Cataracts occur when there is an ‘opacification’ or opacity obscuring the lens of your dog’s eye. This turns his vision cloudy as it hinders light from passing through the retina. Mild cases of cataracts in dogs may only cause a slight disturbance to their vision. However, if left untreated, it may lead to loss of vision.
What Are the Different Stages of Cataracts in Dogs?
- Incipient Cataracts
It is the initial stage of canine cataracts. There will be a small cloud in your dog’s eyes, but it doesn’t commonly impair his vision. Early detection will make it easier for you to manage it. Generally, follow-up visits to the vet ophthalmologist and routine care are enough to treat incipient cataracts.
- Immature Cataracts
It is also known as juvenile cataracts. Immature cataracts are more opaque compared to incipient cataracts. It affects around 15 to 99 per cent lens coverage.
Dogs that have this medical condition will start having cloudy eyesight. They might be required to undergo surgery to remove some of the opaqueness from the lens.
- Mature Cataracts
It is one of the advanced stages in cataracts. Most if not the entire lens will be cloudy. In this case, surgery might not be an option since complications can crop up after the operation. Thus, it will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
- Hypermature Cataracts
The final and most advanced stage of cataracts. The lack of fluid and protein from the lens leads to the development of hypermature cataracts. Due to the severity of the condition, surgery might not be an option.Continued degeneration of the lens will cause it to wrinkle. This will often result in blindness when hypermature cataracts reach the final stage.
- Senile Cataracts
It is also known as ‘old age’ cataracts. As its name implies, senile cataracts tend to appear on geriatric dogs. Pooches between the ages of six and eight years old are vulnerable to suffering from this condition.
Are Cataracts in Dogs Dangerous?
Although canine cataract is not a life-threatening condition, it restricts your dog to live a fulfilling and happy life. Without proper medical treatment, the cataract may slip away from the tissue that’s keeping it in place.
It will drift around the eye and it may obstruct natural fluid drainage. Cataracts can also lead to the development of glaucoma, which can result to complete blindness. Other times, cataracts may even get dissolved in the eye, causing pain and irritation to your dog.
Are Cataracts in Dogs Hereditary?
All dog breeds are at risk of developing cataracts. However, some dogs are more likely to develop this disease than others. Cataracts are a predisposed genetic health issue in several dog breeds.
It commonly appears in dogs from one to five years old. Below is a list of dog breeds prone to hereditary cataracts:
- American Staffordshire terrier
- American cocker spaniel
- Australian shepherd
- Bichon Frise
- Boston terrier
- Cocker spaniel
- French bulldog
- Labrador retriever
- Miniature poodle
- Miniature schnauzer
- Siberian husky
- Silky terrier
- Smooth fox terrier
- Standard poodle
- West Highland white terrier
Causes Cataracts in Dogs
Aside from genetics, there are other reasons why dogs develop cataracts. Listed below are some of the factors that can trigger the development of cataracts in dogs:
- Senior Years
Ageing dogs are vulnerable to many illnesses due to their weakening immune system. Thus, they are also prone to eye problems such as nuclear sclerosis and cataracts.
- Imbalance in Nutrition
This commonly happens to puppies that are on artificial milk diets. Cataracts usually form within the first few weeks after birth. However, it is not a serious issue since it does not impede puppies’ vision. Cataracts brought by nutrition imbalance commonly improve as the puppies mature.
- UV Rays
Too much exposure to UV light is another factor that contributes to the development of cataracts. Whilst it is not the most common cause of the disease, it may lead your dog to develop cataracts when he grows older.
- Eye Trauma
This occurs when active puppies excessively run and play outdoors. It may cause their eye lenses to burst which results in irritation and leakage from the lens.
- Diabetes Mellitus
The development of diabetic cataracts is believed to be brought on by blood sugar abnormalities. Seventy-five per cent of diabetic dogs have high chances of having cataracts. Without proper treatment, 75 per cent that does develop it is at risk of losing their eyesight around six to twelve months.
How to Tell if Your Dog Has Cataracts
Several signs would tell you if your dog has cataracts. Early detection of these symptoms will help him get immediate necessary medical care, which can nip the problem in the bud. Below are the common signs of cataracts in dogs:
- Difficulties in navigating (e.g., bumps on furniture or walks into walls)
- Frequent scratching or rubbing of the eyes
- Walking with nose near the ground
- Hesitant to climb on the stairs or jump off the furniture
- White, bluish, or grey film in the eye
If you suspect that your dog has cataracts, get him tested. The British Veterinary Association (BVA), the Kennel Club (KC), and the International Sheep Dog Society (ISDS) have created an eye scheme. It allows dog owners and breeders to get their dogs checked if they are susceptible to any eye problems. Get to know more about the eye scheme here.
Diagnosing Cataracts in Dogs
The vet will ask you about the complete health history of your dog. After that, they will perform a physical examination, which includes an eye examination. You might be also referred to bring your dog to a veterinary ophthalmologist. They may run a blood test to know what caused the development of cataracts.
How Do You Treat Cataracts in Dogs?
Cataract surgery is usually required to restore your dog’s sight. It involves surgically removing the eye lens and replacing it with an acrylic or plastic lens. Although surgery for cataracts has good success rates, the vet still needs to assess if your dog is a suitable candidate for the surgery.
After the operation, your dog will need extensive postoperative care. It includes letting him wear a protective collar or Elizabethan collar until his eye heals. You will also need to apply eye drops to prevent pain and irritation.
Regular vet check-ups are also a must. The vet needs to observe how well your dog’s eye is healing. The vet may also prescribe an oral supplement to help reduce the inflammation. If your pooch is predisposed to a certain health problem such as diabetes, treating it will impede the chances of the cataract to develop.
How to Prevent Cataracts in Dogs
If you are a prospective dog owner, the most effective way to prevent cataracts in your dog is to purchase a puppy from a reputable breeder. It’s because they always ensure that their litter is healthy and free from any genetic diseases. Responsible breeders also need to get all of their puppies tested for any hereditary diseases.
For those who already own a dog, an eye exam should be a part of your dog’s yearly physical examination. Do not skip regular vet check-ups as well. A healthy diet with an antioxidant supplement can help prevent eye problems too.
Ask the vet or a veterinary nutritionist to help you pick an appropriate dog food for your pooch. When outdoors, it is also important to protect him from harmful UV rays. So make sure that he gets plenty of shade whilst playing or running around outside.