Person holding dog’s face to examine cloudy eyes

Key takeaway

Canine cataracts can lead to a cloudy appearance in your dog’s eyes and are often caused by old age, diabetes, or genetics. Notable symptoms to watch out for include a clouded lens, eye inflammation, and a lack of confidence when moving around. While this disease isn’t painful, it can develop into glaucoma or anterior uveitis. If you suspect your dog has cataracts, seek treatment right away to prevent further complications, such as vision impairments and blindness. 

Have you noticed your dog’s eyes are a bit cloudy? Perhaps your canine is beginning to bump into furniture more and more frequently? These are only a few of the signs of cataracts in dogs, which is an ailment that causes the eye lens to become hazy and can result in vision problems. 

Keeping your dog’s eyes healthy is essential to their overall well-being since it allows them to navigate the world. So, how can you help your dog if you suspect they have cataracts? This guide will provide a comprehensive overview of canine cataracts, highlighting notable symptoms, causes, treatment options, and preventative measures you can take. Read from start to finish to learn more about dog cataracts, or use the links to navigate the post. 

Graphic explaining how cataracts occur

What Is A Cataract? 

A cataract is an eye disease that causes the eye lens to become cloudy, preventing light from reaching the retina. The retina is a thin layer of tissue that lines the back of the eye and converts light into signals for the brain to interpret as images. When the retina becomes impacted, it can impair your dog’s ability to see and eventually lead to blindness.1 

While the idea of your furry companion going blind may seem scary, vision loss is gradual and doesn’t happen all at once. While there’s no way to slow down the development of a cataract, they can be treated. The key is treating cataracts before any further optical degeneration occurs. 

Symptoms

So, what do cataracts look like in dogs? One of the telltale signs of a cataract is a cloudy appearance with a white, gray, or blue tint. This opaqueness can cover one or both eyes and either a small surface area or the entire lens. Cloudy dog eyes caused by cataracts shouldn’t be confused with nuclear or lenticular sclerosis, a similar condition that primarily affects aging dogs, isn’t painful, and doesn’t cause blindness. 

 Signs of cataracts in dogs

Additional symptoms of canine cataracts include: 

  • Difficulty navigating in bright light
  • Excessive blinking 
  • Bumping into furniture
  • Changes in behavior 
  • Hesitation when moving
  • Inflammation of eye

Keep in mind that when cataracts first begin to develop, it may be challenging for pet parents to recognize the symptoms since dogs can use their powerful noses and ears to compensate for vision loss.1 Still, it’s essential to know the signs because secondary complications can occur as the cataract matures, such as:

  • Inflammation in the eye (anterior uveitis)—Sometimes, anterior uveitis and cataracts go hand in hand, leading to permanent blindness. Inflammation typically occurs as a result of leaking blood vessels from trauma and other diseases. 
  • Glaucoma—Glaucoma is a disease that creates excess pressure in the eye due to fluid buildup, damaging the optic nerve in the process.3 This is because cataracts can cause inflammation and damage the iridocorneal angle, which keeps fluid in the eye at healthy levels. The optic nerve is the link between the retina and the brain, so any damage here can lead to loss of vision.   

Causes of cataracts in dogs

Causes 

There are many factors that cause cataracts in dogs to develop,4 including:

  • Genetics
  • Age
  • Malnutrition
  • Radiation
  • Inflammation
  • Trauma
  • Diabetes

Depending on the root of your dog’s cataracts, it may not mature or cause blindness. This is why it’s important to identify if an underlying condition is to blame. Effectively treating and managing health conditions can hinder the growth of a cataract.  

Cataracts and diabetes

Diabetes in dogs is one of the most common causes of canine cataracts. In fact, 80% of dogs with diabetes will develop cataracts within 16 months of being diagnosed.4 This means that diabetic dogs have a higher risk of experiencing vision loss and blindness due to their condition. Cataracts from diabetes occur when high blood sugar causes the sugar to enter the eye lens, creating a cloudy appearance in the process.5

Genetics

Another common cause of cataracts is genetics6. Unfortunately, some dog breeds are more susceptible to canine cataracts, such as:

  • Australian Shepherd
  • Bichon Frise
  • Boston Terrier 
  • French Bulldog
  • American Staffordshire Terrier 
  • Havanese 
  • Silky Terrier
  • Miniature Schnauzer 
  • Poodle
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Labrador Retriever 
  • Siberian Husky
  • West Highland Terrier

Keep in mind that while certain dog breeds and canines with health conditions have a higher risk of developing diabetes, all dogs can get the disease. It’s important to remain vigilant regardless of the type of canine you have or their medical history. If you notice any changes to the appearance of your dog’s eye or their behavior, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian right away. 

Diagnosis

Diagnosing canine cataracts begins by taking a trip to your veterinarian’s office. A licensed veterinarian will examine your dog’s eyes with a light and magnifying glass to get a thorough look. They’ll be able to identify a cataract even if it’s invisible to the naked eye. Remember, cataracts are slow to develop, so the earlier they are diagnosed, the better the outcome for your furry friend. 

Your veterinarian may also request lab work or additional tests, including an ocular ultrasound or electroretinography (ERG), to uncover the root of your dog’s cataracts and determine if an underlying condition is the culprit. Managing health ailments that cause cataracts early on is vital to minimizing the risk of their formation. Cataracts can also get confused with nuclear sclerosis and other eye diseases, so a vet can let you know if your dog has cataracts or not. 

Person administering eye drops to a dog

Treatment

If your dog has cataracts, providing the appropriate course of treatment is essential to manage the condition and prevent it from becoming worse. A licensed veterinarian can provide you with anti-inflammatory eye drops and lubricants to control the development of cataracts. Keep in mind that these treatments won’t reverse the effects of the disease. The only way to completely get rid of a cataract and possibly return your dog’s vision to normal is with surgery. 

For this surgical procedure, your dog will be put to sleep with anesthesia to ensure it’s as painless as possible for them. Then, the veterinary surgeon will remove the cataract on the affected eye. Once your dog is ready to go home, the veterinarian should provide post-surgery instructions that outline how to take care of your dog’s eyes. This may include making your dog wear an Elizabethan collar to stop them from scratching or rubbing their eyes. They may also prescribe eye drops to prevent dryness and irritation, minimize infections, and support healing. 

It’s essential to treat canine cataracts right away to keep your dog’s vision intact. When left untreated, a cataract can cause permanent blindness and progress into glaucoma or anterior uveitis. Dogs that develop glaucoma or eye inflammation are often not eligible for cataract removal surgery since the procedure will temporarily cause inflammation. This can cause more vision problems for your dog rather than improve the situation. 

Prevention

Unfortunately, there’s no foolproof way to prevent canine cataracts, especially if the cause is old age. But, there are several steps you can take to identify issues early on and reduce the likelihood of permanent blindness from cataracts. This includes: 

  • Checking your dog’s eyes regularly for noticeable warning signs of cataracts. 
  • Scheduling routine checkups with your veterinarian, specifically if they’re more at risk for developing the disease due to genetics or an underlying condition.
  • Taking your dog to the vet as soon as you notice changes in the appearance of your dog’s eyes or behavior.
  • Discussing available treatment options with your veterinarian to manage health ailments that cause cataracts.
  • Watching out for eye injuries and trauma and making sure to treat them right away.

Canine Cataracts: Frequently Asked Questions

Whether your dog is growing older or there’s a sudden opaque appearance on their eye lens, cataracts are overwhelming for you and your pet. To help you navigate canine cataracts, here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions:

Can dogs live comfortably with cataracts?

While cataracts aren’t fatal, they can interfere with your dog’s life. For example, they can make it harder for your furry friend to see when you arrive home from work or walk around familiar spaces confidently. Cataracts can also progress into other diseases, such as glaucoma and anterior uveitis.

Are dog cataracts painful?

On their own, cataracts are not painful. However, secondary diseases caused by cataracts like glaucoma or inflammation can lead to pain and discomfort. 

Can cataracts in dogs be treated without surgery?

Non-surgical treatments can slow down the development of cataracts in dogs. However, it won’t reverse the effects or return your dog’s vision. The only way to get rid of cataracts is with surgery. Unfortunately, once the cataract develops into glaucoma, your dog won’t be able to partake in the procedure. So, it’s essential to have routine wellness checkups with your veterinarian that includes eye and health examinations to catch the disease early. 

Final Notes

Although cataracts in your dog’s eyes can be scary, it's not a death sentence for your four-legged companion. Your dog can enjoy a happy and healthy life with the appropriate treatment prescribed by a licensed veterinary professional.

At Dutch, we believe in providing your pet with treatments rooted in science. This way, they don’t have to endure medically treatable health conditions, allowing them to enjoy life to the fullest. If your dog is suffering from allergies or anxiety, don’t hesitate to contact us to learn more about telemedicine for pets

References

  1. Gelatt, Kirk N. “Disorders of the Lens in Dogs - Dog Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 15 Nov. 2021, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/eye-disorders-of-dogs/disorders-of-the-lens-in-dogs.

  2. Gelatt, Kirk N. “Glaucoma in Dogs.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 15 Nov. 2021, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/eye-disorders-of-dogs/glaucoma-in-dogs.

  3. MG;, Beam S;Correa MT;Davidson. “A Retrospective-Cohort Study on the Development of Cataracts in Dogs with Diabetes Mellitus: 200 Cases.” Veterinary Ophthalmology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11397260/

  4. “Cataracts in Dogs.” PDSA, https://www.pdsa.org.uk/pet-help-and-advice/pet-health-hub/conditions/cataracts-in-dogs.

  5. Meyers, Harriet. “Cloudy Eyes in Dogs.” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 23 Sept. 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/cloudy-eyes-in-dogs/.