Cataracts are a common eye condition in both humans and dogs that can cause blurred vision and eventually blindness, but in many cases, surgery can help restore vision. Today, our Harrisburg veterinarians discuss canine cataract surgery and what to expect if your dog undergoes the procedure.
What are cataracts in dogs?
A lens similar to that of a camera is located within each of your dog's eyes. This lens works to focus your dog's vision so that he can see clearly. A cataract is a cloudiness or opacification of the lens that can affect all or part of the lens, preventing a clear image from being focused on the retina and impairing your dog's vision.
How can cataracts in dogs be treated?
Cataracts in dogs can frequently be surgically removed and replaced with an artificial lens. However, this surgery is not appropriate for all dogs with cataracts. Cataract surgery may not be an option for your dog if he or she has a pre-existing retinal detachment, retinal degeneration, glaucoma, or severe inflammation of the eyes.
Early detection of conditions like cataracts is critical when it comes to saving your dog's vision. Your vet can check your dog's eyes for signs of developing cataracts and recommend treatment before they become more serious during regular twice-yearly wellness exams.
The sooner a dog diagnosed with cataracts that is a good candidate for surgery can have the surgery done, the better their long-term outcome will be.
If your dog isn't a candidate for surgery, rest assured that, while they will be blind, they will have a very good quality of life. Your dog will quickly adapt and navigate its home environment by using its other senses with a little practice.
What is the cataract surgery process for dogs?
Each veterinary hospital will handle things differently, but in most cases, you will drop off your dog the morning of surgery or the night before. While diabetic dogs require special attention, your veterinarian will give you detailed instructions on how to feed and care for your dog in the days leading up to surgery. Make sure to follow your veterinarian's instructions to the letter.
- Your dog will be sedated before surgery and an ultrasound will be performed to check for issues such as retinal detachment or lens rupture (bursting). To ensure that your dog's retina is functioning properly, an electroretinogram (ERG) will be performed. Unfortunately, if these tests reveal any unexpected issues, your dog may not be a candidate for cataract surgery.
- A general anesthetic will be used for cataract surgery. To help your dog's eye sit in the correct position for the operation, a muscle relaxant will be given. The procedure of phacoemulsification is used to remove cataracts in dogs. This procedure, which is similar to cataract surgery on humans, uses an ultrasonic device to break up and remove the cloudy lens from the dog's eye. Following the removal of the cataract-causing lens, an artificial lens implant (intraocular lens, or IOL) can be implanted 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, following cataract surgery. 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 the next day, but it will usually take a few weeks for vision to settle as the eye adjusts to the surgery and the artificial lens. Cataract surgery in dogs is a very successful treatment with a high rate of positive outcomes if the rest of the eye is in good working order.
Approximately 95% of dogs can see again as soon as they recover from surgery. Your veterinarian will be able to give you an estimate of your dog's long-term prognosis; however, maintaining vision after surgery is about 90% at one year and 80% at two years. Following surgery and throughout your dog's life, good post-operative care and regular visits to the veterinarian for eye examinations and monitoring are essential for successful long-term outcomes.
Are there risks with cataract surgery for dogs?
Every surgical procedure, whether performed on pets or humans, carries some level of risk. Although complications from cataract surgery in dogs are uncommon, veterinarians have seen corneal ulcers and pressure elevations within the eye after the procedure. Taking your dog to the veterinary surgeon for a follow-up exam is critical for preventing complications after the surgery.
How long will it take for my dog to recover from cataract surgery?
In dogs, the initial healing period after cataract surgery is about two weeks. During that time, your dog will be required to wear an E-collar (cone) at all times and be limited to leash walks only. During this time, you'll need to give your dog a variety of medications, including eye drops and oral medications. It is critical to carefully follow your veterinarian's instructions to achieve a positive 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.