Old age is not the only reason for which cataracts develop in our canine companions. There are a variety of medical reasons that many pets develop it. If you notice any changes in your dog’s eyes, get in touch with your veterinarian as soon as possible, no matter whether you believe that it is a recent modification, or your dog’s vision has truly been compromised or deteriorated.
Let’s look at some facts about cataracts in dogs, what its symptoms are, its causes, and whether or not there is any treatment currently available.
Why do dogs develop cataracts?
While there are many causes that dogs develop cataracts, sometimes the reason is a combination of factors whereas others it’s just a symptom of old age. The majority of cataracts in dogs are inherited, and so they can happen at any age. Cataracts can develop within a few weeks, or it might take years for it to do so. Different breeds of dogs have a variety of characteristics when it comes to cataract development. In Bichon Frise, for example, dogs tend to develop it early in adulthood, and it typically involves both eyes.
One of the most common causes of cataracts is diabetes. It is estimated that around 75% of dogs that have diabetes will develop blinding cataracts during the first nine months after becoming diabetic. Diabetic cataracts are characterized by fast development — they can even occur overnight. However, in many dogs, this issue can be prevented by the administration of specific canine antioxidant vision supplements.
Another cause of cataracts in dogs consists of a toxic reaction in the lens of the eye. If the lens is affected by ocular diseases or gets damaged due to a drug reaction, your canine friend could get toxic cataracts. The latter can be caused by retinal degeneration, uveitis, or it can be secondary to glaucoma.
A unique and rarer cause of cataracts is the circumstance in which the lens capsule is ruptured because of trauma. The trauma can be either a severe blow to the eye, or it can be penetrating. A lens capsular rupture ensues where the contents of the lens leak out through the hole of the capsule, causing both a severe immune-mediated reactive uveitis, but also cataracts.
Nutritional deficiencies can also be at the root of cataracts, but what makes the difference between this type and the rest is that it usually gets better as the dog ages. It occurs mostly in dogs that are fed artificial milk replacers instead of their mother’s milk.
Finally, one of the most common causes of this disease is aging. Keep in mind that age-related cataracts only happens in a number of cases, and it often does not affect your dog’s vision on the whole.
Are there breeds that are more predisposed to cataracts? The short answer to this question is yes. Some of the recognized breeds include Labrador Retriever, French Poodle, American Cocker Spaniel, Boston Terrier, as well as Welsh Springer Spaniel.
Common signs of cataracts are represented by clumsiness, rubbing or scratching the eyes, a bluish, white, or gray layer in the eye, or redness, discharge, or constant blinking. You might also notice that your dog manifests reluctance when climbing stairs or when jumping on the furniture.
Testing and treatment
Your vet will perform a physical examination, they’ll look at your dog’s complete history, and then they will perform certain tests so as to evaluate your pet’s vision. An eye examination is called for, as well. Depending on your dog’s needs, the vet might recommend a separate visit to a vet ophthalmologist or various blood tests that range from chemistry ones that evaluate the kidney, pancreatic, and liver functions to sugar levels.
To rule out inflammation, anemia, or infection, a complete blood count might be necessary, as well. Various specialty tests such as PCR testing or a full evaluation of the function of the retina might be performed, too.
If the cause of the cataracts was determined, the right treatment could be prescribed. In a fortunate scenario, all you’ll have to do is use eye drops to prevent secondary infections and to alleviate inflammation. If you’ve taken your dog to a veterinary ophthalmologist, you might be recommended surgery.
Can my dog become blind because of cataracts?
In rare cases, such as the one that we have noted previously where dogs are nutritionally deficient when they are young, their vision typically recovers fully. In cases where cataracts occupy less than thirty percent of the lens or if just one of the two is affected, they rarely cause diminished vision.
If the opacity covers sixty percent or more of the total lens area, visual impairment is apparent. When it progresses to 100%, the dog becomes blind in the affected eye.
Cataracts have different stages — incipient, immature, mature, and hypermature.
Risks of cataract surgery
Even though it is usually considered a highly successful procedure, cataract surgery does have a certain number of risks. The chances of the patient’s vision being improved following surgery are high (most dogs recover 90 to 95% of their vision). There is, however, the possibility of the dog not regaining good vision, and the percentage is estimated to be around 5 to 10%.
The sooner you can have your dog get surgery for cataracts, the better. Some of the risks associated with the procedure are glaucoma development, retinal detachment, intraocular infection, and intraocular scar tissue. General anesthesia is a somewhat risky procedure even though it has progressed immensely during the last decade.
Can cataracts in dogs be prevented?
Monitoring your dog’s eye health can only be done thanks to routine eye exams. If there is an underlying cause of cataracts, it can be treated, and as such, it can improve your pet’s overall prognosis.
Dogs that have progressive cataracts or that for one reason or the other (such as poor health or old age) cannot undergo surgery can learn to cope and compensate for the loss of vision with the help of their other senses (smell being one of their keenest ones). Needless to say, the veterinarian can offer you helpful advice in this sense.