What are cataracts in dogs?
Within each of your dog’s eyes, there is a lens, much like the lens of a camera. This lens works to focus your pet's vision in order to provide clear sight. A cataract is an opacification or cloudiness that can occur on all or part of the lens, which interferes with a clear image being focused on the retina, and hampers your dog's ability to see clearly. This is where animal ophthalmology comes into play.
What are the treatment options for cataracts in dogs?
In many cases, your vet will turn to animal ophthalmology where cataracts in dogs will be surgically removed and replaced with an artificial lens. Unfortunately, however, not all dogs with cataracts are suitable candidates for this surgery. If your dog has a pre-existing retinal detachment, retinal degeneration, glaucoma, or severe inflammation of the eyes, cataract surgery may not be an option for your pooch.
When it comes to saving your dog's vision, early diagnosis of conditions such as cataracts is important. Regular twice-yearly wellness exams give your vet the opportunity to check your dog's eyes for signs of developing cataracts and recommend treatment before they become more serious.
If your pup has been diagnosed with cataracts and is a good candidate for surgery you will then visit a vet ophthalmologist, the sooner the surgery can be performed, the better the long-term outcome for your pet is likely to be.
Pet parents with dogs who are not suitable for surgery should rest assured that, although their dog will remain blind they can still enjoy a good quality of life. Dogs are very adaptable creatures and with a little practice, your dog will adapt and be able to navigate their home environment well by using their other senses to guide them.
How will your vet ophthalmologist perform cataract surgery on your dog?
Every veterinary hospital is different however, in most cases, you will drop your dog off either the morning of surgery or the night before. While some special care is required for dogs with diabetes, in all cases your vet ophthalmologist will provide you with detailed instructions regarding feeding and care leading up to surgery day. Be sure to follow your vet's instructions carefully.
Testing prior to surgery
Before the surgery begins your dog will be sedated and an ultrasound will be performed to check for issues such as retinal detachment or rupture (bursting) of the lens. An electroretinogram (ERG) will also be done in order to confirm that your dog's retina is working properly. If these tests turn up any unexpected issues, unfortunately, your dog may not be suitable for cataract surgery.
The cataract surgery
In dogs, cataract surgery is performed under a general anesthetic. A muscle relaxant will also be administered to help the eye sit in the correct position for the operation.
Cataracts in dogs are removed using a technique called phacoemulsification. This procedure uses an ultrasonic device to break up and remove the cloudy lens from the dog's eye and is the same procedure that is used in cataract surgery on people. Once the lens with the cataract has been removed an artificial lens implant (intraocular lens, or IOL) can then be placed in the eye to allow images to be focused clearly onto the retina.
After your dog's cataract surgery
Typically the vet ophthalmologist will recommend that your dog stay overnight for monitoring, following cataract surgery. Once your dog heads home, intensive aftercare will be required, including the use of several types of eye drops, multiple times each day.
When will your dog's vision be restored after cataract surgery?
Many dogs will have some vision restored by the very next day, but typically it will take a few weeks for vision to settle as the eye adjusts to the effect of surgery and the presence of the artificial lens. Provided that the rest of the eye is in good working order, cataract surgery in dogs is considered a very successful treatment with a high rate of positive outcomes.
Approximately 95% of dogs regain vision as soon as they recover from the surgery. Your vet ophthalmologist will be able to give you a long-term prognosis for your dog however, generally speaking, maintaining vision after surgery is about 90% at 1 year, and 80% at 2 years post-op. The key to successful long-term outcomes is good post-operative care and regular visits to the veterinarian for eye examinations and monitoring, following surgery and throughout your dog's life.
What are the risks associated with cataract surgery for dogs?
All surgical procedures with pets or people come with some level of risk. Complications stemming from cataract surgery in dogs is rare, but some complications seen by veterinary ophthalmologists following cataract surgery are corneal ulcers and pressure elevations within the eye. Taking your dog for a follow-up exam with the veterinary surgeon is essential for helping to prevent issues from developing after the surgery.
What are the risks involved with cataract surgery for dogs?
The initial healing period following cataract surgery in dogs is approximately 2 weeks. Throughout that period, your dog will need to wear an E-collar (cone) at all times and have their activity restricted to leash walks only. You will also need to administer a number of medications to your dog during this time, including eye drops and oral medications. Carefully following your vet ophthalmologist's instructions is essential for achieving a good outcome for your dog's vision.
Depending on the results of the 2-week follow-up appointment, your dog's medications may be reduced, however, some dogs will need to remain on medication permanently.
How can I be referred to a vet ophthalmologist for my dog?
Vets that specialize in caring for the eyesight of pets are called veterinary ophthalmologists. Typically these specialists only book appointments when patients have been referred to them for care by their primary veterinarian. If you are concerned about your dog's eyesight contact your regular veterinarian and request a referral to a veterinary ophthalmologist near you.
Our Animal Emergency Clinic vets in St. Louis offers pet ophthalmology services to diagnose and treat eye problems in dogs, cats and horses. Our veterinary ophthalmologist in St. Louis uses a cutting-edge approach to your pet’s eye care. Because there are certain pet eye conditions that can be reversed if they’re diagnosed in their early stages, we place a strong emphasis on the diagnostic portion of our ophthalmology services.