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Canine Cataracts and How to Treat Them

Can a dog get cataracts? Canine cataracts are one of the most common causes of blindness in dogs. A fully mature cataract will appear like a cloudy, white film over a dog’s lens. Cataracts can be detected much earlier with routine Vet visits.

What Do Cataracts Look Like?

Caring for a blind dog

A dog with fully mature cataracts will have a cloudy, white lens over their eye. Cataracts may also appear grayish-blue, and occasionally appear red and irritated.

The cloudiness impacts their vision and impairs their eyesight. There are many different stages of canine cataracts and a small cataract that is still developing may not be visible to the eye. Your dog should be seen regularly by a Vet for early cataract detection. After diagnosis, dogs with cataracts should be regularly monitored by a Vet. Juvenile cataracts may appear too small to impact their vision initially, but they can grow and should be regularly monitored by their Vet.

Nuclear Sclerosis or Cataracts?

Age related changes in senior dogs called nuclear sclerosis can also caused cloudiness in a dog’s eye. It can be difficult to detect he difference between nuclear sclerosis and cataracts. Diagnosis between the two eye conditions can only be determined by a Vet or Veterinary Ophthalmologist. Dog’s diagnosed with nuclear sclerosis may have difficulty gauging distances and range.

Do Cloudy Eyes Always Mean my Pet has Cataracts?

Not always. Lens cloudiness is the most common indicator that a pet has cataracts, but it could also contribute to other eye conditions. Cloudy eyes can also be caused by a condition called Nuclear Sclerosis. Pets with Nuclear Sclerosis experience a compression of the lens, and as newer components of the eye reform, there is a hardening of the lens itself.

This condition affects both eyes simultaneously, but light can still pass through the eye, so the pet can still see. Both cataracts and Nuclear Sclerosis look very similar, and a pet would need to be seen by a Veterinarian or a veterinary eye specialist to determine the cause of their cloudy eyes.

What Causes a Dog to Get Cataracts?

The two most common causes of cataracts are genetics and diabetes in dogs. Cataracts caused by UV light exposure are common in humans, but less likely to impact a dog’s vision. Other caused of canine cataracts include:

  • Eye trauma
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Birth defects
  • Eye infections or inflammation
  • Some cancer treatments

Hereditary Cataracts in Dogs

halo guide for blind pet

Genetic predisposition to cataract development is common in several dog breeds. A breakdown of the HSF4 gene causes cataracts in several different dog breeds. Cataracts are most common in purebred breeds such as:

  • Yorkshire Terrier
  • Poodle
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Australian Shepherd
  • Siberian Husky.
  • Pug

Hereditary cataracts typically develop at a much younger age, usually forming between the ages of 1 and 5 years old.

Cataracts from Diabetes

Diabetes is by far the most common cause of canine cataracts. Almost every diabetic dog will develop cataracts within their first year of diagnosis. High blood sugar levels change the water balance in the lens causing cataracts to form. Cataracts develop rapidly in dogs with diabetes, seemingly over night causing sudden blindness.

Treating Cataracts in Dogs

Cataracts in dogs can be treated and in most cases, vision can be greatly improved. Although no current treatments can guarantee 100% vision, the available treatments can greatly improve a dog’s quality of life.

Cataract Surgery

Surgical treatment is available for cataract removal in dogs, cats, and many other pets. Cataract surgery is highly effective, by removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with a synthetic lens, eyesight can be restored. The only downside to canine cataract surgery is the cost. The surgery is fairly routine, and unless age, underlying medical conditions, or overall health is a concern it is a relatively safe procedure.

Although cataract surgery has high success rates, there is no guarantee that a dog’s vision will be 100% after surgery,

Keeping a Blind Pet Safe

vision loss from cataracts

Declining vision is disorienting for any pet. Scared to move and unsure of their surroundings many blind dogs will become less active and even depressed.

To stay active and happy, your blind pet will need your help and patience. Luckily, dogs don’t rely solely on their eyesight. Their sense of smell is their strongest sense. With their strong nose and other senses, a blind dog can learn to adjust to loss of eyesight quickly, but they need a little help from you.

Make your blind pet feel safe in their surroundings, reassure them your nearby and help them to map the space around them. Slowly introduce them to each room and make sure they know where their food, water, and toys are. A blind dog halo is the perfect tool to help blind pets maintain their independence. The halo acts as a barrier between your dog and any unsafe obstacles, keeping them safe from harm as they explore.

Managing Cataracts with Medication

If surgery is deemed too risky for any reason, there are alternatives available. Cataracts can not be cured through medication, but some symptoms can be alleviated.

Eye medications and oral medications can be used to manage any eye inflammation caused by cataracts. Anti-inflammatory eye drops are available to help reduce and control inflammation. Eye drops can be used as a long-term treatment option, but will not stop the cataracts from worsening or growing. Why use an anti-inflammatory eye drop for cataracts? Although they can’t cure cataracts in dogs, eye drops will help prevent glaucoma. Glaucoma occurs when protein from the cataract is released into the eye. Not only is glaucoma painful, but can lead to permanent blindness in dogs.

Watch a Blind Dog Play in Blind Dog Halo

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