vision significantly. 

Dogs with lenticular  sclerosis do not require treatment. Lenticular sclerosis occurs naturally with age. The condition usually presents itself in middle-aged dogs, between 7 and 8 years old. 

Also, lenticular sclerosis occurs in both eyes with a blue-gray appearance. While there is no cure for nuclear sclerosis, dogs can still live a normal, healthy lifestyle.

How Are Cataracts Diagnosed in Dogs?

A veterinarian will check to see if the cloudiness in your dog’s eye is cataracts, lenticular sclerosis or another condition. First, a blood and urine test is conducted to check for any underlying causes of cataracts, like diabetes. Then, a magnifying lens and a bright light would be used to detect cataract formation.  If cataracts are present, then your veterinarian will refer you to an ophthalmologist. An ophthalmologist will check the structure in your dog’s eye to screen for inflammation and glaucoma.

Treatment of Dog Cataracts

Unfortunately, the damage done by cataracts is irreversible. However, dog cataract surgery removes the cloudy lens which will restore sight. Dog cataract surgery is highly effective, with a 90% success rate. The surgery is usually outpatient, meaning your dog can go home the same on the same day. Your dog’s vision will continue to improve in the following weeks.

If your dog has inflammation in their eyes or glaucoma, surgery may not be the best option. Glaucoma is painful and can cause complete vision loss, meaning surgery will be unsuccessful.  Luckily, there are prescription eye drops that are available to help control inflammation. Glaucoma is manageable but can become difficult to control long-term.

What You Can Do

Dr. Foye and our team at Longview Animal Hospital can help you determine the best treatment for your dog. Although there is no cure for cataracts unless your dog undergoes surgery, there are some things you can do to prevent cataracts in your furry friend:

  1. Schedule routine eye exams.
  2. Check for abnormal behavior.
  3. Look out for injuries.
  4. Incorporate supplements that support eye health.
  5. Keep your dog physically active.

We all want our dogs to live happy, healthy lives. At Longview Animal Hospital, we make your pet a priority. Contact Longview Animal Hospital today for more information.