Canine Cataracts

Cataracts are rather common in dogs, especially in older dogs and dogs suffering from diabetes. This page looks at the possible causes, symptoms and conventional treatment of this dog eye problem. Natural remedies cannot rid a dog of cataracts, but the use of some herbs and antioxidants may prevent or delay the onset of cataracts in dogs.

Like people, dogs suffer from cataracts too. A cataract is simply any opacity or "clouding" in the lens. A healthy lens consists of 66% water and 33% protein, and under normal conditions, this water/protein ratio is always kept in balance.

Cataracts occur when the biomechanical system in the lens is changed or damaged, resulting in the formation of large amounts of proteins in the lens. The extra proteins cause the lens to lose its transparency, making the pupil of the eye appear cloudy or milky white.

When a cataract starts to develop, the clouding is insignificant and usually does not affect your dog's vision. Cataracts at this stage are referred to as "incipient cataracts".

When a cataract becomes bigger and starts to cloud a larger area of the lens, it causes some blurred vision. Cataracts at this stage are referred to as "immature cataracts".

Over time, the entire lens can become cloudy and the dog will lose all vision in that eye. Cataracts at this stage are referred to as "mature cataracts".


Canine Cataracts and Nuclear Sclerosis

Not all cloudy eyes are as a result of canine cataracts. A much more common condition known as nuclear sclerosis (NS), which occurs when eye tissues become harder and more rigid over time, can make the eyes look slightly bluish gray. Nuclear sclerosis is a normal physical change that occurs in the lens of older dogs (over 6 or 7 years old) and it usually occurs in both eyes at the same time. Unlike cataracts, NS does not have a serious effect on a dog's vision and no treatment is needed.

Causes and Treatment of Canine Cataracts

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Types and Causes of Cataracts in Dogs

Congenital Cataracts

Some puppies are born with cataracts and this type of cataracts is called congenital cataracts. Usually congenital cataracts occur in both eyes and are either inherited or caused by infections or toxins while the puppies are still unborn. Congenital cataracts affect quite a few breeds of dogs (around 75 breeds in total), such as the Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels, Miniature Schnauzers, Standard Poodles, Siberian Huskies, among others.

Developmental Cataracts

When a dog develops cataracts early on in life (before 6 years old), we say he has developmental cataracts. Developmental cataracts may be inherited or caused by external factors. The most common causes are:

  • Injuries and trauma to the eye;
  • Diabetes mellitus;
  • Infection;
  • Other eye diseases (e.g. glaucoma, uveitis, progressive retinal atrophy) can can cause cataracts in dogs;
  • Toxicity (free radicals - the harmful oxygen molecules in the body - can gradually damage the eye tissues causing cataracts).

Senile Cataracts

Like us, dogs also develop cataracts when they become older (often after 6 or 7 years old).

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Conventional Treatment of Canine Cataracts

Great Dane If your dog has been diagnosed with cataracts, it is advisable to consult a veterinary ophthalmologist to see if your dog is a suitable candidate for surgery.

If surgery is suggested, then it should be done as soon as possible before the cataract develops into a mature one, since the surgical outcome is better for immature cataracts.

Your dog will have to be put under general anesthesia for the surgery. If you have an older dog, it is advisable to ask your vet to do a blood test to see if your dog's liver is healthy since the anesthetic drugs are metabolized by the liver.

Cataracts typically cause eye inflammation; therefore, if your dog has an inflamed eye, it has to be treated (by either steroidal or non-steroidal eye drops) before the cataract surgery.

The surgery involves making an incision in the eye and removing the cloudy lens from the lens capsule. By removing the cloudy lens, the dog can see again, but typically the dog will become far-sighted unless an artificial lens implantation is done.

This treatment for cataracts in dogs is becoming more common and very often has a very high success rate, in which the dog can see close to normal. However, as in all surgical procedures, there are some risks and possible complications. The common risks include:

  • Tissue Scarring: Dogs tend to have more inflammation in their eyes after surgery than humans and therefore they may have more scarring, which can slightly decrease vision.
  • Uveitis and Glaucoma: Uveitis is the inflammation of the eye, which can lead to glaucoma. Glaucoma occurs in 30% of all dogs who have cataract surgery, usually within the first 24 hours after surgery. In many cases this condition is temporary and can be resolved with timely treatment. If untreated, however, glaucoma is painful, and can cause complete vision loss.
  • Detachment of the Retina: Re-attachment has a low success rate and this complication usually results in complete vision loss.

Here is a nice video that gives a summary of the causes and treatment of cataracts in dogs:

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Natural Remedies for Canine Cataract

Although natural remedies such as herbs and vitamins cannot cure cataracts in dogs, proper use of such natural supplements can greatly help prevent or delay the onset of cataracts. Prevention is better than cure, so please visit this page to see how you can use natural remedies to prevent this eye problem in dogs.

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