Many dogs get cataracts

Find out what you can do if your dog gets them

If you’ve ever looked into a geriatric dog’s eyes and noticed a milky film covering his corneas, chances are that dog has cataracts. Dog cataracts are fairly common, especially if the animal is over six years old. Age-related dog cataracts are not preventable, but they certainly are manageable. Lucky dogs have owners who take the time to learn about the causes of, and treatments available for, dog cataracts.These dogs can see!Credit: Ian Britton/ (c)

Causes of Dog Cataracts

Although the number-one cause of dog cataracts is old age, the problem may arise for other reasons. Three quarters of all dogs with diabetes will develop diabetic cataracts; this type of cataract is particularly insidious because they can form quickly, often within a matter of days. If your dog is diabetic, monitor his eyes carefully and be sure to take him to a specialist, or at the very least a doctor who has a good understanding of veterinary ophthalmology.

Puppies may develop cataracts if they aren’t nursed properly, or if milk-substitute is given instead of real mother’s milk. Fortunately, these “nutritional cataracts” usually heal on their own as the dog matures. Note: This is the only type of canine cataract that spontaneously heals itself.

Heredity plays an important role in the formation of dog cataracts. Certain breeds are more susceptible than others, including poodles, cocker spaniels, German shepherds, labs, schnauzers, golden retrievers, and malamutes. If you have a mutt, it’s less clear whether your dog has a predisposition for developing cataracts.

Eye injury and inflammation can lead to the formation of dog cataracts. Anything that damages the structure of a dog’s internal eye, or the eye’s circulatory system, can make the dog more prone to cataract formation.

Treatments for Dog Cataracts

The only treatment that will completely eradicate dog cataracts is surgery. The cataract is removed, then replaced with a new lens to help the dog see clearly. Surgery is not recommended for all dogs with cataracts. This is because the cataracts are often small and do not completely impede vision. In addition, dogs have other ways of getting around the world that have nothing to do with sight; their sense of smell and hearing often compensate when their eyesight fails.

Dog cataract surgery has a high success rate, although complications can occur. Possible complications include glaucoma, retinal detachment, infection, and blindness. Discuss the pros and cons of dog cataract surgery with your veterinarian before making this important decision.

Just like human cataract surgery, dog cataract surgery is expensive. Even if a dog has pet health insurance, cataract surgery may not be covered. Check with your pet insurance provider if you are considering this option.

Prevention of Dog Cataracts

Bright light may speed up cataract formation in some dogs. Minimize your dog’s exposure to damaging sunlight by taking him for walks in the early morning or at dusk.

Protect your dog from eye injury by keeping him on a harness instead of a neck leash. Neck leashes can squeeze the jugular vein and put damaging pressure on the eye. Keep your dog away from other animals who may puncture, bite, or scratch his eyes.

Several antioxidant products are on the market today that may help hinder the progression of dog cataracts. These products include Ocu-GLO Vision Supplement and N-Acetylcarnosine (Can-C Eyedrops). The products may help dogs whose eyes are prone to cataract formation by enhancing the immune system. Consult a veterinarian before using these products on your animal.

It’s a fact of life that some dogs get cataracts. You may or may not choose to treat your dog’s eyes with surgery. Measures may be taken to slow or prevent the growth of this canine problem. Even if your dog does develop cataracts, his other senses may be able to adequately compensate for the vision loss.