Nuclear Sclerosis in Dogs

The appearance of nuclear sclerosis in dogs is usually a cause for alarm to many dog owners, as the condition is eerily similar to cataracts and even glaucoma. The largest difference, however, is that nuclear sclerosis does not affect a dog’s vision the way that cataracts do. While treatment is not typically necessary, it is important for owners of newly diagnosed nuclear sclerotic dogs to learn how best to care for their dog.

Nuclear Sclerosis Explained

The lens is the structure of the eye that takes in outside light and refracts it onto the retina, located in the back of the eye, for visual interpretation. The lens is not a static structure, but rather one that is constantly changing and adapting to its environment, where new layers are developed to fit over the lens. As the layers build, the retina shrinks in size to accommodate the new layers. The nucleus of the eye is defined as the center of the eye containing the oldest forms of layering. As time progresses, those layers harden and a bluish, cloudy appearance develops. The true cause of nuclear sclerosis tends to be the natural result of the aging process, as there does not appear to be any breed predilection or outside contributing factors linked to the development of this condition.

Signs and Symptoms

The largest identifying factor is the cloudy appearance of the lens. For this reason, it is commonly mistaken for and misdiagnosed as cataracts. Because the condition amazingly does not cause any visual disturbances until very late in life, it is extremely difficult to recognize. However, because nuclear sclerosis develops as a dog ages, it is something that dog owners should begin to observe for around the 6- to 8-year mark. Any of the following symptoms may indicate nuclear sclerosis:

  • Cloudy appearance of the lens of the eye
  • Difficulty determining distances and range as the dog ages

Making a Diagnosis

Nuclear sclerosis cannot be distinguished from cataracts by the naked eye, and so a veterinarian must use special instrumentation to examine the eye. The pupil will need to be fully dilated in order to clearly expose the lens and make an accurate determination. However, even the most qualified veterinarians can still misdiagnose the condition, so it may be necessary to visit a veterinary ophthalmologist for a more firm diagnosis.

Treatment and Care

There is no treatment available that can reverse the effects of nuclear sclerosis, but because the true effects of limited visibility to do not often appear until a very advanced age, there is theoretically no treatment even recommended for this condition.

Cataract treatment often warrants complete removal of the lens; however, because nuclear sclerosis does not actually destroy the lens, there is no need for removal. This is another reason that an informed, qualified diagnosis should always be made prior to any treatment plans.

If a dog does begin to experience visual difficulties as he ages, the best method of treatment is good home care. Be sure not to change the dog’s environment overmuch so that he can still use his other senses to determine where he is and to lead his way.