All Things Dog

A Close-up Look At Cataracts

As your dog ages, you may begin to see a bluish transparent haze in his pupils. This is usually a normal result of aging caused by the lens of the eye changing. This is similar to the changes humans experience as we age. But if you start to see a white or opaque look in your dog's pupils, he could have cataracts.

The word "cataract" means "to break down" in Latin, and that's exactly what happens: the fibers in the lens of your dog's eye—made up mostly of water and protein—break down and cause the lens to become more and more opaque. This condition can eventually cause blindness. Fortunately, it often can be treated and cured through surgery.

Cataracts are not just for seniors

Contrary to popular belief, cataracts don't affect only senior dogs. In fact, genetics is a much larger factor than geriatrics. Certain breeds, such as Cocker Spaniels, Miniature Schnauzers, and Poodles have a tendency to develop cataracts, particularly at young ages.

Senile or late-onset cataracts develop in dogs over six years of age. Usually, these types of cataracts don't develop at a uniform rate and one eye may be more affected than the other. They usually start at the center of the eye and develop outward, eventually creating an opacity that covers the entire pupil area of the eye.

Cataracts can also develop after an injury or puncture by something like a claw or thorn.

How to know when it's time to see the vet

If you observe a milkiness or "crushed ice" look in your dog's pupils—even in one pupil—or it seems like your dog doesn't see as well as he used to, take him to the vet immediately.

Cataracts can't be cured by treatment, but if your dog's eyesight is badly affected, your vet may suggest surgery to remove the cataract. The surgery is performed by a veterinary opthalmologist. Modern cataract surgery is delicate and involves a fair amount of care after the operation. However, once the cataract is removed, your dog may be able to see perfectly well again.

In some cases, a vet may not recommend surgery because of the dangers general anesthesia may pose to a particularly old or at-risk animal. The good news is that cataracts don't cause pain to your dog, so you don't have to rush into making a decision.

Post-surgical expectations

Recovery takes about six weeks and initially your dog may have to wear one of those Elizabethan collars that look like a plastic lampshade. This is done to help prevent rubbing and scratching during the healing process. You'll probably have to administer eye drops during the recovery period.

Though the surgery can be costly, for 90–95% percent of dogs, the surgery results in vision. And for that reason, many owners think it's worth the cost.

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