Juvenile Cataracts in Puppies

by Quentin Coleman
Juvenile cataracts can develop before a puppy even opens his eyes.

Juvenile cataracts can develop before a puppy even opens his eyes.

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Cataracts are a common health problem among senior canines, but pups can develop them. too. Juvenile cataracts are considered a serious risk by professional breeders and veterinarians. While all cataracts in dogs younger than 5 years are considered juvenile, the term usually describes those that emerge during the first year.

Cause

Dogs may develop juvenile cataracts when they inherit certain genes from their parents or if something interferes with the mother's gestation process: Puppies can be born with cataracts and other serious health issues if their mother became sick, was physically injured or did not receive sufficient nutrition during pregnancy. Hereditary juvenile cataracts are much more problematic, because even excellent prenatal care doesn't help prevent them. Veterinary scientists have identified certain genes that are associated with the development of cataracts in puppies and adolescent dogs.

Risk and Prevalence

The genetic trait associated with the development of juvenile cataracts is recessive, so both parents must have at least one copy of it in their chromosomes for their puppies to actually develop cataracts. If two adult carriers mate, the probable result is that 25 percent of their litter will not have the gene at all, 50 percent will be carriers and the remaining 25 percent will have two copies. Puppies with two copies of the gene will develop juvenile cataracts. The hereditary form of the disease occurs in roughly two dozen species, including the Siberian husky, standard poodle, West Highland white terrier and american cocker spaniel, according to the Westie Foundation of America.

Symptoms

Knowing the symptoms of juvenile cataracts aids you in identifying the condition before you buy or adopt a pup from a breeder. The most obvious visible sign of juvenile cataracts is the presence of an opaque film or "cloudiness" in the puppy's eyes, according to Siberian Husky Club of America. The cataract itself is a lesion on the lens inside your dog's eye. The lesion deforms the fragile lens, which distorts vision by preventing light from passing through the eye. A cataract near the center of the lens causes severe or complete vision loss, while a lesion around the edge may only cause slight visual distortion. The condition may appear in one eye initially, but lesions eventually appear in both eyes in all cases of juvenile cataracts.

Treatment

Juvenile cataracts are not curable, but surgery and veterinary care can reduce vision loss and make a pup more comfortable. The surgeon may be able to remove the lesion from the lens, but the feasibility of the operation depends on the cataracts' size and the dog's overall health. An operation to completely remove the lens and replace it with an artificial one is also an option for some canines. Every case is different, though, so talk to your vet about what treatment option is best for your dog. Some dogs with juvenile cataracts are not treated at all because the vision impairment is minor, so it does not significantly reduce your pet's quality of life.

Prevention

Prevent nonhereditary juvenile cataracts by keeping pregnant dogs healthy, safe and well-fed. Take the mother dog to the vet within the first few weeks of pregnancy and bring her back for followup appointments as instructed. Follow his recommendations for prenatal care and make sure the mom always has access to food and water. The only way to prevent hereditary cataracts is to stop carrier dogs from reproducing. Never breed parents who have previously produced pups with juvenile cataracts. Dogs with one copy of the trait tend to develop cataracts when they are around 6 to 8 years old, so avoid breeding mothers and sires who suffer from adult-onset cataracts, according to the Boston Terrier Club of America.

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About the Author

Quentin Coleman has written for several news publications as well as the University of Delaware's public relations department. He also spent more than 10 years working with a local animal shelter to help nurse kittens, treat sick cats and domesticate feral animals. Coleman graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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