I got an email from one of our clients of The Woof Pack, and she had a question for me. It’s a good question and it may pertain to your pet as well. She reads our newsletters, and she asks:
“I was wondering if you could do a newsletter on Cataracts for aging dogs. My dog has cataracts in his eyes and my sister
said that cataracts can cause a dog to go blind. A vet technician suggested that I get them removed but I heard that anesthesia can be fatal for an older dog.”
“Do you know anything about this? What are your thoughts?”
Thanks for the great question Jeanine. Although she is asking about cataracts in her dog, I will answer about cataracts in
general for dogs and cats. Here we go.
Just like in humans, it is common for our animal companions to suffer from age-related ailments, such as cataracts in the
eyes. Cataracts are the clouding of the lens of the eyes. The lens is a clear structure in the eye behind the iris and pupil which refracts light onto the retina, allowing vision and focusing.
Cataracts breaks down the fibers in the lens and gives the pupils a milky opaque appearance, blocks light, and diminishes
vision. If left untreated and if your dog or cat’s cataracts progress steadily, it can eventually cause blindness.
Although cataracts can develop in a young dog or cat due to heredity, illness (e.g. diabetes), infection, trauma, or nutritional deficiency, it most commonly occurs because of aging and it affects both eyes simultaneously. The condition of the cataracts may progress at a different rate in each eye, though.
If you notice a milky or cloudy spot on the pupils of your pet, have him examined by a veterinary ophthalmologist. You have to make sure that the problem is cataracts, not lenticular or nuclear sclerosis, which also occurs with age and appears as cloudiness in the eyes, but does not affect vision.
Once a diagnosis is made, make sure to consult with your vet about your options. A thorough examination is important because your pet and his eyes (besides the cataracts) must be in good health if you are to consider surgery to treat the cataracts.
One common operation isphacoemulsification, which uses ultrasound waves to break up the cataract. The contents of the lens are removed and an artificial lens may be inserted into the lens capsule.
Other operations can remove the whole lens out of the lens capsule that contains it, or the entire lens, including the capsule. Each option will be up to you and your vet to discuss for the best outcome. As with many ailments, the sooner you discover and treat cataracts, the better.
There are some who do not agree with or may not have the option of surgery. If that’s the case, again talk to your vet to learn what you can do to slow the development of the cataracts. You might be advised to try affecting the cataracts through diet (e.g., adding more vitamins A, C, and E) or through medications administered via eye drops. Routinely taking your pet in for eye exams will also help.
As with any important decision you make for your pet’s health, you may want to get a second opinion about surgery vs. non-surgical treatment.
If you decide on surgery, keep in mind the risks of anesthesia. Your pet should be in good health and be able to withstand
the stress of surgery. Although the risks are greater for older animals, there is always some risk when your pet goes under no matter how healthy they are.
Again, this is a subject you should talk to your vet about and make sure a thorough check, including blood tests, is done on your pet to determine how anesthesia might affect him. It is important to make sure your pet’s heart, lungs, liver, and immune system function normally. Every animal is different, so it is up to you and your vet to properly weigh the risks and the benefits of subjecting your pet to anesthesia and surgery.
Also be aware of how to monitor and care for your pet before and after surgery. Be sure to follow instructions from your vet in preparation for the operation. Older pets take longer to recover from anesthesia and surgery, so get detailed instructions on what to expect afterward and what you should do to make recovery as fast and stress-free as possible.
If you ever have any questions, do not hesitate to call your vet and ask! You pay a lot for their time and expertise, so use it to your advantage. Just because the procedure may be over, ask them questions. They will be happy to help you.