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Everything you need to know about cataracts in dogs

Two brown dogs advice
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I'm sure you’ve heard of people getting cataracts, but can their dogs get cataracts too? Unfortunately, they can. So here's everything you need to know in case your dog gets them

By Ashley Murphy

What are cataracts?  

Cataracts appear as a clouding in your dog's eye. They can cover all or just part of the lens and can appear in one or both eyes simultaneously. Although they don't cause any pain, they will affect your dog's vision. Cataracts can also lead to swelling and inflammation. If left untreated,  cataracts may slip from the attaching tissue. They then float around in the eye, preventing any fluids from draining. This can then cause permanent damage, including glaucoma, and may even result in blindness.

Although cataracts can appear in any dog, they’re much more common in older dogs. They’re also hereditary, so take this into account if you are adopting a newborn pup. Diabetes is another common cause; around 75% of diabetic dogs suffer from cataracts. Exposure to toxins and nutritional deficiencies can also cause cataracts.

It's also more common in certain breeds; Pugs, Boston terriers, and Havaneses are all at risk.

What are the symptoms of cataracts in dogs?

The most noticeable symptom is a white milky clouding in one or both of your dog's eyes. You may also notice a change in their eye color - a more bluish-grey tone can indicate a cataract. As they can impair vision, your dog may start bumping into things, misjudging distances, or struggle when playing games like catch or fetch the ball. If you see anything like this then get your dog to the vet as soon as possible.

After taking a quick look at the dog's eyes, the vet will probably let your dog walk around the room for a little while to check how well their vision is working. The vet will test the dog’s blink reaction, as well as his ability to follow objects; pupil size and sensitivity to light will also be tested. Blood and urine samples are also likely - these are looking for any signs of an underlying cause, such as diabetes.

How are cataracts in dogs treated?

The most effective treatment for cataracts in dogs is surgery. It’s best to get this done as soon as possible; early treatment will prevent more serious issues like glaucoma or retinal detachment. Both of these conditions can be very painful and can cause permanent blindness.

The veterinary surgeon will need to remove your dog's lens and replace it with an artificial or donor lens. And although some vision will return in 24 hours, it can take up to three weeks before it’s fully restored. During that time your dog will need plenty of attention and care. You’ll need to administer eyes drops up to 4 times a day. You’ll also need to book a post-op appointment, followed by 6 and 12 month check-ups to monitor their recovery. For more information on the procedure take a look Willows; it’s a specialist referral service that tells everything you need to know about cataract surgery.

But surgery isn’t always necessary, and promising research from the Shiley Eye Institute at the University of California suggests that cataracts may soon be treated by eyedrops alone. Led by Dr. Kang Zhang, a team of scientists discovered that an organic compound call lanosterol can dissolve the clumped proteins that form cataracts. They published their findings in the peer-review journal Nature, and lanosterol was proven to cure three cases of cataracts in dogs within six weeks.

What can you do to prevent cataracts in dogs?

It's not always possible to stop cataracts from forming in breeds that are particularly susceptible. However, you can reduce their chances. As diabetes is one of the primary cause, ensure that your dog has a healthy diet. This means feeding them high-quality commercial dog-food; it's also important to manage their portions - so go easy on the doggy treats. The PDSA has lots of great information on what you should be feeding your dog.

Look out for the early signs of diabetes, such as a change in appetite, lethargy, or urinary infections. A quick diagnosis means early treatment, reducing the chances of any cataracts developing.

Examine your dog's eyes on a regular basis, and if you see any cloudy spots or a blue/grey color,  contact your vet for a check-up. Find out about the medical history of your dog's parents if possible. Glaucoma is especially hereditary, and knowing this in advance will help manage the condition.

As with any medical condition, prevention and early detection are really important when it comes to treating cataracts in dogs. So stay vigilant and always consult an expert if you need more advice.