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Dog with cloudy eyes, Cataracts

Cataracts in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatments and Prevention for Cloudy Eyes

Cataracts in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatments and Prevention for Cloudy Eyes

Cataracts, a common condition in humans, can also affect our furry companions. A normal healthy eye has a transparent lens that light can pass through unimpeded to reach the retina. A cataract occurs when a portion, or the entirety, of the lens of the eye becomes cloudy or completely opaque, typically due to alterations in water balance or proteins within the lens. This discolouration prevents light from reaching the retina, leading to vision impairment or blindness. A fully developed cataract can appear as a cloudy white disk that may be consistent or vary in size and shape. Consequently, what typically appears as the dark pupil of the eye will appear milky or white instead. While cataracts can develop at any age, they are more commonly observed in older dogs.
Cataracts can look very much like another degenerative condition of the eye called lenticular or nuclear sclerosis. In comparison to the white discolouration of cataracts, which may have even or uneven distribution, a sclerotic lense always has a very consistent appearance and is more bluish-gray. Sclerosis has less impact on vision than cataracts, as light can still pass through the discoloured lens, unlike in cataracts. 

Causes of Dog Cataracts 

Several factors contribute to the development of cataracts in dogs. In many cases, cataracts are a normal degenerative process of aging. However, other causes include genetic predisposition, diabetes mellitus, trauma to the eye, nutritional deficiencies, exposure to certain medications or toxins, and inflammation in the eye.

Hereditary cataracts are commonly observed, and researchers have identified gene mutations associated with an elevated risk of cataracts in numerous dog breeds. If your dog carries the specific gene mutation, its chances of developing cataracts increase. Certain dog breeds have a higher susceptibility to developing cataracts. Breeds such as the Siberian Husky, Poodle, Bichon Frise, Cocker Spaniel, and Boston Terrier are among those more prone to cataract formation. 

Symptoms of Dog Cataracts

Symptoms of cataracts in dogs can vary, but the most prominent sign is a noticeable cloudiness or opacity in the affected eye(s). Other indications include:
  • changes in pupil size or shape
  • watery eyes
  • scratching of the eyes
  • difficulty seeing in low light conditions
  • increased clumsiness 
  • bumping into objects
  • misjudging distances
  • not recognizing familiar people
  • reluctance to navigate unfamiliar surroundings
  • unusual, high-stepping walk
If you suspect your dog has cataracts, consult a veterinarian for a definitive diagnosis.

Treatments of Dog Cataracts

Treatment options for dog cataracts primarily depend on the severity of the condition. In cases where cataracts impair vision and affect the quality of life, surgery may be recommended. However, not all dogs are suitable candidates for surgery, and the decision should be made in consultation with a veterinarian and/or veterinary ophthalmologist.

Prevention and Outlook for Dogs with Cataracts 

While it may not always be possible to prevent cataracts, there are measures you can take to reduce the risk or delay their onset. Regular veterinary check-ups, maintaining a balanced diet rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, and timely diagnosis and management of underlying conditions like diabetes can contribute to eye health. Additionally, protecting your dog's eyes from injury, avoiding exposure to harmful chemicals, and ensuring good hygiene can also minimize the risk of developing cataracts.

If your dog does develop cataracts, it's important to remember that not all cases progress to blindness. The rate at which cataracts develop varies among individuals, and some dogs may retain partial vision even with the condition. Timely intervention may help to reduce vision loss and enhance your dog's quality of life. Regular follow-up visits with a veterinarian are crucial to monitor the progression of cataracts and provide appropriate care.


Read more: VCA Animal HospitalCornell Richard P. Riney Canine Health Center