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Normal geriatric dog eye, with normal Nuclear SclerosisAll geriatric dogs (usually beginning at 6 years of age) develop a hardening of the lens (Nuclear Sclerosis) that causes the lens to have a grayish appearance. Cataracts have many causes in dogs, and sometimes it is not possible to identify the cause of cataracts in affected patients.
The third most common cause of cataracts in dogs is a toxic reaction in the lens—the lens is “sick”, due to some other ocular disease or (much less commonly) due to a drug reaction. A special type of cataract occurs in dogs in which the lens capsule is ruptured due to trauma.
Cataracts can also develop due to nutritional deficiencies in dogs, such as puppies on an artificial milk-replacer diet.
There are many other potential causes of cataracts in dogs, such as birth defects, infection, radiation (usually from prolonged radiation therapy for cancer of the head), etc. Canine Intraocular Lens (IOL) and a PennyThe procedures and equipment used to remove cataracts in dogs are the same as those used in humans, and this equipment is highly technical and very expensive. It is also important to understand that most dogs that are blinded from cataracts can adequately adjust to their vision loss, if they are in a safe and stable environment and their eyes are not painful. Having your dog’s eyes examined by a veterinary ophthalmologist as soon as cataracts are suspected (especially if your dog is diabetic), and NOT waiting until the lens is completely opaque and the eye is blind. His left eye has a misshapen pupil secondary to lens capsular rupture (Eyelid hair is tinged green due to application to eye of diagnostic fluorescein dye). 75% of diabetic dogs will develop blinding cataracts within the first nine months of being diabetic. However, age-related cataracts in dogs are usually small and do not significantly interfere with vision.
The two most costly instruments used are an operating microscope and a phacoemulsification machine. The instruments and equipment used for cataract surgery in dogs are the same type used for cataract surgery in people. However, it might not; the worst-case scenarios that could occur are that the dog eventually develops glaucoma secondary to LIU (which is chronically painful in the form of a headache), or develops extremely painful lens luxation.
You cannot determine if your dog’s eyes are painful from cataract development—if your dog has developed secondary glaucoma, it has a headache but will not show this in any obvious way, until it is too late.


Chances of the patient having improved vision after surgery are high for most dogs (90%–95%).
Glaucoma (increase in eye pressure) occurs transiently in 30% of dogs that have cataract surgery, usually within the first 24 hours after surgery.
Regular postoperative reexaminations by the ophthalmologist, for the rest of the dog’s life, are needed. If your dog is a land shark, we will not even get to first base in order to examine it!), a dedicated owner who can follow treatment instructions and bring the patient for all scheduled ophthalmic examinations AND call our office if they have any concerns, a dedicated ophthalmologist and staff who are available when you need them, and a dedicated family veterinarian who is able to refer your dog to an ophthalmologist and work with you and the ophthalmologist to ensure that your dog is as healthy as possible.
Antioxidant supplementation may also help reduce ocular inflammation that occurs in dogs both secondary to cataract formation and following cataract surgery. In fact, most dogs with cataracts do not need surgery, because most lens opacities in dogs (and a lens opacity is a cataract, no matter how tiny or big) are small and don’t significantly interfere with vision. Furthermore, you are paying for the highly advanced training and expertise of a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist.
A preoperative blood profile (including serum triglyceride testing; for nondiabetic dogs, the blood is drawn after the dog has been off food for 10–12 hours. But 5% to 10% of dogs will not regain good vision due to complications, and (worst case scenario) may actually be permanently blind in one or both of the operated eyes. This is not as bad as it sounds; most of the time, these pressure increases are temporary and quickly resolve with treatment within the first 1–2 days after surgery.
For example, cataracts in Bichon Frise dogs tend to develop rapidly in early adulthood and usually involve the entire lens in both eyes.
Furthermore, dogs have more inflammation in their eyes after surgery than humans and therefore have more scarring. Even pet health insurance policies often exclude cataract surgery, because the cataracts are often genetic and most insurance companies will not cover genetic or pre-existing conditions.
For diabetic dogs, the blood is drawn shortly before the morning or evening meal to mimic a fasting blood sample), comprehensive physical exam, and assessment of anesthetic level of risk are then performed by your family veterinarian. Because of species differences in how reactive eyes are to cataracts, inflammation, and to intraocular surgery, cataract surgery is not as successful in dogs (or other domestic species) as it is in humans and other primates.
Nuclear sclerosis also occurs in humans, and the hardening of the lens with age results in reduced near-vision in people; this is why people in their 40’s and older need reading glasses—because their lenses no longer are soft enough to easily change shape to allow for near vision.


Also keep in mind that dogs can develop BOTH nuclear sclerosis AND cataract—many geriatric dogs do develop cataracts. Diabetic cataracts develop VERY fast—often overnight—in dogs, and they are a medical and surgical emergency. If your geriatric dog has cloudy eyes but still appears to see well, this does not mean that they do not have cataracts—dogs can see fairly well if their cataracts are small. Some dogs require anti-inflammatory medication for several weeks, months, or lifetime following cataract surgery. If surgery is not performed, lifetime anti-inflammatory eye drops and supplementation with Ocu-GLO™ are required by Dr.
Dogs do not have good near-vision to begin with (compared to people), so nuclear sclerosis does not significantly interfere with their near-vision.
NOTE: This can also happen in diabetic dogs and in some types of inherited cataracts that rapidly form. Capsular opacification is especially a concern in puppies and young adult dogs, and the best way to help reduce the risk of opacification is to implant an IOL, control uveitis, and provide daily supplementation with Ocu-GLO™ . Hypermature cataracts usually are reduced in size due to loss of water and proteins from the lens. Gonioscopy evaluates the drainage angle of the eye to determine if the eye(s) are at increased genetic risk of developing glaucoma postoperatively. Dogs with poor vision do not let their owners know that they have a vision problem until it is severe in both eyes. In people, capsular opacities that develop following cataract surgery can be lessened with laser surgery, but this does not work in dogs. Some are completely cloudy, and others have clear areas that can allow some vision IF the rest of the eye is functional. If both eyes are affected, usually both eyes are operated on at the same time—especially in diabetic dogs.



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