If your dog is experiencing cataracts, it could potentially lead to blindness, but there are treatment options, including surgery to help. Here, our Mandeville veterinarians talk about how cataracts in dogs can be treated and what you can expect from surgery.
Cataracts: What are they, and how do they cause vision problems?
Eyes contain a type of lens that functions just as one on a camera does. This lens is used to focus and provide your pup with a clear image of the environment around them. 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.
How will my vet treat my dog's cataracts?
In many cases, cataracts in dogs can be surgically removed and replaced with an artificial lens. While this surgery is a great option, it will not be recommended for every pet. 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 pup.
The ability to save your dog's sight will come from early diagnosis and treatment, much like any other health condition they may experience. Regular, twice-yearly wellness exams allow your veterinarian 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, your vet will want to perform the surgery as soon as possible to ensure the best possible outcome.
Even if your dog cannot have cataract surgery, you should know that you will still be able to provide your dog with a good, happy life even if they cannot see. Dogs are very adaptable creatures, and with a little practice, your dog will adapt and be able to navigate their home well by using their other senses to guide them.
What can I expect from the cataract surgery process?
Every veterinary hospital is different, but 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 veterinarian will provide you with detailed instructions regarding feeding and care leading up to surgery day. Be sure to follow your vet's instructions carefully.
Diagnostic Testing Before 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 confirm that your dog's retina is working properly. If these tests turn up any unexpected issues, your dog may, unfortunately, not be suitable for cataract surgery.
The Surgical Procedure
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.
Post-Surgery & Recovery
Your dog will stay at the vet clinic for the night to allow the veterinary team to monitor them closely. Once your dog heads home, intensive aftercare will be required, including the use of several types of eye drops, multiple times each day.
How long until my dog has their vision back after surgery?
While your dog may begin to see as early as the next day, it can take up to 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, the surgery for your dog's cataracts has a high success rate, and many pet owners are extremely pleased with the results.
Approximately 95% of dogs regain vision as soon as they recover from the surgery. Your veterinarian will be able to give you a long-term prognosis for your dog. However, generally speaking, maintaining vision after surgery is about 90% at one year, and 80% at two years postoperatively. 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.
Should I be aware of any risks with cataract surgery?
All surgical procedures with pets or people come with some level of risk. Complications stemming from cataract surgery in dogs are 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 is the timeframe for recovery from dog cataract surgery?
It will take roughly two weeks for the early stages of healing to be complete. You should prevent your dog from running and jumping and have a cone on them at all times to avoid injury to their eye. You will also need to administer several medications to your dog during this time, including eye drops and oral medications. Carefully following your veterinarian'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.
Will I need to seek out a veterinary eye doctor or surgeon?
Veterinarians 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.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.