Cataracts in an Older Dog

There are Multiple Causes. Treatment is Usually Successful


I have a female mixed breed terrier (12 yrs. old) named Rosie whom we all love dearly. She has a white cloudiness in her eyes, and has trouble seeing well. She is not yet blind. What are my options for bringing her sight back? And how important is the timing (too late, now, soon, within a year)?


Dr. Nichol:

You are describing cataracts, a permanent gray/white lens color that prevents light from reaching the retinas. The end result is blindness, often noticed first at night.


Cataracts in young dogs can be juvenile in onset (often hereditary) or they can be caused by inflammatory diseases of the eyes (uveitis). Toxins, nutritional deficiencies, even radiation exposure and electric shock can also do it. An older dog like Rosie could have diabetes or simple drying of the lenses due to age. Whatever the underlying problem, she needs help ASAP. Cataracts can degenerate and damage the internal structures of the eyes. If you wait too long Rosie could lose both of her eyes to glaucoma.


Rosie needs a nose-to-tail exam with blood and urine tests to check for diabetes and other problems. Cataract surgery, called phacoemulsification, has a 90% plus success rate-if you act in time. Artificial lenses can be implanted during the procedure to prevent extreme farsightedness. Pretty nifty. Rosie means a lot. Give her the good life and do it soon.





Cataracts Need a Diagnosis and Reliable Treatment Not Supplements


I have an 8 year old Min Pin. It appears he may be going blind as the pupils of his eyes are turning light grey. Humans can take eye nutrition tablets that may help the condition. Is it safe to give a 1/4 tab to my dog? Lutein and zinc are part of the supplement. Are there eye drops that may help?

Dr. Nichol:

What your miniature pinscher really needs is a diagnosis. Possible causes include diabetes, degenerative diseases inside the eyes, and inflammatory eye problems. For some dogs cataracts are inherited while others can get spontaneous lens disease as they age. Left untreated your dog could become permanently blind or reach a life-threatening diabetic crisis. He needs a thorough physical exam and a blood and urine profile ASAP. Put the supplements down. Act fast.





More on Cataracts


We have a healthy 11 year old blue heeler who has cataracts. Is there anything to do for this?


Dr. Nichol:

Important question-cataracts can cause serious problems. If a lens becomes cloudy (cataract) little or no light passes through. Left untreated cataracts cause more than blindness; degenerating lenses can lead to glaucoma-a rapidly destructive, painful eye disease.


The good news is that cataracts can be safely removed in dogs, just like in humans. Even if your heeler can still see adequately you should have her eyes evaluated soon. If she needs surgery, and not all dogs with cataracts do, the sooner it’s done the faster she’ll recover and the better her long term vision.


The procedure requires a full pre-surgical workup and a general anesthetic. The cataract is removed by a process called phacoemulsification. An artificial lens, designed for dogs, is permanently implanted and the tiny incision in the eye is stitched closed. A healthy dog like yours should be on her feet in a couple of hours and go home the same day.


Start by having your regular veterinarian check your dog for any underlying causes of cataracts, the most common being diabetes. Dogs like yours are in the best of hands in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Veterinary ophthalmologist Dr. Gavin Kennard, of Eye Care for Animals, does excellent work.





The Cause of Diabetic Cataracts


My dog is 8years old; he was diagnosed with diabetes in March 2009. He is taking insulin 2 times a day and he now has cataracts and is going blind. Did the insulin in his body make the cataracts/blindness come?


Dr. Nichol:

Dogs with uncontrolled diabetes have high levels of glucose (sugar) in their blood, which, over time, affects every organ in the body, including the eyes. High glucose levels inside the eyes pass into the lenses. Water is then absorbed into the interior of the lens in order to dilute the sugar. It’s the excess water that causes the lens to become cloudy. The resulting cataracts cause blindness in most diabetic dogs, in some cases in a matter of weeks. The insulin you have given your diabetic dog has done nothing but save his life.