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Does My Dog Have Cataracts?

Posted 08.06.19 by Reagan Bugg, DVM

Does your senior dog have hazy or blue gray eyes? Have you ever wondered if your dog has cataracts or has trouble seeing?

Frequently, my clients ask me if their dog has cataracts , or assume  they have them because of a blue gray haze to the lens of the eye. Today we will talk about differentiating a normal age related change called lenticular sclerosis from cataracts. Both of these conditions occur in the lens of the eye. The lens sits behind the iris and is used for focusing.

Nuclear Sclerosis dog eye

Lenticular Sclerosis

Lenticular sclerosis, also known as nuclear sclerosis, is the normal age related changes of the lens that causes a bluish gray haze in many senior dogs. Cells in the lens make new lens fibers constantly, and unfortunately old fibers can leave the lens, which contributes to the haziness of the lens. Most dogs start to develop them around the age of 6 or 7.  Lenticular sclerosis normally occurs in both eyes and is symmetrical. When we look at the eye with an ophthalmoscope, we can still easily view the retina and fundus in the  back of the eye, which means that your dog can still see. While this condition doesn’t cause blindness, it can make dogs far sighted and cause issues with depth perception in severe cases.

Dog with cataract


Cataracts are very different because they can severely impact vision and can be caused by multiple different reasons. A cataract is an opacity within the lens itself. They can be very small (called an incipient cataract) and not interfere with seeing, or can be more invasive (an immature cataract), causing blurred vision. All vision is lost when a cataract becomes mature. At this point, we can not view the back of the eye with the ophthalmoscope anymore. Cataracts have many causes, but the most common are genetic (inherited cataracts), diabetes, and toxic reaction the lens. Once a dog has cataracts, there is no method to clear the lens. Immature, mature, and hypermature cataracts can only be treated by surgical correction.

The Importance of Early Detection of Cataracts in Dogs

Dogs have highly developed eyes with good day and night vision. Unfortunately, like humans, dogs can get cataracts. While cataracts are often age-related, it’s important to understand that puppies can also suffer from them.

A cataract is a condition where the lens of your pet’s eye becomes cloudy or opaque, and your pet goes blind. Initially, cataracts affect only a small portion of the eye but grow over time until they cover the lens entirely. In the early stages, it’s difficult to identify cataracts except with a slit lamp that allows us to look inside your dog’s eyes.

Early cataract detection is essential because we can prescribe drops to reduce inflammation and manage the condition. If not treated, inflammation often causes other complications, such as lens luxation, where the lens shifts, or glaucoma that damages the retina.

Are Some Breeds More Prone Than Others?

Although all dogs can get cataracts, some breeds are predisposed to hereditary cataracts caused by specific genetic differences. Dog breeds susceptible to cataracts include:

  • Terriers including Yorkshire, Boston, Silky, West Highland and American Staffordshire terriers
  • Spaniels, including the Cocker Spaniel and Welsh Springer Spaniel • French Poodle
  • Miniature Schnauzer
  • French Bulldog
  • Siberian Husky

What Causes Cataracts?

Apart from hereditary factors, several other conditions may lead to cataracts in your pet. A common contributing factor is diabetes. Most dogs with diabetes develop fast-growing cataracts that need urgent treatment.

Other common causes of mature cataracts include:

  • Old age
  • Injury or trauma to the eye
  • Poor health
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Uveitis or eye inflammation
  • Eye diseases such as glaucoma that increase ocular pressure
  • Retinal degeneration

How Do We Treat Cataracts?

If we diagnose cataracts early, we can prescribe anti-inflammatory eye drops to reduce inflammation. Also, if the underlying cause is a disease like diabetes or glaucoma, we may slow the growth of the cataract by treating the disease with medication. While these interventions may slow the growth of the cataract, they cannot cure it or prevent vision loss.

The only way to repair a cataract is through surgery, where we remove the old lens and replace it with a plastic intraocular lens (IOL). Generally, the procedure is to perform phacoemulsification, which breaks up the lens so we can remove it through a small incision. We then insert an intraocular lens.

Once recovered, your dog will have good vision. In some instances, it’s not possible to insert the intraocular lens. If that’s the case, your pet will still be able to see but only have far sight.

If the Condition Is Hereditary, What Can Be Done to Prevent It from Being Passed On?

It’s important to remember that not all dogs with a hereditary disposition will get cataracts. However, the only way to be certain is to get your pet from a breeder that’s a member of a registered ophthalmic eye certification program. These programs help breeders screen breeding dogs for genetic defects and facilitate breeding disease-free pets.

What Are Juvenile Cataracts and How Dangerous Are They?

Juvenile cataracts develop between 6 months and 6 years. In most instances, these cataracts originate through genetic defects passed down through breeding. Viral infections, injury and poor nutrition may also cause cataracts leading to blindness.

Dogs mature quickly. Small dogs can breed from 6 months, while large dogs from around 11 to 18 months. It’s often impossible to determine if breeding parents have genetic defects responsible for cataracts except through testing the breeding dogs’ parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. In this way, breeders can eliminate the predisposition for cataracts and breed healthy dogs.

How Can I Care for My Pet After Cataract Surgery?

After cataract surgery, your dog’s eyes may be itchy and sensitive. You’ll need a protective collar to stop your pet from rubbing or scratching its eyes. You will also have to administer eye drops to help heal and keep the eyes moist and oral medications.

Keep your dog indoors and in a quiet environment for a few weeks while their eyes heal. If you notice your pet is uncomfortable or if any complications develop, contact us immediately.

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