Cataracts are a rather common eye condition in people and dogs that can result in blurred vision and eventual blindness. Today, our vets at Northwest Animal Eye Specialists share a little about the cataract surgery for dogs used to treat the condition, and what you can expect if your dog requires the surgery.
What are cataracts in dogs?
Within each of your dog’s eyes, there is a lens that is similar to the lens of a camera. This lens works to focus your pup's vision to provide clear sight. A cataract is an opacification or cloudiness that can occur on all or part of the lens, which interferes with a clear image being focused on the retina, and hampers your dog's ability to see clearly.
How can cataracts in dogs be treated?
It is often possible for cataracts in dogs to be surgically removed and replaced with an artificial lens. That said, not all dogs with cataracts are suitable candidates for this surgery. If your pooch has a pre-existing retinal detachment, retinal degeneration, glaucoma, or severe inflammation of the eyes, cataract surgery may not be an option for your pooch.
When it comes to saving your dog's vision, early diagnosis of conditions such as cataracts is important. Regular, semi-annual wellness exams allow your vet to check your dog's eyes for signs of developing cataracts and recommend treatment before they become more serious.
In dogs diagnosed with cataracts that are good candidates for surgery, the sooner the surgery can be performed, the better their long-term outcome is likely to be.
If your pup isn't suitable for surgery rest assured that, although your pooch will remain blind they can still 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 surgery process for dogs?
Each veterinary hospital is bound to do things a little differently however, in most cases, you will drop your dog off either the morning of or the night before their cataract surgery. While some special care is required for dogs with diabetes, in all cases your vet will provide you with detailed instructions regarding feeding and care leading up to surgery day. Be sure to follow your vet's 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, 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 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, following surgery and throughout your dog's life.
Are there risks with cataract surgery for dogs?
All surgical procedures with pets or people come with some level of risk. Complications stemming from cataract surgery in dogs is rare, but some complications seen by vets following cataract surgery 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 during this time, 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. Please make an appointment with your vet for an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition.