Does Your Senior Dog Have Cataracts?

Lindsey ZimmermanDog Health

dreamstime_m_37114190_2As we age, we tend to lose our near vision causing us to be forever looking for our reading glasses! This is due to a hardening of the lens in our eye, also referred to as nuclear sclerosis. More commonly it is called presbyopia, which literally translates into “old eye”. This occurs in older dogs as well causing their eyes to develop a grayish appearance. However, since dogs aren’t dependent on their near vision like we are it doesn’t usually cause a problem.

Many people confuse nuclear sclerosis with cataracts. Cataracts are very prevalent in humans … by the age of 80, more than half of all Americans will either have a cataract or will have had cataract surgery. Cataracts can be quite common in dogs as well – it is like a cloud over the eye of your dog resulting in blurred vision.

It can be hard to distinguish the two conditions in your dog, which is why it is best diagnosed by a vet. Dogs can see pretty well if their cataract is small or they only have cataracts in one eye.

What Causes Dog Cataracts?
Dogs can get cataracts at any age, but it is definitely more common in senior dogs. Here are the most common causes, yet the origins of cataracts in certain dogs can still remain a mystery:

  • The #1 cause of dog cataracts is inherited and can develop rapidly over a short period of weeks, or slowly over many years. Cataracts can occur in one or both eyes. Certain breeds of dogs are more prone to cataracts, including Smooth FoxTerriers, American Cocker Spaniels, Havanese, Bichon Frise, Silky Terriers, Miniature and Standard Poodles, Miniature Schnauzers, and Boston Terriers. Dogs with diabetes are also at risk.
  • The second most common source of dog cataracts is diabetes. The statistics are startling. Approximately 75% of diabetic dogs will develop blinding cataracts within the first nine months of being diabetic, virtually overnight.
  • The third most common cause of dog cataracts is disease due to an ocular problem or a drug reaction.
  • Nutritional deficiencies. Cataracts can occur in puppies put on an artificial milk-replacer diet.
  • Older dogs develop cataracts although generally they are small and do not impact their vision.

How Are Cataracts Treated?
Unfortunately, cataracts can’t be reversed. Once the cataract has developed, the only way to eliminate the damaged lens is through surgery. A veterinary ophthalmologist can replace the lens with a plastic or artificial lens. One word of caution: The procedure is often very expensive because it requires specialized equipment and training. Additionally, cataract surgery requires a lot of post-operative care. Your dog will need to wear an Elizabethan collar and you will need to insert eye drops multiple times throughout the day.

Unfortunately, even if you have dog insurance, the chances are that cataract surgery is not covered. Because it is usually an inherited disease, most insurance policies do not cover genetic or pre-existing conditions.

Just because your dog has a cataract does not mean it needs to be removed. If cataract surgery is not done, your dog might do just fine. Many times cataracts are small and will not hamper your dog’s vision. Cataract surgery is not a lifesaving surgery. It is more a choice you must make if your vet indicates blindness will result. None of us want our dogs to go blind, but anti-inflammatory drugs combined with Occu-Glo may help. Sometimes cataracts can become very painful in which case surgery is the best option. If you decide on surgery, the good news is that cataracts can’t reoccur.

Should your dog be losing his eyesight, there are a few changes you can make around the house to make it easier for him to navigate.

Keeping your dog’s eyes as healthy as possible is the best prevention. Early detection and a visit to the vet will give you the proper diagnosis so you can make an informed decision about your treatment options.