Everything you need to know about Cataracts in Dogs

Cataracts in dogs

Here’s what you can do if your dog develops cataracts. But, what exactly are these cataracts?

We know that dogs use their nose and their sense of smell as they navigate through life. But, their eyes play an equally important role. This is true of any species. Naturally, the importance of maintaining healthy eyes cannot be overstated. 

Like human beings, some dogs might suffer from cataract, usually at a later stage in life. Sometimes, they form in young puppies due to some genetic anomaly. It is essential to understand what cataract is so you can be prepared to help your dog cope with a debilitating loss in vision. 

What is a cataract?

One of the things that can happen to pets and humans is the forming of cataracts. Cataracts are nothing but a certain opacity, a kind of imperfection in the lens of the eye. And, the role of the lens is to allow the clear passage of the light so that it may reach the retina with perfect clarity. So, any obstruction in the lens can cloud their vision, literally! 

The lens is made of cells that produce the much-needed protein fibres. Any damage to these cells or protein fibres can cause damage to the lens and lead to cataracts. 

Cataracts can be categorised by their time of onset. It can either be juvenile or senile or it can be congenital. It can also be classified by the degree to which they have grown; i.e. their degree of opacity. 

Why do dogs develop cataracts?

There are any number of reasons for dogs to develop cataracts. 

  • Diabetes: The lens in the eye could be negatively impacted by the high blood sugar levels as they would affect the metabolism of the cells that produce protein fibres. It is therefore important to maintain a good diet plan made in collaboration with your dog’s veterinarian in order to keep blood sugar levels normal. 
  • Exposure to UV light: While this is more common among human beings, exposure to UV light is known to cause cataracts in dogs, albeit in later life. UV rays are harmful and you can help to protect your dog from them by minimising their exposure. 
  • Genetics: Purebred dogs (especially breeds such as Poodles, Cocker Spaniels, etc.) are most directly affected by hereditary cataracts. These develop pretty early in dogs – anywhere between the ages of 1 and 5. 
  • Other causes: Malnutrition, inflammations, and trauma are known to damage the lens and increase chances of cataract in dogs.

Signs of cataracts in dogs 

Cataracts can be easily identifiable in your dogs.

  • Whiteness in the pupils: Cataracts that have already formed and are in a mature stage can be spotted by the visible cloudiness in the eye.
  • Sniffing more than seeing: Dogs at the incipient stage of cataracts tend to sniff more than see. They have difficulty in catching or fetching.  If you see this in your dog, it might be time to see your dog’s Vet.
  • Bumping into things: Diabetes is one of those causes that cause a change overnight. If your dog has started bumping into things that were once so easily avoided in the course of his movements, then, the cataracts have formed overnight or too rapidly. Time to rush him to his Vet.

Do cataracts cause pain in your dogs?

Generally, cataracts in dogs cause disorientation or a state of confusion.The cataract itself is not known to cause pain. However, the inflammation that follows is known to cause pain or at least discomfort.  This inflammation is due to the changes in the protein fibres in the lens because such changes are seen as a foreign substance. If left unattended, it can also lead to glaucoma and that can indeed be painful. Glaucoma is an increase in pressure in the eye, causing a lot of redness, headaches and pain in the eye region. Glaucoma is extremely common in purebred dogs, according to the MSD Veterinary Manual

Will cataracts prevent your dog from ‘seeing’?

The answer is a conditional ‘no’. Usually, they can still see in spite of having cataracts. This is possible at the early stages of cataract formation because they cover only around 15% of the lens.

However, as the cataracts mature and grow, they tend to cover the entire lens area. They will need surgery for the cataract removal. 

There is a large percentage from the incipient stage to the fully grown cataract that is unpredictable. Over the growing stages of cataracts, vision impairment varies. 

Treatment of Cataracts

Currently, there is no eye drop available to dissolve the cataracts once they have developed. There are recommendations that your dog can start on anti-inflammatory eye drops which will naturally have to continue throughout life. In the case of mature cataracts, surgery will be inevitable.

Once you have noticed any of the symptoms of cataracts, consulting with a veterinary opthamologist is a must. Even if a surgery is recommended, it is likely that cataracts will return and your dog may need to rely on a lifetime of anti-inflammatory eye drops.

Since a high percentage of cataracts in dogs is hereditary, there is very little you can do. A diet containing antioxidants may help. Omega-3 fatty acids are known for their positive impact on eyes, as well as skin, heart, joints, and brain, etc. 

How can you help your dog now?

Maintaining a healthy diet, sticking to an exercise routine, and going for regular health check ups with the local veterinarian are all great preventive measures. You can also ensure that your home is dog-proofed. You can read our tips to dog proof your home, here

The information contained in VOSD Vet Advice™ is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical action which is provided by your vet. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information. For any emergency situation related to a dog’s health, please visit the nearest veterinary clinic.

Do you find this information useful? For more medical advice, visit the VOSD website.