If your dog suffers from cataracts then they will be experiencing some degree of vision loss. Here, our Westfield veterinarians offer some information about cataracts in dogs and what to expect when they have surgery to treat this condition.
What are dog cataracts and how do they cause vision problems?
Each of your dog's eyes has a lens that helps them to focus their vision in order to see clearly. This lens works to focus your pet's vision 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.
How are dog cataracts treated?
In many cases, cataracts in dogs can 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.
The earlier the diagnosis and treatment the more likely that your dog will have a successful surgery. 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, 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 well by using their other senses to guide them.
What can you expect from surgery for cataracts?
While each animal hospital is different you will likely need to drop your pet off either the night before or the morning of the surgery. 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.
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 to 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.
A general anesthetic is important to help your vet complete the surgery safely. 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.
Recovery After Surgery
As with many other surgical procedures, your dog will stay overnight at the animal hospital to ensure that there haven't been any complications. Once your dog heads home, intensive aftercare will be required, including several types of eye drops, multiple times each day.
Will my dog's vision return right after surgery?
By the following day, your dog should have an improvement in their vision. Typically it can 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.
Your vet will be able to provide you with their best estimate on how much vision your dog will regain but most get about 95% back once they have recovered from the surgery. However, generally speaking, maintaining vision after surgery is about 90% at 1 year, and 80% at 2 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.
What are the risk factors for cataract surgery?
All surgical procedures, regardless of the patient, will have some degree 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 does recovery from cataract surgery look like for dogs?
The initial recovery stage will last approximately 2 weeks. Your vet will likely recommend that your dog wears an e-collar and that you restrict their movement when possible. You will also need to administer several medications to your dog during this time, including eye drops and oral medications. How well you follow your vet's instructions will have a direct impact on how well your dog heals from the procedure.
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 should I choose a vet for my dog's surgery?
Veterinarians that specialize in caring for the eyesight of pets are called veterinary ophthalmologists. Under normal circumstances, you will not need to seek these specialists out yourself. Your vet will put you in touch with a veterinary ophthalmologist if needed. 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.