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Cataract Surgery in Dogs (Costs and Procedure)

Cataract Surgery in Dogs

Cataract surgery in dogs, is over all, a rewarding procedure considering that it can help dogs gain back a good percentage of their lost vision. However, as with any type of surgery there may also be some risks. Also, not all dogs are good candidates for surgery and the surgery can be quite expensive. On average, the cost for a dog cataract surgery is around $3,500. A better understanding of the surgical procedure and what it entails, can help owners of dogs suffering from this eye condition. Following is information about cataracts in dogs and the surgical procedure provided by veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec.

bump on a dog's eyelids

The Windows to a Dog's Soul

Animal behaviorists tell us that mammals use their eyes not only for seeing but also to communicate their moods and emotions to other animals. We are magnetically drawn to a dog’s eyes, and for a good reason – they can be very expressive and revealing, and form an important part of the intimate relationship that dogs and humans share.

Dogs’ eyes naturally evolved to help them track and hunt prey, but humans have now created many new breeds, some with distinctive eyes that require regular care and attention.

Dog’s eyes look similar to human eyes, but they differ from ours in several ways: they are more flattened, they are less flexible when it comes to changing the shape and focal length, they are more light-and- movement sensitive,
they are more laterally placed and with larger pupils.

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In a nutshell, under normal circumstances, a dog’s eyes should be bright, shining, and free of debris and discharge. The skin around the eyes should appear healthy and normal.

Cataracts in Dogs 

dog-cataract picture

Picture of a dog with cataract in the eye.

The first picture that comes to mind when someone says cataract is an old grandma with foggy eyes and big glasses. We almost always relate cataracts with growing old. In fact, we consider the cataracts to be a normal, physiological by-product of aging. Nevertheless, in both humans and dogs age is not the only cause of cataracts. But what is cataract?

The transparent lens focuses light rays onto the retina at the back of the eye. When the proteins in a lens become cloudy, the lens loses part or all of its transparency. When the lens loses its transparency it becomes thick and opaque.

The transparency loss results in a white to gray area at the center of the eye. The affected area is actually called cataract. The problem may affect only part of the lens or may fill it completely. A complete cataract results in white, crystalline lens with a slightly yellow cast. The development of a cataract is irreversible.

The size of the cataract can vary from as small as a pinpoint to as big as the entire lens. A very small cataract is usually called incipient. Incipient cataract does not impair the dog’s overall visions. However, as the cataracts' size increases, the quality of the vision diminishes.

Is it really cataract though? Cataracts should be distinguished from nuclear sclerosis. Nuclear sclerosis is a normal change of the lens that develops in dogs older than 7 years. A lens affected with nuclear sclerosis looks a lot like a lens with cataracts – it is whiter or grayer and substantially foggy. However, nuclear sclerosis does not impair the dog’s vision.

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Most cataracts develop as a result of inheritance. However, trauma and metabolic diseases, specifically sugar diabetes, may also cause them to form. Hereditary juvenile cataracts occur in over 80 breeds, including the Boston Terrier, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Cocker Spaniel, Miniature Schnauzer, West Highland Terrier, Siberian Husky and Old English Sheepdog.

A dog suffering from cataract will show the following signs and symptoms: grayish, whitish or bluish layer or area in the eye, eye irritation followed by redness, discharge, frequent blinking and rubbing or scratching, clumsiness and sudden reluctance to move and be physically active.

The cataract may progress either really fast or really slow. The progression rate depends on the underlying cause. The underlying cause also determines the condition’s prognosis.

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Cataract Surgery in Dogs 

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An owner or vet may suspect that a dog has a cataract if the lenses appear opaque or if the animal seems to have failing vision. However, the presence of cataract must be definitively confirmed through specialized ophthalmoscopic examination.

If your dog is found to have a cataract, the treatment strategy is based on 3 important factors: the underlying cause, stage of development and overall health status.

There are several methods for removing cataracts. The most efficient method is surgery. However, surgical removal is considered in patients that are blind or on the verge of blindness. Successful cataract surgeries result in 90 to 95 percent vision restorations.

Unfortunately, not all cataract patients are candidates for surgery. For example, surgery is not recommended for dogs with non-hereditary types of cataracts. Additionally, as with any other the surgical procedure, there are certain associated risks. The most commonly occurring risks include permanent blindness, glaucoma, infections and the risks associated with the anesthesia.

To establish whether a surgical procedure will be beneficial, the retina should be examined by electroretinography as early as possible. If the patient is a candidate and if the benefits overweight the potential risks, the surgical procedure is recommended.

Since the surgical success rate tends to decrease over time, it is highly advisable the have the procedure performed as soon as the vet recommends it. Generally speaking, the earlier the cataract is removed, the better the prognosis.

It should be noted that the cataract surgery is classified as an elective procedure. However, if indicated and not performed, the affected dog will require lifetime anti-inflammatory eye drops, canine antioxidant vision supplements and frequent eye re-examination.

Cataract surgeries can only be performed by board-certified veterinary ophthalmologists. It also requires specialized equipment. Therefore, a cataract surgery is quite expensive.

"Cataract surgery has evolved and progressed since it was first developed in the 1960's. Today many techniques and improvements in equipment and intraocular lens implants allow more patients to be surgical candidates. Overall, cataract surgery is considered to have a 90-95% success rate."~Dr. Jennifer Hyman, board-certified veterinary opthamologist

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Preventing and Coping With Dog Cataracts 

All dogs intended for breeding should have their eyes examined for incipient cataracts. Juvenile hereditary cataracts may not develop until six years of age in some breeds, so it is even more important that the parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents of breeding dogs be free from cataracts.

A dog that has gradually become blind may remain perfectly confident on its own, well-memorized territory. You can easily determine the extent of your dog’s blindness by conducting a simple sight test.

Slightly rearrange the furniture in a room with which your dog is familiar. Then, darken the room. Allow your dog to come in and then observe what happens. Repeat this test with the lights on. A completely blind dog will do no better with the lights on than in the darkened room, while a partially blind dog is more confident when the light is good.

How a dog handles blindness varies not only with its own personality but also with that of its owner. Some dogs and owners cope well with blindness and others do not. A confident dog may be willing to continue such activities like jogging with its owner and playing tug-of-war and other games, while a less confident dog may turn in on itself and seem to lose interest in life.

About the Author 

Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.

ivana crnec

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Photo Credits:

  • Flickr Creative Commons, Puppy Cataract, Chester has a cataract in his left eye, by nathanmac87, CCBY2.0

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