A cataract occurs when proteins in the lens in the eye clump together, making the eye appear milky or cloudy. Mature, untreated cataracts make the lens opaque and make seeing difficult or impossible. Treatment for cataracts typically consists of surgery to remove the distorted protein fibers.
When cataracts are small, sight can be comparable to seeing through a dirty camera lens. As they progress, which most usually do, it is almost like trying to see through sheets of wax paper. At first, you probably won't notice your dog behaving any differently. But as the cataracts mature, your dog's ability to navigate around your home and outdoors may become compromised. You might notice him squinting a lot, bumping into walls or not feeling up to exploring your home or his outdoor space. Eyes with cataracts may change in color to blue, white or gray. Additional symptoms of cataracts include discomfort, tears and swelling.
There are several causes of cataracts. The most common cause is genetics. A puppy may have cataracts at birth, or the cataracts may develop as the dog ages. The breed of dog affects the rate at which cataracts develop. Diabetes, nutritional deficiencies and eye injuries are other common causes of cataracts. Cataracts can also occur due to aging, although these cataracts do not usually hinder vision. Cataracts in older dogs should not be confused with nuclear sclerosis, which is the hardening of the lens. Unlike cataracts, nuclear sclerosis does not impede vision.
Your veterinarian will conduct an eye exam to determine whether your dog has the condition and how your dog's vision can be improved. If the cataracts are advanced enough, your veterinarian will likely surgically remove them. The restoration in a successful surgery is instant, although the eyes take time to heal over a period of one or two weeks. Once the cataract is removed, it does not come back. Some post-surgery tissue scarring is possible but uncommon. After-surgery care is important. You'll have to give your pooch eye drops, ensure that your dog does not strain his eyes through too much stimulation, and schedule several checkups.
If you decide that surgery to remove cataracts is not right for your pooch, fear not. Dogs who are visually impaired from cataracts can still live fulfilling lives. Daily treatments such as eye drops may be necessary to help prevent discomfort and swelling. It is important, however, for a dog with cataracts to attend regular veterinary checkups. This is because untreated cataracts in an advanced stage can become loose and block fluid flow in the eye. This leads to glaucoma, a painful eye disease.