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Cataracts in Dogs

Ron Hines DVM PhD 2/7/03

Cataracts are cloudiness of the lenses or coating of the lenses (capsule) of the eyes. They occur in all animals as they age. Cataracts that occur at or near birth are often due to nutritional deficiencies in the diets fed. A lack of the amino acid, taurine, is one example. Cataracts that occur in a single eye or after an accident are usually the result of injury to the eye.

The most common form of cataract is that occurring in older animals. It is called senile cataracts.

Cataracts appear as a milkiness of the pupil or hole or aperture of the eye. Senile cataracts almost always occur in both eyes simultaneously. Once they are pronounced, they petís eyes are often dilated (enlarged) because not enough light passes through to the retina. Cats tend to develop cataracts at an older age than dogs.

Some breeds of dogs develop cataracts earlier than others. Afghans, Cockers, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, German Shepherds, Golden retrievers, Labradors, Schnauzers, Old English Sheepdogs, Huskies, Poodles, Westies and Springers are among these breeds.

As cataracts mature, they often develop crystalline cracks. Other causes of early-onset cataracts are diabetes, malnutrition and, as I mentioned before, injury to the eyes.

There are two factors in your petís favor. The first is that cataracts tend to look worse than they really are. If a veterinarian uses his/her ophthalmoscope and can visualize the retina well, then the dog or cat can see out equally as well.

The second factor is that both dogs and cats use their noses more so than their eyes for recognition of objects. If you notices two male or female dogs approach each other, the first thing they do is to sniff each otherís tail area to tell what sex each is.

That is, unlike us, just observing the other individual is not enough. So both dogs and cats can go on living healthy happy lives despite having the blurred vision of cataracts.
Cataracts can be removed surgically by a veterinary ophalmologist.

I have never recommended this because I have never seen a pet whose quality of life was affected by cataracts. I once had them removed from an elderly sea lion who could no longer balance a ball on his nose Ė but that was a quite unusual case.

A good way to slow the development and progression of cataracts is to supplement your petís diet with vitamin E (d-alpha tocopherol acetate) and vitamin C (ascorbic acid). Both these anti-oxidants seem to slow the progression of age-related changes such as cataracts in animals and people. If you wish, I can prescribe a neutraceutical that may slow cataract formation.