Cataracts in Dogs: Everything You Need to Know, from Prevention to Treatment

What are Cataracts in Dogs?

Cataracts in dogs are the same as cataracts in people. A cataract is a cloudy film that forms in the lens of the eye, limiting vision and potentially causing blindness. While the condition is commonly associated with older pets, any pooch, regardless of age, can develop cataracts.

example of Cataracts in dogs

What Causes Cataracts in Dogs?

There are a variety of reasons that a dog may develop cataracts. Sometimes, a dog is born with cataracts. In other cases, pups are genetically prone to the disease. Pups with diabetes are more likely to develop cataracts. Other common causes include:

  • Eye injuries
  • Age
  • Chronic eye infections
How Cataracts Effects Dogs' Eyes
Cataracts in Dogs

Cataracts in Dogs: Symptoms

Cataracts can appear at any age, and some dog breeds are more prone to developing cataracts than others. Doctor Laci Schaible notes that most pups won’t show signs of cataracts until the milky film is visible. Instead, they’ll often compensate by moving more carefully or showing hesitancy when moving around.

For older pups, what may look like a cataract can be natural aging. As dogs get older, their eyes begin to get cloudy. That’s not to say that these aren’t cataracts, though! Natural aging and cataracts look similar, and most people can’t know the difference. To be entirely sure and truly know the difference between this natural process and cataracts, you’ll need to consult with your veterinarian.

A Case of Canine Cataracts
A Case of Canine Cataracts

Are there Early Signs of Cataracts in Dogs?

Diagnosing cataracts early is a key step to preventing and treating them. Unfortunately, because dogs often fail to show symptoms until the disease has progressed enough to cause problems, the only reliable way to diagnose early cataracts is a professional veterinary visit. Your vet will perform a variety of tests, which will also look for potential causes for the suspected cataracts.

What are the Stages for a Dog with Cataracts?

Cataracts in dogs have a series of stages, which are classified by the disease’s severity. The vets at VCA Animal Hospital explain the stages as follows:

  • Incipient cataracts are extremely small and need a professional examination to be diagnosed. They cause few or no symptoms.
  • Immature cataracts cover over 15% of the eye and may cause mild symptoms.
  • Mature cataracts are easily visible and are ready to be removed.
  • If left untreated, mature cataracts may become hypermature. At this stage, the cataract poses greater risks to your dog’s vision.
Incipientcataracts are extremely small and need a professional examination to be diagnosed. They cause few or no symptoms.
Immaturecataracts cover over 15% of the eye and may cause mild symptoms.
Mature cataracts are easily visible and are ready to be removed.
HypermatureIf left untreated, mature cataracts may become hypermature. At this stage, the cataract poses greater risks to your dog’s vision.
Dog Cataracts Stages
Types of Cataracts in Dogs
Types of Cataracts in Dogs

What Do You Do for a Dog With Cataracts?

Cataracts in dogs are treatable both with and without surgery, and how you approach the treatment will depend on the cataract’s cause and age. Developing cataracts may be controlled before they grow to maturity, but the only way to treat a fully developed cataract is surgical removal.

What’s the Treatment for Cataracts?

If the cataract is detected before it reaches maturity, then your veterinarian will find the root cause. The most common cause of cataracts in dogs is diabetes, and treating this condition properly will halt the progression of the pup’s cataracts.

However, because many cataracts go unnoticed until they fully develop, most dogs will need to have them surgically removed. Veterinary Doctor Vanessa Farmer notes that the surgery is simple and quick, and it is the only way to eliminate the condition.

Cataracts Surgery Process in Dogs
Cataracts Surgery Process in Dogs

How Much does it Cost to Remove Cataracts for Dogs?

Cataracts may be easy to treat, but the surgery is not cheap! Doctor Vanessa Farmer estimates that cataract surgery will be $3,000–$4,500, and there will be additional pre-and post-operative expenses. Before you panic, remember that vets want to help you! There are payment plans available for large surgeries. If you have pet insurance, it may also cover some of the costs.

Can a Dog Live with Cataracts?

If left untreated, cataracts will eventually cause dogs to go blind. This is because the milky film will eventually become too thick to see through. The condition is still treatable at this stage, and the removal process remains the same.

When it comes to leaving a cataract in place, vets, such as Doctor Farmer, are more concerned about glaucoma. This is the medical term for excessive pressure in the eye, which may result in detached nerves. If this happens, your pup’s vision loss is permanent and irreversible. Other conditions to worry about include displacement of the eye’s lens (lens luxation) and eye infection.

brown dog with severe glaucoma
A Dog with Glaucoma

Are Cataracts Painful for Dogs?

Cataracts are generally not painful, although some dogs will experience light sensitivity as a result of their cataracts. If they are left untreated, they may develop into a deep infection or glaucoma. At this stage, the resulting inflammation is painful.

How to Prevent Cataracts in Dogs

Veterinary Doctors Malcolm Weir and Ernest Ward note that the key to cataract treatment is prevention. In some cases, nothing can be done to prevent the condition, and it is part of the pup’s genetic makeup. However, many other cases can be treated and prevented.

The best way to prevent cataracts is to know if your dog is prone to them. Certain breeds are naturally susceptible to cataracts, as are dogs with diabetes. In these cases, a regular and thorough veterinary eye exam can catch cataracts before they develop into something major. Preventing eye injuries will also lower your pooch’s risk of developing cataracts.

Some Dog Breeds at Higher Risk of Cataracts
Siberian Huskies Miniature Poodles Boston Terriers
Cocker Spaniels Golden Retrievers Miniature Schnauzer
Dog Breeds More Prone to Cataracts

Dog Cataracts Treatment without Surgery

While non-surgical options, such as eye drops, are currently being developed, there are no nonsurgical options available for treating cataracts. Early-stage cataracts may be treated through prevention and harm reduction, but mature cataracts will always require surgical removal. As noted by Doctor Farmer, you can leave cataracts in place, but this will eventually lead to uncomfortable and possibly blinding infections for your pup.

Cataracts Treatment Without Surgery
Cataracts Treatment Without Surgery

Is there a Natural Treatment for Dogs with Cataracts?

The most natural treatment available for cataracts is to follow your vet’s recommendations. In many cases, early cataracts have an underlying cause. Treating this will often halt the progression of your pup’s cataracts and save them from surgery.

However, there is no natural treatment for a mature cataract.

Before you use any treatment on your pup, consult with your veterinarian! They will be able to review the treatment and tell you if it is safe to use. Unfortunately, unscrupulous companies take advantage of pet owners, and some sell fake or even harmful cataract “treatments”.

If you suspect that your pooch is suffering from cataracts, contact your vet immediately! The faster you solve the problem, the easier it will be to treat it. Cataracts can often be managed without surgery, and even mature cases can be surgically treated.

At the end of the day, Boh and Kammy hope that you’ve learned a thing or two about cataracts in dogs! With the help of your vet, you can make sure that your dog’s life is long and healthy!

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