Signs of Cataracts in Dogs

Eye cataracts in dogs are often an inherited condition that causes clouding of the eye lens, impaired vision and sometimes total blindness.

Symptoms of Eye Cataracts

A dog with cataracts may have some color changes in the pupil of the eye, including blue, gray or white spots. The eye may also become inflamed or red and cause squinting in one or both eyes, especially if the eye has been injured. A dog with cataracts may become clumsier and bump into objects, hesitate in new places or before entering dark rooms and using stairs, or have changes in his personality, becoming lethargic or aggressive as vision loss increases.

Causes of Cataracts

Genetics are the most important factor when it comes to eye cataracts in dogs. Some breeds, like Cocker Spaniels, Siberian Huskies, Poodles, and Boston Terriers, are more likely to develop cataracts and may start to develop symptoms early in life while other dogs have no problems until they are older. Some breeds, such as Golden Retrievers, develop cataracts but exhibit few side effects and require no treatment. Others, like the Bichon Frise, can develop cataracts at only 6 months and may develop total blindness by the age of 2, so early diagnosis is essential.

The Canine Eye Registration Foundation, or CERF, is a foundation that certifies a dog if it doesn't have any inherited eye health conditions. If you are purchasing a purebred dog that is prone to cataracts, ask the breeder for the dog's CERF number. A breeder should also have the sire and dam certified as well. The CERF certification is only applicable for a year, however, and can't guarantee protection from a disease like cataracts that develop late in life.

Trauma to the eye lens, diabetes, and poor nutrition may also cause cataracts, but generally there is little an owner can do to prevent cataracts from developing in dogs that are prone to eye problems. If a dog has diabetes, cataracts can form rapidly, even if the dog is on insulin, so proper nutrition and a healthy and active lifestyle is important. Poor nutrition can also lead to progressive retinal atrophy or inflammatory eye diseases that may cause cataracts.

Cataract Treatment for Your Dog

Surgery is the most common medical treatment for dogs with eye cataracts but is not necessary or medically possible in every case. If the eye is healthy and not inflamed, cataract surgery is generally successful. After surgery the dog must stay calm and not touch the eye, so a cone or lampshade collar will be used for the first two weeks or so. Eye drops and oral antibiotics are usually prescribed to prevent glaucoma and inflammation, two common complications with cataract surgery. If cataracts have developed as a secondary condition due to another health problem, surgery may not be recommended.

Some other eye conditions have similar symptoms to cataracts such as a white, cloudy appearance in the eye and vision problems. A diagnosis from a veterinary ophthalmologist is necessary before any treatment is used to combat vision loss and cataracts.