Cataracts in Dogs

Cataracts in dogs is a subject not too often talked about. However, it is a condition that many of us will face as our dogs get older. It is important to know what to expect and what the approximate costs may be.

Cataracts in dogs is a subject that is not too often talked about, but is of interest to me, because I happen to have a Boston Terrier. Boston’s are one of the four breeds that are at greater risk to get cataracts. Bichon fries, the cocker spaniel and shih tzus are the other three that are prone to cataracts.

Other dogs get cataracts as a matter of old age, being diabetic, having an inherited genetic defect, having suffered from a traumatic head injury or due to exposure to certain drugs, toxic substances or electric shock.

All dogs with diabetes sooner or later will develop cataracts.

What is a cataract?

Once the retina receives the light, it sends it to the brain through the optic nerve. If the lens becomes clouded, the light impulses cannot reach the retina and the optic nerve. Sometimes the cloudiness can be tiny and of no real consequence or it can be very cloudy (impairing the vision) or completely cloudy causing blindness. It can affect one or both eyes.

If only one eye is affected, dogs can get along very well.

What are the signs?

What are the warning signs?

Overtime you will notice your dog may start squinting. Similar to us when we need glasses. However, you may also notice the dark center of the eye becomes gray in color, possibly with a yellowish or white tint.

Once a cataract starts to develop, surgery is the only answer. Most veterinarians wait until both eyes are in need of surgery. This way the surgery can be done all at one time and though most vets can examine a dog for cataracts, the surgery can only be done by a veterinary ophthalmologist.

An eye examine consisting of a compete medical history, a through physical exam and the use of eye drops to dilate the pupils will be needed. In some cases an ultrasound maybe necessary, if the cataract is too thick to view the retina. A pressure test will be used to measure the eye to make certain the dog does not have glaucoma or the presence of any inflammation that needs to be treated before surgery.

What happens next?

The surgery takes about one hour per eye. During the surgery, the surgeon uses an operating microscope to make a small incision, first in the cornea and then in the lens capsule. An instrument that uses high-frequency sound to disintegrate and remove the affected lens is inserted and a new artificial lens is inserted.

The cost of this surgery is almost as expensive to that of the cataract surgery I had done on myself. The procedure costs between $2,200 to $2,500, which includes the procedure and post-operative appointments. In addition there is the cost of up to $500, for follow up medications.

The dog must remain in the hospital for a few days to receive treatment with pills, drops and ointments. Though bandages are not necessary, the dog must wear a Elizabethan collar, so that it does not scratch its eyes for at least two to three weeks. Afterwards the vet needs to see the dog about every two weeks for at least eight weeks and then at six months and yearly after.

Most dog cataracts are surgically treatable. On the day before the surgery the dog is admitted, sedated and tests are performed to make certain the retina is able to support vision once the surgery is done. Dogs are fairly clever in using their other senses to compensate for failing vision, however blindness is hard not to notice. Bumping into furniture is a sure sign, but reluctance to move around in new places, being afraid of stairs or being hesitant to jump into the car or onto the couch are also signs. Cataracts develop and progress in many different ways. In dogs with diabetes, once they develop, they advance very rapidly, generally as the dog ages. Inherited genetic cataracts often take years to develop (depending on the dog’s breed.) Male and female dogs are equally at risk and will gradually develop cataracts between the ages of 12 to 15 years. It is interesting that the lifestyle of the dog is not a contributing factor.In normal vision, light passes through a lens in the front of the eyeball that adjusts as needed to focus the light rays on the retina (a light sensitive tissue that is inside the interior surface of the eyeball.)

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