Cataracts in dogs are characterized by a cloudiness that forms in a clear sac that contains the lens of the dog’s eye. If cataracts are left untreated, the dog can become permanently blind. Cataracts should not be mistaken with “lenticular sclerosis”, which is a normal change in the lens due to older age in dogs.
Incipient cataracts are small cataracts that may cloud the lens but does not lead to impaired vision.
Mature cataracts are cataracts that begin clouding the lens and continue to grow so that they blur the dog’s vision.
Hyper-mature cataracts occur when the pupil changes from a normal black to a bluish or even white color. They eventually cause the lens inside to shrivel and these cataracts can develop over the course of months to years.
Cataracts can develop at any age and many are inherited. They are typically seen more in purebred dogs than in mixed breed dogs. Some breeds that are more prone to cataracts are:
- Cocker spaniel
- Siberian husky
- Labrador retriever
- Boston terrier
Diabetes is the most common cause of cataracts in dogs. If diabetes is the cause of your dog’s cataracts, they can come on quite suddenly. Other causes include toxicity from drugs such as heartworm/flea medication and vaccines. Underlying eye diseases such as glaucoma or progressive retinal atrophy can cause cataracts as well, so it is important that your vet find the underlying cause of cataracts in your dog.
Senior dogs can develop cataracts as part of the aging process. They are typically slow to develop, small in size, and do not lead to serious vision problems. Cataracts in older dogs can often be confused with “lenticular sclerosis”. While this disease is usually harmless and a part of the aging process, it is still important for your vet to check your dog’s eyes at any sign of change.
Veterinarians will examine the dog’s eyes to determine any underlying causes of cataracts and check for other eye disorders, in addition to running a series of standard blood tests and urine samples. The veterinarian may periodically check your dog’s eyes to monitor the cataract’s progression or they may recommend surgery.
The only treatment that is consistently effective in treating cataracts is a surgery that removes the defective lens and replaces it with an artificial lens. The success rate for this surgery is 95% and this statistic increases with how early the cataracts are detected. Surgery is only recommended for dogs that have cataracts that will progress into total blindness or severely impair the dog’s vision.
You can help prevent your dog from developing cataracts by keeping them at a healthy weight so that they do not develop diabetes. Overweight dogs are susceptible to a long list of health problems, but cataracts will most likely occur in diabetic dogs if left untreated. Other ways to help prevent cataracts is to not over-vaccinate your dog or give them medicines that they don’t need. Regularly checking your dog’s eyes and taking them to the vet at any sign of change in the dog’s eyes is perhaps the most crucial step you can take to preventing cataracts in your dog.