Canine Nuclear Sclerosis/Cataract Diagnosis

If you notice a clouded, almost icy look to your dog's eyes, you should take him or her to the vet to see about Nuclear Sclerosis or Cataract diagnosis.

Difference between Cataracts and Nuclear Sclerosis

Symptoms between cataracts and nuclear sclerosis are very similar: a dog's eyes become clouded, foggy, a white-blue color that gives the impression your dog may very well be blind or hard of seeing. In the case of cataracts, this might be true. 

Cataracts are a result of many things. Behind the cornea of the eye rests an oval lens separating the outside of the eye from the optic nerve inside. When a dog develops cataracts, the lens is becoming distorted and is effectively breaking down. 

Nuclear sclerosis, while it looks similar, is not the same. Nuclear sclerosis occurs much more often, and usually in elderly dogs. It's a normal alteration of the eyes over the years, and is actually the graying of the lens rather than the breaking down of it. Typically, it happens in both eyes at the same time rather than one or the other. Unlike cataracts, nuclear sclerosis doesn't drastically affect your dog's vision, if at all, and is not painful.

Diagnosing Cataracts

If you notice that foggy look in your dog's eye or both eyes, take him into the vet for a check-up. Blood work will need to be performed to determine any possible underlying causes of cataracts, such as diabetes. But before your vet does any of the "technical" tests, he'll be watching your dog closely. 

He'll examine how your dog moves on his own, and for any obvious signs of limited visibility. Your dog will be checked for pupillary light reflexes (whether or not the dog's pupil dilates when exposed to brighter light). The pressure of the eyeball itself will be tested to rule out a much more serious eye condition—glaucoma. 

At later stages, if surgery is being considered for removal of the cataracts, other tests will be performed such as the Schirmer tear test, or the insertion of a dye into the eye. These tests look more closely at the eyes and determine if any damage has been done to the cornea, the moisture of the eyeball, and looking for foreign bodies present. Advanced testing includes ultrasounds and others to evaluate the retina.

Diagnosing Nuclear Sclerosis

Many of the same examinations and tests given for cataracts would be given for nuclear sclerosis. This is probably because the two are so similar, and some of the tests will rule out one or the other. For example, if your dog is showing extreme clouding in his eyes, but has little to no vision problems, then his problem is definitely not cataracts. Nuclear sclerosis can be noticed in dogs as young as six years of age. 

Breeds More Prone to Cataracts/Nuclear Sclerosis

Some breeds are predisposed to cataracts, so a vet will need to determine whether your dog is suffering from one or the other. Predisposed breeds include German Shepherds, Labs and Beagles.