Cataracts and Dry Eye


What is a Cataract?
The lens of the eye is transparent, allowing light to pass through it and be  focused on the retina. A cataract is an opaqueness or cloudiness in the lens that prevents light from reaching the retina.  A cataract usually starts out as very small opaque areas, then becomes larger. How rapidly the cataract becomes larger varies greatly depending on many factors including the location of the cataract within the lens, the age of the animal, and the cause of the cataract. The size of the cataract will effect how much vision your pet has.

A very serious side effect of uncontrolled or poorly controlled diabetes is cataract formation. Diabetes-induced cataract formation is much more common in dogs than in cats.  Not all diabetic dogs develop cataracts, but most do. Some dogs form cataracts so quickly that their vision is impaired and that's why the owner takes them to the vet, and then the diabetes is diagnosed. For other dogs, cataracts may form within weeks of diagnosis, or it may take months, or even years for cataracts to develop.

If your vet tells you that your pet is developing a cataract, or has cataracts, it is very important that you get a referral to a certified veterinary ophthalmologist and have the specialist examine your pet's eyes.  The ophthalmologist has special education, training, and equipment that will allow him or her to give your pet's eyes a full examination. The lens is not the only structure involved - the health of the entire eye should be evaluated.

Prevention, early detection, and early treatment are the best methods of dealing with eye problems. Early detection and treatment may allow you to prevent your dog from going blind. Even if your dog (or cat) does not have eye problems right now, you should talk to your general vet and learn how to detect early signs of eye problems.

BLIND_DOGS If  your dog or cat is blind or becomes blind in the future, it's not the end of the world. Many animals adapt very well to being blind and they live happy, healthy lives. There are many owners of blind pets. There is a blind-dog mailing list and chat room listed in the resources below. You may be interested in this book.  It is highly recommended by owners of visually impaired dogs.   Living with Blind Dogs. By Caroline Levin. A Resource Book and Training Guide for the Owners of Blind and Low Vision Dogs. 

Signs of Cataracts
You may notice white flecks or cloudiness in your pet's eyes, or you may notice that your pet is squinting, rubbing its eyes, bumping into things, not playing fetch, or is hesitant or fearful to do things that did not previously bother him.  If you notice any of these things, it is important to have your pet's eyes examined.  There are other eye conditions besides cataracts that cause a noticeable "cloudiness" in the eye, including normal aging of the eye, so it is important that your pet see an eye vet so that any problems are diagnosed and treated appropriately.

There are no medications that can prevent or treat cataracts.  However, keeping your pet's diabetes well controlled may help prevent the formation or maturation of cataracts. Cataract surgery can be performed, and this involves removing the lens.  An artificial lens can be implanted to improve close-up vision.  Whether or not surgery is needed for your pet (not all cataracts have to be removed), whether your pet is a good candidate for surgery, and whether or not lenses should be implanted are things that you must discuss with the veterinary ophthalmologist.

Personal Experiences With Cataract Surgery

Choosing NOT to have cataract surgery
Cataract surgery is not the right choice for every pet. 

  • Some pets are not good surgical candidates for medical reasons. 
  • You must consider whether your pet's personality is suited to a hospital stay and post-operative recovery.  If your pet will be highly stressed or disruptive during a hospital stay, the recovery from cataract surgery might be more difficult or have complications.  A pet who is so stressed that they are bashing around in their cage or pulling out i.vs may not be well suited to cataract surgery. Also, your pet must be willing to tolerate having medications put in their eyes several times a day for several weeks.  
  • You may not be able to afford the surgery.
  • You may not be able to do or afford the long-term follow-up care and medications that are required.
  • The benefits of surgery may not outweigh the risks.  

For whatever reason, if your pet has cataracts and becomes blind, both you and your pet can adapt and your pet can lead a healthy, normal life.  Here you can read about owners who decided cataract surgery was not the best option for their pet and how the pet is coping with blindness.

Share your story
If you have had to deal with cataracts in your pet and would like to share your experience about cataract surgery, not having surgery, or re-thinking your decision after surgery, please send it to me at (please don't change the subject line when you click on this e-mail link).

Dry Eye (Keratoconjunctivitis sicca )
Diabetic dogs may be prone to "dry eye", a condition where the tear production is abnormally low or absent. The fluid in tears has many components that nourish the cornea (the surface of the eye) and keep it healthy.  The lack of tears causes the cornea to become dry and painfull. Untreated, dry eye can lead to serious problems that may include infections, corneal ulcers, and loss of vision.

Signs, diagnosis, and treatment of dry eye

Owners often take their pet to the vet because they notice a greenish discharge from the eye.  Other pets may have an eye problem like a corneal ulcer or infection, and then dry eye is diagnosed.  The vet can perform several tests to determine the amount and quality of tear production, and the overall health of the eye.  Several medications are available to treat dry eye, and the problem can be successfully managed. 

Web resources

Dog Eye Health Survey

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Updated July 2003
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