Cataracts in Dogs, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

Cataracts in Dogs
Cataracts in Dogs

Cataracts in dogs is a common eye problem. It affects the dog’s eye by disrupting the natural eye lens. Cataracts disrupt clarity and form a cloudy or white to blue like appearance hence affecting the dog’s vision. Development of cataracts depends on the causes. It may be fast or slow but mostly unpredictable.

What happens is that the dog’s eye lens becomes thick and opaque. This then prevents light from reaching the retina. It leads to impairment of the dog’s vision and later on if left untreated can result in complete loss of vision in the affected eye.  Here is more on the causes, symptoms, treatments and all is it to know about Canine Cataracts.


Canine Cataracts is commonly inherited. Cataracts develop independently or in association with other eye diseases. The problem can sometimes be seen when the dog is born or when it’s at a young age. However other elements can lead to a dog developing Cataracts. They include:

Cataracts Development from Disease


70% of Dogs with diabetes develop cataracts and later on blindness just within one year of after diagnosis. Diabetes is the most common type of disease that leads to cataracts. If your dog has diabetes, cataracts can develop very fast, even overnight. Diabetes and cataracts are often taken very seriously. Once your dog, has been diagnosed with diabetes, consult with a vet ophthalmologist immediately.

Uveitis, Retina Atrophy, and Glaucoma can also cause Cataracts.

Cataracts Development due to Age

A senile form of cataracts which occurs in elderly dogs is not as common in dogs as in humans. The only problem is that these type of cataracts can be confused with nuclear sclerosis. This makes proper diagnosis very necessary.

Cataracts Development from Trauma

Canine cataracts may also develop from trauma. This usually occurs in one eye due to an injury.  An accident can cause a knock on the eye. A thorn or foreign objects can lead to damage of the eye lens and hence the development of cataracts.

Infection or Toxicity

Infections and toxicity from medication can also result in cataracts. Drugs like those used to treat fleas, heartworms, and vaccines such as naphthalene or dinitrophenol, etc. can help develop canine cataracts.

The initial stage “incipient cataract” the affected dog’s eye lens has such a minor clouding that it has no effect on the dog’s vision.

It progresses to a mature stage “mature cataract” where the lens becomes more cloudy or foggy. In this stage, the dog has blurred vision.

The last stage “hyper mature cataracts” the lens is very foggy. It’s capsules wrinkle and it inside shrivels. In most cases, the dog might be blind because light can’t get to the retina but in other cases, there are some clear sections on the lenses where the light goes through, but its view is very dim.

Canine cataracts can develop very quickly or slowly; this is why you shouldn’t ignore the signs and immediately take your dog for diagnosis. For the dogs that get cataracts while they are old in age, the development is slow in them, and the dog doesn’t significantly lose its site.

Dog Breeds Commonly Affected by Cataracts

There are common breeds that are affected by cataracts that other, it’s mostly through inheritance and inbreeding of the same type of dogs or breeds with high capability of developing cataracts. The breeds of dogs most prone to cataracts include:

  • Golden Retriever
  • Siberian Huskies
  • Miniature Schnauzers
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • American cocker spaniel
  • Samoyed
  • Terriers
  • Boston Terrier
  • German Shepherd
  • Chesapeake Bay Retriever
  • English sheepdog
  • Maltese
  • Poodles

The age onset of cataracts varies in different types of breeds some from birth “congenital” others is six months to a year, and other is from one year, and so on i.e., Boston terrier age of onset is innate or Siberian Husky age of onset is six months plus, etc.

Symptoms of Cataracts in Dogs

The symptoms of cataracts in dogs are not that many but still are very easily noticeable which depend mostly on the cause and severity of the condition. Signs of canine cataracts include:

  • The eyes are bluish-gray or cloudy in the eye
  • The clumsiness of the dog mostly due to poor site coursed by cataracts
  • The dog rubs and scratches the affected eye
  • The dog blinks a lot
  • You can see the dog’s eye irritation

Dogs with less percentage lens opacity show minimal or no signs while the ones with more than 70% opacity may have blurry visions or are blind.

Don’t assume that your dog has cataracts even if it has cloudy or bluish grayish eyes; it might have nuclear sclerosis which can be confused with cataracts but is completely harmless. However, if you see your dog with any cloudiness in its eyes take him or her immediately to the vet ophthalmologist for a checkup.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Cataracts in Dogs

Only a qualified veterinarian ophthalmologist should be allowed to diagnose your dog’s eye condition, what he needs is the complete medical and personal history of your dog including the dog’s parent’s history if possible.

The vet first focus on the physical aspects then later moves on to the dog’s eye. He/she then test your dog’s focus ability mostly on moving object close to the eye. The vet will also use an ophthalmoscope with lights are out to checks if the dog has any pupil response.

However, if the vet wants a more definitive diagnosis, he/ she assesses the intraocular pressure of the dog’s eye to rule out glaucoma. Then the Schirmer Tear Test is done which involves measuring of tear production by placing a tear test strip down on the lower eyelid checking for foreign objects, eye moisture levels and if there is damage to the cornea.  These entire tests help him rule out the causes of cataracts which eventually assist in the treatment of the condition.

There are also chemistry test, and complete blood tests that help rule out infection and assist in checking if the cause was of cataracts was brought on by diabetes. Plus an electroretinography and ultrasound test is done to help rule out concurrent retinal degeneration.

Cataracts in Dogs Treatment

Surgery is the only option in dealing with cataracts in dogs; it helps restore your pet’s vision.  Surgery success usually depends on the severity of cataracts and how able you are in controlling your dog’s diabetes. Although the surgical procedure is necessary, the vet ophthalmologist should first treat its underlying cause if known.

The vet uses a process known as phacoemulsification; it’s a method that involves the use of a laser to destroy the lenses tissue surgically. This makes it possible for the vet surgeon to remove the dogs affected eye lens “the dog will be under general anesthesia” and then the lens is replaced with a plastic or acrylic prosthetic lens. The procedure success rate is 93%-95 % which is an excellent rating. The dog will be able to see almost immediately but will need some time for it to recover completely if the surgery was successful.

Fortunately, cataracts surgery is sometimes not needed because your dog’s site might be still ok, however, stay in touch with your vet to see if the will be any future complications.

Due to the surgery, your dog’s eye will need eye drops severally to help with inflammation and prevent infection and is also required to wear an Elizabethan collar to prevent scratching or disturbance of any kind in the practiced eye. The dog will also get rechecked several times a month 3-6 times.

Complications of Cataract Surgery in Dogs

Although over the years the success rate of the surgery has become very high there are still some complications that can arise over time, and that’s the reason for a recheck. They can happen to 5%-7% of the patients. However, some of these complications fade with time as the operated eye or eyes heal.

  • Infection during surgery or after surgery; which may affect the dog’s health and spread to other body organs.
  • There could be inflammation inside the eye
  • Bleeding inside the eye
  • Corneal scarring
  • Glaucoma
  • Wrong placement of the plastic or acrylic prosthetic lens
  • Retinal detachment or degeneration
  • Incision dehiscence

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