Can dogs get cataracts? Yes: cataracts aren’t just a problem for humans, dogs can also develop the condition and can suffer the same symptoms - including pain, vision loss, and blindness.
It’s never nice to see our furry friends suffering, but the good news is that canine cataracts, like other dog eye conditions, can be managed. In this article, we’re going to explore how cataracts affect dogs, the signs and symptoms of the condition, and how to help your dog if they develop cataracts.
What are cataracts in dogs?
Canine cataracts are cloudy areas that develop within the lenses of dogs’ eyes. The clouding prevents light from passing through to the retina properly, which impairs the dog’s vision.
While cataracts can be small, transparent, and manageable and may not significantly interfere with sight, they may also grow and increase in opacity—to the point at which they start causing pain, discomfort, and even blindness.
Unfortunately, cataracts do typically get worse over time, so if your dog develops them, it’s likely you’ll need to seek treatment at some point.
The symptoms of cataracts in dogs
So, how do you know if your dog is getting cataracts?
The primary sign of canine cataracts is a noticeable cloudiness in a dog’s eyes. This cloudiness can range from a slight pin-sized opacity to a dense whiteness which obscures the pupil. A cataract may cause blurred vision, which can develop into significant sight impairment, and blindness. It’s not uncommon for owners to confuse cataracts with a more “normal” age-related lens change called lenticular sclerosis. This can also cause some lens changes, but it does not typically have a significant impact on the pet.
Owners might also observe changes in their dog's behaviour when they develop cataracts, such as clumsiness, confusion, reluctance to navigate familiar environments, a sudden loss of confidence, and other indications that sight is impaired. Canine cataracts often accompany diabetes, which might cause dogs to become thirstier and to urinate more frequently.
Cataracts themselves do not usually cause pain, but they can cause secondary issues such as irritation, inflammation, and increased pressure within the eye (glaucoma), all of which can be painful.
What causes cataracts in dogs?
Cataracts are typically the result of genetic predisposition or a hereditary defect in dogs’ eyes. Dogs may also develop cataracts as a result of eye injuries or as a result of other conditions such as glaucoma, uveitis, and diabetes mellitus (see above). Age may also be a factor, since older dogs are more likely to develop cataracts than puppies, although it is possible for some dogs to be born with congenital cataracts.
Are some dog breeds more prone to cataracts?
American Cocker Spaniel
American Staffordshire Terrier
Jack Russel Terrier
Welsh Springer Spaniel
The list above is not exhaustive. If you’re worried that your dog may be prone to developing cataracts, you should seek advice from your vet.
Can canine cataracts be treated?
Although there isn’t currently a way to cure the development of cataracts in dogs, they can be removed with surgery, which can restore vision.
While dog cataract surgery is typically successful, it is more commonly recommended if cataracts have developed to the point that they are causing pain or significant vision impairment, particularly in cases of secondary glaucoma in which managing the pressure within the eye becomes difficult or not possible with medications. If your dog is coping with the condition and is happy and comfortable, surgical intervention may not be desirable or necessary.
Unfortunately, there isn't currently a way to treat canine cataracts without surgery. While some experimental eye medications are in research and development, they are not proven and are not available through veterinary practices. Surgery remains the most reliable and effective treatment option for canine cataracts.
What does canine cataract surgery involve?
Canine cataract surgery usually involves a technique called phacoemulsification. First, the vet fragments the cataract with ultrasound and then removes the cataract material from the dog’s eye.
Once the material is removed, the vet may insert an artificial lens into the eye. It may not be possible for some dogs’ to have an artificial lens; in these cases, the vet can still remove the cataract and leave the dog farsighted.
There are also a few pre-surgical tests that are performed by the veterinary ophthalmologist to make sure that the dog is a good candidate for surgery (namely, ruling out issues like retinal detachment).
How long does cataract surgery last in dogs?
Cataract surgery in dogs is typically a permanent solution to the condition, as long as any underlying causes or complications are also addressed. The artificial lens should last for the remainder of the dog's life. Remember: post-operative care is crucial to ensuring a successful outcome and preventing complications.
What does dog cataract surgery cost?
Dog cataract surgery costs will vary depending on the severity of the condition and the specific needs of the dog. In the UK, the cost of canine cataract removal can be thousands of pounds, but it's always best to consult with a veterinary ophthalmologist for a precise quote.
Staying ahead of cataracts
Following the surgery, good after-care is critical to ensuring that dogs do not develop an infection that causes further damage to their eyes and vision. Some dogs may need to be treated with eye drops for an extended period of time following cataract surgery.
Similarly, it’s vital that owners observe their dog’s behavior and check their eyes regularly. It’s also important to have your dog's eyes examined by your vet annually, at the very least. Cataracts are a serious health issue, but with a bit of diligence, owners can stay ahead of the problem and ensure their furry friends stay happy and healthy throughout their lives.