Whether a dog's cataract requires treatment depends on various factors, including the animal's age, overall health and whether the cataract causes issues other than vision loss. It also depends on the owner's ability to care for the dog after surgery -- care that's time-consuming and demanding. It's a costly surgery, and it might not be necessary unless the cataract causes pain or your dog's vision can be restored.
Since a cataract is an opacity in the eye lens, your dog can't see out of the area affected by it. If your dog's eye appears cloudy, it's possible he has a cataract. Older dogs often develop a similar-looking condition called nuclear sclerosis, or hardening of the lens. However, they can see through a nuclear sclerosis. Small cataracts usually don't affect a dog's vision to any large extent, but if they grow, blindness results. Make an appointment with your vet to have your dog's eyes checked if you notice cloudiness.
Some dogs are born with cataracts; others develop cataracts in old age. The majority of cataracts result from a genetic predisposition to these eye issues. Dogs suffering from diabetes mellitus are prone to cataracts. Trauma and toxin exposure can also cause cataracts.
If your vet recommends treatment, she will probably refer you to a veterinary ophthalmologist. Incipient cataracts are at the ideal stage for surgery, according to the Veterinary Medical Center of Long Island's website. As cataracts mature, they tend to involve the entire lens and are more likely to promote other eye problems, such as retinal detachment or degeneration, or glaucoma. After surgical removal of the cataract, the vet might implant an artificial lens in the dog's eye. Post-surgery, the hard work begins for the owner. Dogs require eye drops several times a day for a few weeks, along with other medications. They must wear "cones of shame," Elizabethan collars, for at least two weeks. You'll also have to bring him back to the veterinary ophthalmologist for regular examinations.
If you and your vet opt not to pursue cataract treatment, you'll have to take some extra precautions as your dog goes blind. Don't move furniture around or otherwise change your home's traffic flow. Be careful not to startle you dog. Always speak before approaching him on his blind side. Most dogs adjust well to vision loss -- they still have the principal canine sense, that of smell. Watch your dog carefully for any sign of eye inflammation or pain. If the eyeball becomes painful, surgical removal might be necessary.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.