Cataracts in Dogs and Cats

While cataracts are less common in dogs and cats than in people, they do occur with relative frequency and are one of the most common causes of blindness. Normally, the pupil of the eye appears black because the lens (located just behind the iris) is crystal clear. A cataract is an opacification within the lens, and when a cataract is “mature” it imparts a grayish, whitish color to the pupil. The opacification prevents normal light transmission to the retina within the back of the eye. A fully opacified lens (a mature cataract) results in blindness.

Some dog breeds are genetically predisposed to cataract formation including: American Cocker Spaniel, Bichon Frise, Australian Shepherd, Miniature Schnauzer, Siberian Husky, Boston Terrier, Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, Lhasa Apso, and all varieties of Poodles. Diabetes mellitus and diseases within the eye (inflammation, glaucoma, displacement of the lens) can also cause cataract formation.

The treatment of choice for mature cataracts (those resulting in blindness) is surgical removal of the affected lens(es). This is a delicate procedure, one that should be performed only by a veterinarian who is a specialist in veterinary ophthalmology. Prior to surgery, special testing is performed to insure the retinas are working normally. (If the retina is diseased, removal of the cataract will not restore vision). During surgery, ultrasound is used to break up or emulsify the cataract. The lens material is then aspirated from the eye through a tiny incision. A new lens can then be inserted within the remaining lens capsule to restore normal post-operative vision.

Cataracts typically form gradually, giving the dog or cat time to adapt to their vision loss. While it is tempting to assume that a blind animal’s quality of life would be vastly diminished, rarely is this the case. They are masters at using their other senses to navigate their environment. My point being, there is no reason to despair if cataract surgery is not a feasible option for your blind pet.

Do you have the sense that your best buddy’s pupils are not as black as they used to be? Don’t assume that he or she has cataracts. Lenticular sclerosis is a normal aging process that causes the pupils to appear grayish or cloudy. In fact, this change is evident in most dogs and cats over the age of ten. The good news is that lenticular sclerosis does not interfere with light transmission to the retinas. In other words, this “normal abnormality” does not affect vision and does not require any therapy. Your veterinarian will be able to determine if your pet has cataracts or lenticular sclerosis by performing a thorough eye examination.

Have you cared for a pet with cataracts? Have you cared for a blind pet? Please share your story.

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

 

 

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7 Comments on “Cataracts in Dogs and Cats

  1. My poodle who had diabetes got cataracts, but he did not go blind. They were “old age” cataracts and did not develop as fast as diabetes cataracts.

    My Pom who has Cushings and diabetes, developed diabetic cataracts very quickly and went blind. I had the eye surgery done ($2700 for both eyes) and there is nothing closer than a miracle to take in a blind dog and in the afternoon come out with a seeing dog!! It was sheer heaven for he and I. He did NOT do well blind, lost all confidence.

    My cat went blind from high BP, but I got the BP meds quickly and her sight restored itself in 2 weeks.

    Every pet should have their BP taken at least yearly. It is very important!!

  2. When our Aussie-Lab mix went blind (age 10) I got a book the vet recommended, Living with Blind Dogs by Levin. Lots of practical advice, worked wonderfully.

  3. I am very fond of blind dogs! Between fostering and adopting I have had five of them. My first was a toy poodle that was found wandering around the Hill Country of Texas. I fostered her until her owner found her. She’d been lost for 2 months before being picked up! She was 11 years old but not blind from age: fights with a cat had damaged both eyes at about 1 year old.

    My next was a blind-deaf foster cocker spaniel. She’d been blinded by severe entropion that had never been repaired plus dry eye. She could see a tiny bit out of the bottom of one eye, so when she looked up at me she really looked *up* She was adorable! You’d never know she was “handicapped” on our walks. She almost danced her way down the sidewalk.

    My next was another cocker, blind from diabetes but her shelter just assumed it was old age and had never done any bloodwork on her. She was very very sick when I got her but she perked up with proper insulin doses. She was crazy for bunny tracks on our walks through my apartment complex. She also loved going to PetSmart. It was like Disneyland for her. She was prone to climb over the baby gate until I took in another dog to keep her company downstairs while I was asleep upstairs. That was my only two-floor place and I didn’t want her trying to deal with stairs. She probably could have handled it but I didn’t risk it. I did put down plastic runners over my carpet to help her find the door but I suspect she didn’t need it.

    My next one (cocker of course) wound up at a stinky mouse-infested “shelter” with severe infections in both eyes and her skin. She was completely blind but very very smart and never had any trouble, except when she jumped onto my chair then didn’t feel safe jumping off… at least I prefered to think that because she wasn’t supposed to be on that chair! I took her to training classes and used touch commands for sit and down. Sadly, she passed away after only four months with me so she didn’t learn more.

    My current blind cocker is 15 years old. She was going to be put to sleep after her very devoted owner passed away, so cocker rescue stepped in and she came to me. It looked like she might have glaucoma but she just has funny-looking eyes. She can see a very little bit but it’s enough to see me wave to her, and then she does a nose-touch to be sure she found me after she comes to me. I have had her for 1-1/2 years and she still has plenty of life left in her, if not plenty of time. She has lost her hearing so it’s up to her to let me know when it’s time for breakfast (usually about 3:30 a.m.!) and she barks when she can’t find me or when she wants to go out… or when another dog has better food … or to tell me there’s poopy that needs to be picked up… she’s pretty much the queen of this castle.

    Blind dogs can be trip hazards so they’re not for everybody, but cocker spaniels are all trip hazards anyway because they’re such velcro dogs!

    Blind dogs get along just fine with what they have. It’s not like dogs are big on reading! And they can even fetch with balls that have bells in them. There are online groups for owners of blind dogs and there’s a book on blind dogs so if a person feels insecure about it there are people to help. Each one is individual though — my diabetic had to walk around the perimeter of the room slapping her tail (she had a full one) against the wall before she could settle down in a new place. My others didn’t do that, but that little poodle would lay down a tiny little pee puddle to give herself a reference point! I had to be careful where I took her!

    Blind Dog Rescue Alliance has “I am Blind” dog vests & LED leashes for sale as fundraisers. They do amazing work and could use some support.

  4. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for your question. No doubt the cost of cataract surgery varies depending on where you are within the United States. I do not work with a board certified ophthalmologist so can only provide you with a guesstimate of approximately $2,000 per eye.

  5. What can expect to pay for cataract surgery?

  6. I had a cat, Ignat, develop a cataract in his right eye and he started bumping into things. His left eye already was blind from herpes virus, another cataract, and glaucoma, for which I give him acetazolamide daily. This was a cat a rescue and we were unsure of his age. I figured he was between 8 and 10 years old. If he could live to be 18, I shouldn’t let him be blind for that many years, so I decided to do the cataract surgery. Dr. Clinton was the opthalmolic veterinary specialist I took him to and he did the tests on both retinas first. Indeed the retina of the left eye was dead, but the right eye was good. Dr. Clinton removed the cataract and put the clear lense in. Ignat did well and within several weeks could see again but not well up close. He’d need bifocals for that but they don’t make them yet for cats. Years ago another cat, Mother Cat, had a cataract pop around in her eye overnight. I took her to Dr. Clinton as well. Mother Cat was 18 and Dr. Clinton told me she could see well with her other eye so just leave it alone because of her age. I took a cat named One Eyed Willie to Dr. Clinton this year. I trapped Willie to TNR him and he had what looked like entropion to me. I had read about entropion in James Herriot’s books and couldn’t let that cat back out if I could help his entropion. Well, Willie didn’t have entropion but had eosinophilic keratitis. Since Willie was a feral cat I couldn’t put drops in his eyes so Dr. Clinton had me put an antiviral, famcyclivir, in his canned food for 28 days while I had him in his 2 large connected dog crates. It helped some but not enough. After 2 months Willie wasn’t so afraid of me anymore and would not hide in his carrier if I was in the room. He began to come running out of his carrier when I brought his canned food. So I began doing t-touch on 13 pound Willie and he enjoyed it so I knew I could put drops in his eye. Then I could take him to my local vet and got drops which helped even more. But a few weeks after you stop the drops, the eye starts to squint again. Willie graduated to a room in my house and I was going to put another cat in there with him so I could put kittens in those dog crates. I had the snap test done on Willie before moving another cat in with him and he was positive for FIV, but I don’t worry about that one. Now, after 5 months from being a feral cat, Willie is loose in my house and loves to be t-touched and whisker scratched and hangs out with the other cats, especially when those cans are being opened for breakfast and dinner. He won’t go back to the colony he came from since he may need drops for life, but he’ll eventually realize where my cats go in and out their cat door and be an inside/outside cat in my fenced-in yard.

  7. Many years ago, our lab/golden retriever went blind overnight. First the right went; within hours the left eye was gone. He was 4 years old. The vet said the biggest problem would be that he might get a little snappish since he couldn’t see things coming at him. He didn’t; he was as sweet as ever. He would get lost in the backyard occasionally; he would just sit down & howl until someone came to get him. He still tried to “run the fence” with the dog next door. And he learned very quickly to navigate the house, by smell & sound. I began to wear flip flops in the house at all times, so that he could hear me coming & going. Furniture NEVER got moved. He lived for another 3 years, with no discomfort.
    We just recently lost our 10 yr old diabetic, blind bullmastiff. She had cataract surgery when she was 6 shortly after being diagnosed with diabetes. Then she developed glaucoma. The disease was managed with various eye meds. She, too, did not change much, personality wise. The only thing she ever bumped into, once she became comfortable in her blindness, was another dog. The other dogs loved her, & exercised great patience with her. They never left her alone, so that they could help to take care of her. She passed away about 2 months ago, from kidney failure. We still miss her.
    BUT: Just 4 days ago, we began to foster another bullmastiff, who happens to be diabetic, with cataracts. The cataracts will probably not be removed, since she is not a good candidate for any kind of procedure. She is partially blind; can’t see in dim light at all. It seems as if she has never been in a house, no manners whatsoever. So she is confined to an expen in the middle of the house where she can hear & smell everything that goes on, until she gets her bearings & some manners. Once again, the other dogs are helping her. Whenever she is out of the expen, one of the dogs always stays by her side to make sure she is safe. She goes out on a leash, but the other dogs always walk with her, even get her to play. Because of the other dogs, she can navigate through the house fairly well. She certainly knows where the kitchen is, & the purpose of said room! All stairs are gated, so that she can’t explore & get hurt.
    Having a blind dog is no big deal, if you just use a little patience. Remember they can’t see; and will try to use every means available to them to get what they want. A former well behaved dog will suddenly push through doors, gates etc., as well as counter surf, climb up on furniture, and so on. Just be patient; reset their parameters, they will get it in no time if you guide them.