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Health & Wellness

Cataracts in dogs

If your dog starts to get cloudy eyes, here’s what you need to know about cataracts in dogs.

Just as a human’s vision can decline with age, dogs are also subject to eye conditions and issues, such as cataracts, that can interfere with sight. But just because age-related eye conditions can occur, that doesn’t mean they’re a foregone conclusion or that there’s no way to prevent or treat cataracts in dogs. So if you start to notice changes to your dog’s eyes or their vision appears to be affected, here’s what you need to know.

What are cataracts in dogs?

According to Dr. Antje Joslin, DVM, a veterinarian for Dogtopia, a very short and simple explanation of a cataract is “when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy.” The more cloudy the lens, the more significant cataracts can affect your dog’s vision.

Even if your vision is perfect, it’s not hard to imagine what looking through a cloudy pair of eyes might be like. If you’ve ever worn a pair of glasses or sunglasses that clouded over suddenly when hit by hot breath or a sudden temperature change, the impact on your sight is quite significant. The impact of cataracts isn’t all that different.

Common causes of cataracts in dogs

Just as humans can develop cataracts with age, dogs can, too. And some dogs have hereditary genes that make cataract development more likely. But those aren’t the only possible causes. Dr. Joslin points out that illnesses like diabetes, and injuries to the eye can also lead to cataracts.

This is why it’s so important to pay attention to your dog’s health and wellness. While there’s not much you can do to slow the course of time or to change your dog’s inherited genes, you can make sure you’re doing what you can to keep your pet healthy. Just as in humans, dogs who maintain a healthy diet and regular exercise routine are less likely to develop diabetes or to experience diabetes-related health problems, like cataracts. Likewise, if your dog experiences an eye injury, it’s important to have it checked and treated by a vet as soon as possible. While you may assume it will heal on its own, if there’s deeper damage that goes unmanaged, cataracts could eventually develop.

Signs and symptoms of cataracts in dogs

"You can see a cataract forming when the lens becomes cloudy. It usually looks like a milky, white opacity of the lens," Dr. Joslin explains. So checking and paying attention to your dog's eyes, especially as they start getting older, is particularly important in identifying and treating cataracts as they start to form.

Luckily, cataracts aren't typically considered a painful condition. "It seems that most dogs do not experience pain with cataracts, but if there is a lot of inflammation associated with their eye condition, they can be painful. Rarely a lens can luxate due to the cataract, which may be very uncomfortable," Dr. Joslin explains. So if your dog is squinting, pawing at their eyes or generally seems uncomfortable, it's definitely a sign to get to your vet. In fact, Dr. Joslin emphasizes that it's important to consult a vet whenever your dog's eyes appear cloudy, irritated or otherwise affected. Just as you want to be able to see well into your Golden Years, you want to do what you can to help protect your pup's vision.

RELATED: Should my dog wear sunglasses?

Treatments for cataracts in dogs

"You can see a cataract forming when the lens becomes cloudy. It usually looks like a milky white opacity of the lens," Dr. Joslin explains. So checking and paying attention to your dog's eyes, It's so important to see your vet if you notice cloudiness in your dog's eyes so they can identify if cataracts or another eye condition are causing the problem. Likewise, your vet can monitor the progression of a cataract to determine how at-risk your dog is of losing its sight, as cataracts can mature at different speeds and in different ways. Some dogs may not completely go blind with a cataract, while others may. Having a vet perform an eye exam can help inform long-term treatment decisions. Because really, there's no way to reverse a cataract once it starts without performing surgery.

"As cataracts mature, they cause vision impairment or blindness," Dr. Joslin says. "There is no eyedrop or other medication that can stop a cataract from forming or progressing. Cataracts can be treated surgically by placing a new lens on the eye and restoring vision."

Of course, surgeries can be expensive and may not be within the realm of possibility for all pet owners. For this reason, it's important to catch your dog's cataracts early, prevent or treat any underlying causes that may be contributing to the cataract (like diabetes) and pay attention to its growth and progression.

When accidents and illnesses happen, our one simple plan can help your pet get the best care. Sign up for Fetch Pet Insurance.

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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