Cataracts In Dogs

Cataracts are a clouding of the lens of the eye, resulting in blurry vision. Smaller cataracts in dogs have less impact on vision than larger ones, but still must be regularly monitored to prevent blindness.

Old age, disease and eye trauma can cause cataracts, although they most commonly stem from inherited conditions.

Dog Cataracts Treatment

Surgery is the most effective treatment for canine cataracts.

However, it can be very expensive-up to $3,000 per eye. If left untreated, cataracts can cause permanent vision loss and eventually, blindness.

If your dog is prone to cataracts, consider enrolling in pet health insurance to help cover the cost of surgery, so their vision is never at risk.

Breeds Prone To Cataracts And Age Of Onset

Afghan Hound 6-12 months
Bernese Mountain Dog 6+ months
Boston Terrier 6-12 months
Cocker Spaniel 6+ months
Chesapeake Bay Retriever 1+ years
German Shepherd 8+ weeks
Golden Retriever 6-12 months
Havanese 6+ months
Labrador Retriever 6+ months
Maltese at birth or 6+ months
Miniature Schnauzer at birth or 6 + months
Siberian Husky 6+ months
Old English Sheepdog at birth
Pekingese 6+ months
Staffordshire Bull Terrier 6+ months
Standard Poodle 1+ years
Welsh Springer Spaniel at birth
West Highland White Terrier at birth

6 Signs of Cataracts in Dogs

1. Cloudy, bluish-grey eyes

canine cataracts eyes

2. Clumsy movement

dog stumbling cataracts

3. Blinking more than usual

dog blinking eyes

4. Irritated, red eyes

dog red eyes cataracts

5. Discharge in the eye area

dog eye discharge

6. Pawing and scratching the eyes

dog eye scratching

 

4 Stages of Canine Cataracts

Stage 1: Incipient Cataract Stage

An incipient cataract, also known as an immature cataract, is a very small, partial cataract that does not require surgery unless it’s in a worrisome location or progressing unusually fast. In incipient cataracts, the dog’s eye lens is slightly cloudy and opaque with a clear outer layer. the lens of the eye is only slightly opaque, with a clear cortex. Many cataracts in the incipient stage can be managed via routine follow-ups with a veterinary ophthalmologist or your regular vet.

Stage 2: Immature Cataract Stage

An immature cataract contains some clouding and opacity from protein buildup and it is considered the ideal stage for surgery. Swelling from fluid buildup during the immature phase make fracturing the lens easier for the surgeon. However, if an immature cataract goes untreated, the swelling may increase severely, causing intumescence (swelling, congestion) which leads to glaucoma, loss of vision and surgical complications.

Stage 3: Mature Cataract Stage

Mature cataracts are an advanced cataracts stage involve clouding of the entire lens. Since the eye is considerably damaged at this stage, surgical outcomes for mature cataracts lens are not optimal. Post-operative complications include lens instability, uvetis and capsular plaque buildups. Damaged tissue in mature cataracts makes surgery more challenging and operative risks at this stage include inflammation, tearing of distorted eye capsules, difficulty implanting the artificial lens and coexisting conditions like glaucoma and retinal detachment.

Stage 4: Hypermature Cataract Stage

hypermature cataracts dogs

Image: Upstate Veterinary Specialties

The hypermature stage is the most advanced phase of cataracts disease in dogs. The eye is in the final stage of degeneration and untreated, hypermature cataracts may cause loss of lubrication and moisture in the eye area, lens displacement, glaucoma and retinal detachment. Vision loss is common in this disease phase and the affected eye can appear completely cloudy. It can take months or years to transition from the mature to hypermature stage. As the cataract worsens from mature to hypermature, the eye’s appearance wrinkles severely, similar to a grape turning into a raisin. Surgery may not be a viable option for dogs in the hypermature stage due to difficulty implanting the artificial intraocular lens (IOL), scar tissue and structural damage in the nucleus and fibrotic lens capsule.

 

Cataracts in Dogs: FAQ

What are cataracts in dogs?

Cataracts impair vision by clouding the lens in the dog’s eye, making it murky, grey/blue and clouded. The eye’s natural transparency becomes more opaque as the disease progresses. As the disease progresses, the eye becomes totally opaque, resulting in blindness.

What causes cataracts in dogs?

Causes for canine cataracts: eye injury, diabetes, old-age, nutritional disorders, genetic inheritance, toxic cataracts caused by disease, infection, birth-defects and radiation from cancer therapy. Other causes are Toxicosis, pawing or scratching the eye, swelling, excessive tearing and fluid drainage, low calcium levels and redness.

How do you prevent cataracts in dogs?

Nutritional support in the form of oral antioxidant supplementation can slow the progression of cataracts in the lens. Eye drops may also reduce inflammation in the dog’s eye. Dark leafy vegetables like Kale and others like carrots, rich in vitamins E and C may also reduce the risk of developing canine cataracts. Supplementation with Bilberries mixed with Vitamin E stopped lens clouding in a large human study and may provide the same benefit for dogs.

How do you treat cataracts in dogs?

Dog cataracts are treatable and several options can be combined for optimal outcomes. While eye drops, supplementation and diet changes may reduce the severity of canine cataracts, Immature, mature and hypermature cataracts can only be removed by surgery. However, most dogs with cataracts do not require surgery because most lens opacities in dogs (also known as cataracts) are small and don’t significantly interfere with vision. Only a veterinary ophthalmologist can determine if a dog requires cataract surgery.

How much is surgery for cataracts in dogs?

Cataracts surgery performed by a veterinary ophthalmologist is approximately $3,400 and includes pre-operative blood work and examinations, anesthesia, hospitalization, initial medications and post-operative rechecks.

Can cataracts in dogs be cured?

There is no cure for cataracts. Once a lens has developed a cloudy cataract, there are no interventions that can make the eye completely clear again. Most owners notice a tremendous improvement in their dog’s vision after cataract surgery and while vision returns to nearly normal, it’s never perfect again.

Can you cure canine cataracts without surgery?

Canine cataracts have been dissolved without surgery in the laboratory but this breakthrough treatment is still in the experimental phase and will not be available to the public for some time. In July, 2015, researchers at the University of San Diego found the genetic mutation responsible for the inner-eye protein clumps that impair vision and cloud eye lenses in dogs with cataracts. The scientists discovered that dogs suffering from cataracts could not produce a molecule called lanosterol that offered natural protection against cataracts.
Study lead Ling Zhao synthesized a version of the lanosterol molecule and treated the dogs’ cataracts over six weeks. The results were very promising: the lanosterol drops reduced cataract severity, increased lens clarity and improved vision. The lanosterol eye drops even dissolved existing cataracts resulting in significantly clearer eyes with little or no cloudiness. However, this experimental treatment is not available to the public at this time and it will require ongoing safety testing before it’s available at your vet’s office.

What happens to untreated cataracts in dogs?

Untreated cataracts damage the internal structures of the eye, causing vision deterioration and worsening of symptoms. Advanced stage cataracts can break loose and block fluids from flowing into the eye, leading to a painful condition called glaucoma which causes further vision loss and blindness.

How do you tell if your dog has cataracts?

You can sometimes detect cataracts by looking into your dog’s eyes. An eye infected with a cataract appears bluish-gray, opaque and cloudy. However, as a dog ages, his eye lens may also become clouded due to age-related changes in a process called nuclear sclerosis. Since cataracts and nuclear sclerosis share a similar appearance, a veterinary ophthalmologist’s evaluation is required for a definitive diagnosis.

Are cataracts in dogs painful?

An untreated cataract may slip from the tissue holding it in place, blocking tear fluid drainage and which can cause Glaucoma and painful swelling in the eye.

Do cataracts in dogs lead to blindness?

Untreated canine cataracts can lead to blindness. However, not all cataracts develop at the same rate. Cataracts caused by aging tend to develop small and slow, while cataracts caused by diabetes will cause blindness in 75% of dogs within one year of the diagnosis.

What helps cataracts in dogs?

Although cataracts surgery is still the gold standard in veterinary care, other new treatment options are emerging. Veterinary supplements like oral antioxidants can reduce ocular inflammation caused by cataracts. Also, N-acetylcarnosine eye drops have shown promise in clinical trials. If the cataracts are being caused by underlying conditions in the kidney, liver and pancreas, treating these conditions can improve the symptoms of cataracts. Abnormal blood sugar levels, anemia, inflammation and infection are common underlying for canine cataracts.

How do you dissolve cataracts in dogs?

Crystallin proteins maintain a healthy eye’s structure and transparency. As dogs age, these proteins break down and cloud the lens, causing vision loss and blindness that accompanies canine cataracts. In 2015, research led by University of California (UC), San Diego, molecular biologist Ling Zhao investigated a lanosterol solution which was injected and administered as eye drops to dogs affected by Cataracts.

The improvements were reported by the investigative team as “remarkable,” with most dogs in the study showing major improvements. The scientists also observed a complete reversal of the clouding and opacity caused by cataracts in three dogs undergoing the experimental treatment. Lanosterol treatments are currently being investigated as a cheaper, less-invasive alternative to cataracts surgery.

 

canine lanosterol drops

Canine cataract eyes before and after lanosterol treatment. Right control columns show untreated eyes. Photo credit: Zhao et al., Nature, 2015.

How are canine cataracts removed?

Surgery to remove cataracts in dogs involves the same tools and techniques used in human , , including a high-magnification operating microscope to see details up close and a phacoemulsification machine to liquify the cataract before removal. After ultrasonic emulsification of the cataract, the opaque lens is removed and replaced with an intraocular lens (IOL). The IOL replacement lens is either soft and foldable or firm and rigid and the choice of which type to implant is made by the ophthalmologist during surgery.

Can you delay cataracts in dogs?

Studies show nutrition can play a major role in preventing diabetes in dogs. 50 IU of Vitamin E/per pound of body weight added to a dog’s food once daily has been shown to slow down canine cataracts. Additionally, 100mg of powdered vitamin C per two pounds of body weight has demonstrated preventative powers and can be mixed with food. Bilberries in supplement form have also been shown by research to protect eye tissue, mix 50mg into your dog’s daily food for maximum benefits. Can-C eyedrops containing the super-antioxidant N-acetylcarnosine have also been clinically proven to slow down and even reverse canine Cataracts.

Are canine cataracts contagious?

Canine cataracts are not contagious and can’t be passed from dog to dog or from dog to human. Beware of canine conjunctivitis, a highly contagious eye condition involving mucus buildup that can be passed from dog to human.

Do eye drops help cataracts for dogs?

Prescription eye drops may improve cataracts in dogs but untested, non-medical eye drops being peddled online have not been proven safe or effective. Bright eyes is a carnosine-based eye drop treatment with no medical support or research to support its lofty claims. Despite lofty marketing claims, Bright Eyes has a 3 out of 5 star average rating on Amazon with many complaints and criticisms by frustrated pet parents saying the product doesn’t work.

Is there genetic testing for canine cataracts?

Yes, it is believed that two genetic mutations are associated with hereditary cataracts in several pure-bred dog breeds. These two mutations occur in the heat shock transcription factor gene HSF4-1 and HSF4-2. Both tests are currently being offered by OptiGen.

Do eye drops help cataracts for dogs?

Prescription eye drops may improve cataracts in dogs but untested, non-medical eye drops being peddled online have not been proven safe or effective. Bright eyes is a carnosine-based eye drop treatment with no medical support or research to support its lofty claims. Despite an aggressive marketing push, Bright Eyes has a 3 out of 5 star average rating on Amazon with many complaints and criticisms by frustrated pet parents saying the product doesn’t work.

Do cataracts in dogs cause red eyes?

No, cataracts cloud the lens of the eye but do not cause red eyes. Red, bloodshot eyes are a common symptom of another ophthalmologic condition called Canine Glaucoma.

 

Types of Cataracts in Dogs

What are punctate cataracts in dogs?

Punctate cataracts are at the beginning, the earliest stage of the cataracts disease. Since not all cataracts advance, Veterinary Ophthalmologists will give a dog with punctate cataracts a passing exam on a CERF testing report. The punctate cataract will have cloudy, opaque dots scattered throughout the lens. If the cause is genetic, the punctate cataract will usually progress and symptoms will worsen as the dog ages.

What are posterior cataracts in dogs?

Posterior or “back surface” cataracts are small opaque, cloudy pockets of disease noticeable in the beginning (incipient/immature phase) stage of canine cataracts. Also known as subcapsular cortical cataracts because they form underneath the lens capsule, posterior cataracts should be watched closely because they develop rapidly with symptoms worsening within months.

What are unilateral cataracts in dogs?

A unilateral cataract affects only one eye and is caused by trauma and secondary health problems. A unilateral cataract can also be congenital meaning it’s present as a birth defect but might not develop until later in the dog’s life. Younger dogs tend to develop unilateral cataracts more commonly because of their playful puppy nature. The most common treatment for a unilateral cataract is surgery if surgery isn’t recommended, your veterinary ophthalmologist may use topical corticosteroids and anti-glaucoma medications.

What are incipient cataracts in dogs?

Cataracts at this stage will appear as very small clouds or opaque pockets in the dog’s eye. Incipient cataracts are very small and usually do not interfere with vision. However, these early-stage cataracts can progress into a mature or hypermature cataracts, which can cause vision loss and blindness. For these reasons, dogs and puppies with incipient cataracts should be routinely checked by a veterinary ophthalmologist for signs of disease progression.

Can trauma cause canine cataracts?

Trauma is a common cause of cataracts, especially in active, playful puppies. Eye trauma can cause a rupture in a dog’s eye lens, which can lead to eye inflammation in the middle layer of the eye (iris, ciliary body and choroid) called Uvetis. Since untreated Uvetis leads to cataracts, veterinarians recommend a full examination by a veterinary ophthalmologist if your dog suffers any type of eye injury.

What are nutritional cataracts in dogs?

As the name suggests, nutritional cataracts are caused by a nutrient imbalance that results in loss of the clear transparency in the dog’s eye lens. Nutritional cataracts usually show up within the first few months of a puppy’s life and commonly appear when a puppy is switched from breast milk to a milk replacer. Although nutritional cataracts can improve with age and usually don’t usually interfere with vision, veterinarians recommend supplementing a milk replacer with arginine-rich beef or liver baby food. Arginine deficiency is considered the main cause for nutritional cataracts

What are y suture cataracts in dogs?

Y sutures are lines that all dogs have on the front and back of their eye lens. The y-shaped suture line occurs as a result of prenatal formation of eye lens tissue as the lens fibers grow into each other. Cataracts located at the y suture position advance less quickly and may not advance at all.

 

Natural Treatments for Cataracts in Dogs

Can you treat cataracts in dogs naturally?

Research data to support the use of natural treatments in canine cataracts is specious and more studies are needed to conclusively prove the efficacy of natural treatments like the homeopathic remedy Cineraria, vitamin C with bioflavonoids and eyebright + bilberry herbs.

Can essential oils help cataracts in dogs?

There is no evidence that any essential oil can help cataracts in dogs. Additionally, essential oils can destroy corneal tissue, cause vision loss, eye injuries, rashes, and burning. Placing essential oils in your dog’s eyes can cause blindness. Instead, visit a veterinary ophthalmologist for approved, research-based medical treatments to treat your dog’s cataracts.

Can n-acetylcarnosine eye drops treat cataracts in dogs?

UCLA ophthalmologist Joseph Horowitz calls n-acetylcarnosine eye drops “snake oil,” citing a lack of FDA approval and no evidence linking n-acetylcarnosine to any benefits for canine cataracts. Companies marketing the antioxidant carnosine as a cure for cataracts in dogs are being accused by government officials and veterinary experts of false advertising and veterinarians remind consumers that no scientific evidence exists supporting the carnosine as an effective treatment in canine cataracts.

Does vitamin E help cataracts in dogs?

In a double blind, controlled human study researchers concluded that supplementation with Vitamin E is unlikely to benefit cataracts. Various supplement companies recommend and sell vitamin E supplements for cataracts in humans and dogs but there is no empirical evidence showing that vitamin E reduces the risk for cataracts.

Are there vitamins and supplements for cataracts in dogs?

Human studies have shown several promising natural treatments for canine cataracts. In a human study, glutathione was shown to reduce and correct cataract formation by repairing the damage done by free radicals. Another veterinarian claims he’s been using 20,000 IUs of vitamin A daily for 10 weeks as part of a successful, natural cataracts treatment protocol. Vitamin C has also been found to be beneficial for cataracts for its ability to reduce inflammation and intra-ocular eye pressure. Cod liver oil and oils rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as flax seed oil have demonstrated remarkable improvements in intra-ocular eye pressure.

 

Diabetes and Cataracts in Dogs

Does diabetes cause dog cataracts?

Although the exact causes are still unknown, dogs with diabetes face a much greater risk of developing cataracts, possibly due to blood sugar abnormalities.

How do you prevent cataracts in dogs with diabetes?

A 2012 study tested an antioxidant vision supplement on diabetic dogs who hadn’t yet formed cataracts. In the group that received the treatment, 3 out of 15 dogs had developed cataracts after one year compared to 9 out of 15 dogs in the placebo group.

Why are cataracts so dangerous to diabetic dogs?

Cataracts are very dangerous to diabetic dogs and 75% of dogs with diabetes will go completely blind within 9 months of being diagnosed with cataracts.

How quickly do cataracts progress in a dog with diabetes?

Cataracts develop very quickly in diabetic dogs and can progress as quickly as overnight! Complications of diabetic cataracts include headaches, inflammation, tears and ruptures to the delicate eye tissue and even surgical removal of both eyes. If your dog has been diagnosed with diabetes, veterinarians recommend seeing an ophthalmologist immediately to avoid eye damage and vision loss.

What is discharge in diabetic dogs?

Dogs with diabetes can suffer from conditions like hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease, which can problems with tear production and eye lubrication leading to thick, yellowish green discharge and infections.

What are the first signs of diabetic cataracts in dogs?

Cataracts may develop in puppies for several reasons. If the young dog is diabetic then the chance of developing cataracts increases significantly. Mellitus-related cataracts cause blindness in 75% of dogs within one year of the diagnosis so if you suspect your puppy is developing diabetic cataracts, visit a veterinary ophthalmologist immediately. The second and third causes of puppy cataracts are congenital (birth-defect) or hereditary (genetically inherited). Finally, younger dogs may develop cataracts after trauma to the eye from playing, fighting or scratching the area.

 

Dr. Karen Becker Discusses the Link Between Diabetes and Cataracts

Cataracts in Dogs

Dr. Becker discusses why 75% of Diabetic Dogs Go Blind within 1 Year of a Cataracts Diagnosis

Learn More About Cataracts in Dogs

 

Return to the Dog Health Problems glossary.