Cataracts are a relatively common eye condition in dogs. While they can lead to blurred vision and eventual blindness, surgery can help to restore sight in many cases. Here, our South Florida vets discuss cataract surgery for dogs, and what you can expect if your dog has cataract surgery.
What are cataracts in dogs?
The lenses in your dog's eyes operate similarly to cameras - working to focus your pooch's vision and provide clear sight. A cataract is an opacification or cloudiness that can occur on all or part of the lens. As you might imagine, this interferes with a clear image being focused on the retina and will hamper your dog's ability to see clearly.
How can cataracts in dogs be treated?
Cataracts in dogs can often be surgically removed and replaced with an artificial lens. That said, this surgery is not suitable for all dogs with cataracts. If your pup has pre-existing conditions such as glaucoma, retinal detachment, retinal degeneration or severe inflammation of the eyes, your dog may not be a candidate for cataract surgery.
Early diagnosis of cataracts and other serious ophthalmological issues is essential, as they can affect your dog's vision long-term. Regularly scheduled, twice-yearly wellness exams give your vet the opportunity to check your dog's eyes for signs of developing cataracts and recommend treatment before they become more serious.
If your dog is diagnosed with cataracts and has been deemed a good candidate for surgery, it's best to have the surgery performed as soon as possible to increase the chances for more positive long-term outcomes.
Alternatively, if our veterinary ophthalmologists have determined that surgery isn't an option for your dog, rest assured that while your pooch will remain blind, they'll still be able to enjoy a very good quality of life. With a little practice, your dog will soon adapt and navigate their home environment well by using their other senses to guide them.
What is the cataract surgery process for dogs?
Each veterinary hospital will have different protocols. However, in most cases you'll drop your dog off either the night before surgery or the morning of the procedure. While dogs with diabetes will need some special care, your veterinarian will provide detailed instructions in call cases about post-op care and feeding. Make sure to follow these instructions carefully.
- Before the surgery begins your dog will be sedated and an ultrasound will be performed to check for issues such as retinal detachment or rupture (bursting) of the lens. An electroretinogram (ERG) will also be done to confirm that your dog's retina is working properly. If these tests turn up any unexpected issues, unfortunately, your dog may not be suitable for cataract surgery.
- Cataract surgery will be performed under a general anesthetic. A muscle relaxant will also be administered to help your dog's eye sit in the correct position for the operation. Cataracts in dogs are removed using a technique called phacoemulsification. This procedure uses an ultrasonic device to break up and remove the cloudy lens from the dog's eye and is the same procedure that is used in cataract surgery on people. Once the lens with the cataract has been removed an artificial lens implant (intraocular lens, or IOL) can then be placed in the eye to allow images to be focused clearly onto the retina.
- Typically the vet performing your dog's ocular surgery will recommend that your dog stay overnight for monitoring. Intensive at-home aftercare will be required following surgery including the use of several types of eye drops multiple times each day.
Will my dog be able to see after cataract surgery?
Many dogs will have some vision restored by the very next day, but typically it will take a few weeks for vision to settle as the eye adjusts to the effect of surgery and the presence of the artificial lens. Provided that the rest of the eye is in good working order, cataract surgery in dogs is considered a very successful treatment with a high rate of positive outcomes.
Approximately 95% of dogs regain vision as soon as they recover from the surgery. Your vet will be able to give you a long-term prognosis for your dog. However, generally speaking, maintaining vision after surgery is about 90% at 1 year, and 80% at 2 years postoperatively. The key to successful long-term outcomes is good post-operative care and regular visits to the veterinarian for eye examinations and monitoring.
Are there risks with cataract surgery for dogs?
All surgical procedures with pets come with some level of risk. Complications stemming from cataract surgery in dogs is rare, but some complications seen by vets are corneal ulcers and pressure elevations within the eye. Taking your dog for a follow-up exam with the veterinary surgeon is essential for helping to prevent issues from developing after the surgery.
How long will it take for my dog to recover from cataract surgery?
The initial healing period following cataract surgery in dogs is approximately 2 weeks. Throughout that period, your dog will need to wear an E-collar (cone) at all times and have their activity restricted to leash walks only. You will also need to administer several medications to your dog, including eye drops and oral medications. Carefully following your vet's instructions is essential for achieving a good outcome for your dog's vision.
Depending on the results of the 2-week follow-up appointment, your dog's medications may be reduced. However, some dogs will need to remain on medication permanently.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.