Understanding Cataracts in Dogs

When it comes to cataracts in dogs, many dog owners seem to accept them as part of the aging process. While age can be one of the causes of cataracts, there are other factors that can cause cloudiness in the dog's lens to occur. To preserve your dog's eyesight for as long as possible, it is important to see a veterinarian right away to take steps in treating, and potentially slowing or reversing, the progression of the disease.

Cataracts Defined

A cataract forms when the lens of the canine eye becomes cloudy. This is usually due to a thickening and eventual crystallization of the fluids within the lens. The cataract progression is broken into 3 stages, each stage defining the cloudiness and affect the cataract has upon the dog's vision.

Incipient cataracts are the beginning stage of a cataract. There is minimal cloudiness and the vision is relatively clear. Immature cataracts are the second phase in the progression. The cloudiness covers only a part of the dog's vision and while the image is blurry, there is still some sight left. Mature cataracts are the final stage. The cloudiness completely covers the eye and the dog cannot distinguish shapes. All he can see out of that eye is a white or grayish fog. Some people confuse nuclear sclerosis, a hardening of the eye's lens, with cataracts. Nuclear sclerosis is found in older dogs and while the lens may appear white, the dog can still see out of the eye.

Causes of Cataracts

Cataracts may occur for any number of reasons. Cataracts can be inherited (congenital). Congenital cataracts are the most frequent cause of cataracts in dogs. Their rate of progression can take years or can develop in a matter of weeks and may affect one or both eyes. Canine diabetes mellitus can also cause cataracts to develop. This is due to elevated sugar levels depleting the fluids in the eyes, causing crystallization of the lenses. Injury to the eye can also cause cataracts to develop. Many owners of senior dogs see their older dogs develop cataracts, typically after the age of 8.

Treatment for Canine Cataracts

Cataracts can be treated through surgery or eye drops, depending upon the cause of the cataracts, the stage of development and dependent upon the condition of the dog.

Eye drops are the newest method of treatment for cataracts and are seeing a lot of success in the canine patients. The drops are an N-acetyl-carnosine solution that gradually lessens the opacity of the crystallized lens. They can be used on most dogs, no matter the age or health condition. The drops can be used in the early stages of a cataract, dissolving the developing crystallization and slowing or reversing the loss of vision.

Surgical removal of the cataracts must be completed on a mature cataract and the dog must be relatively healthy to undergo surgery. The crystallized lens is emulsified and removed and often a lens implant is inserted to allow for near vision.

Canine cataracts are a condition, that left untreated, can make a significant impact on your dog's activity level and ability to get around. By seeking early treatment, the progression can often be slowed or reversed, and your dog's quality of life restored.