Cataracts in Dogs and Cats

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Cataracts in Dogs and Cats

Cataracts are a common cause of vision problems in humans. They’re often treated with surgery which can be a straightforward day procedure. Cataracts occur somewhat commonly in pets, though in contrast to people, the surgery is often more complicated and time-consuming. Continue reading to learn about the causes and treatment of cataracts in dogs and cats.

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What is a cataract?

A cataract is a disease affecting the lens of the eye. The lens is suspended in the middle of the eye and focuses light waves from outside onto a point at the back of the eye. The lens is clear, allowing light to travel through it. When a cataract occurs, the lens becomes cloudy or opaque.

How do I know if my pet has a cataract?

You may suspect a cataract if your pet’s eye looks cloudy or if you feel their vision is deteriorating. You will need a veterinarian or veterinary ophthalmologist to examine your pet’s eyes, using tools such as an ophthalmoscope and/or a slit lamp microscope to make a final diagnosis.

One common occurrence in older dogs, called nuclear sclerosis, looks like a cataract but is actually good news. Nuclear sclerosis causes a blue-ish tinge to the eyes, so may give the impression of a cataract. However, this is an expected change to the lens that happens in older age. Your dog will see perfectly well with nuclear sclerosis, no action required.

Why do cataracts occur in dogs and cats?

There are many different causes of cataracts. In dogs, these can be:

  • Hereditary causes: Some breeds of dogs will inherit cataracts. These will either be present at birth or develop later in life. These breeds include Labradors, Cocker Spaniels, Poodles (all of which develop them in adulthood), or Miniature Schnauzers and Boston Terriers (that are more likely to be born with them).
  • Diabetes: Cataracts commonly develop in dogs with diabetes, less likely with cats.
  • Nutrition: Certain nutritional deficits can cause cataracts.
  • Complication of other diseases: Uveitis (an inflammation within the eye) is a common cause of cataracts in cats. Uveitis in cats can be caused by infectious diseases. Other diseases of the eye that can cause cataracts are retinal diseases such as Progressive Retinal Atrophy.
  • Age: Just like humans, some cataracts in pets will develop with old age.

Can we prevent cataracts in pets?

Sensible breeding, using unaffected parents will reduce the risk of a hereditary cataract in your puppy. If you purchase a puppy that is on the list of dogs that are predisposed to inherited cataracts, question the breeder to see if the sire and dam were examined and cleared by a qualified veterinary ophthalmologist.

Click herefor more information on hereditary eye disease in dogs.

As some infectious diseases cause uveitis and cataracts in cats, it’s important to keep them dewormed, free of fleas, and up to date with vaccinations for feline leukemia and panleukopenia (these diseases also cause a host of other undesirable symptoms).

Certain nutritional supplements are reported to help reduce the development of cataracts in pets. There isn’t enough scientific evidence from clinical studies to support the use just yet. However, as they are nutritional supplements, they are relatively safe to use in DOGS. If your dog is diagnosed as diabetic or with early cataracts, consider discussing these supplements with your vet. The ingredients thought to be of importance are alpha lipoic acid and leutin. These are NOT safe for CATS!

How are cataracts treated in dogs and cats?

Cataract surgery is an option with dogs but is rarely performed in cats. The surgeon will need to assess your pet’s suitability and ensure it has no other conditions of the eye such as glaucoma or retinal disease, which will complicate the outcome of the surgery.

Unlike in people, cataract surgery requires a general anesthetic and, due to a difference in the size and composition of the dog’s lens, it takes much longer to carry out. The surgery costs a substantial amount of money but also a substantial amount of time and commitment to post-operative care of your pet. Once these factors have been taken into consideration, the success rate of the surgery is up to 80%. This is good news for some pets who could have their vision restored.

Read more:

A Vet’s Advice: Eye Exams and Eye Care for Your Pets

Blindness in Cats and Dogs

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Published: 12/31/2020
Last updated: 11/1/2021

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