What is Cataract Surgery?
Just like a camera, a dog's eyes contain clear lenses they use to focus. Those clear lenses can sometimes form an opacity that can make it difficult for them to see. It can start with blurred spots and can end with a complete loss of vision.
The best form of treatment for severe cataracts in dogs is surgery, and it's a common procedure performed routinely by veterinary ophthalmologists. However, not all dogs require surgery since cataracts don't always affect the dog's vision. A veterinarian ophthalmologist should be consulted to evaluate the severity of cataracts and decide on the next course of action.
If surgery is the best option, the dog will then undergo a series of tests to confirm whether the procedure would improve the dog's quality of life.
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Cataract Surgery Procedure in Dogs
Cataracts can be difficult to diagnose by anyone other than a professional vet ophthalmologist. Expertise is needed to distinguish the similarity between a harmless age-related hardening of the lens which does not affect vision, and the visually impairing cataracts. Both give the impression of clouding.
Owners should consider that a successful surgery cannot give the dog perfect vision, but by removing the affected lens and replacing it with an artificial one, it will significantly improve the pet's vision and quality of life.
If cataract surgery is the best option, your dog will undergo a complete physical exam with blood and urine tests.
Your dog will need to visit the clinic again, once the test results are ready, to have two further tests. Electroretinography, to determine retinal function, and an ultrasound to seek any retinal detachment. If retinal function is reduced or the retina is detached, surgery is unlikely to proceed.
If all test results are satisfactory, your dog will be placed under general anesthesia for the surgery. The procedure for dogs is very similar to the procedure for humans.
The veterinary ophthalmologist will cut into the eye or eyes to make a hole in the capsular bag holding the lens. A special probe will then emulsify and remove the cataract. Then, an intraocular lens commonly known as an artificial lens will be installed in its place. The surgery ends with the eye being sutured shut with absorbable sutures.
Efficacy of Cataract Surgery in Dogs
Cataract surgery in dogs is approximately 90 percent effective.
Dogs will notice increased vision, although not perfect, and owners may see an enhanced confidence in their dogs when venturing into their own territories or new ones.
Owners should consider that although cataract surgery is intended to be a permanent solution, it may not completely solve the problem in some cases.
If the procedure does not seem like the best option for you and your dog, there are alternative methods aimed at helping dogs suffering from cataracts.
A homeopathic remedy described as being able to halt or reverse cataracts by igniting the healing process.
Eyebright and Bilberry
Herbs used in cataract treatment as a holistic approach.
1% N-acetylcarnosine Eyedrop Solution
A study on 60 dogs found that a twice-daily application of this solution showed increased transparency of the lens and potential reversal of cataracts in both immature and ripe cataracts.
Cataract Surgery Recovery in Dogs
The recovery process in dogs following cataract surgery can take some time. Inflammation will occur post-surgery, which will be eased with eye drops prescribed by your vet. These must be applied six times a day, with the dosage being reduced over the following six to eight weeks.
Your dog will also need to wear an Elizabethan collar for at least one week and must be kept calm for the first month after surgery. This means minimal walks, which may prove difficult for very active dogs, who will instinctively show a new zest for exploring with their improved vision.
Leashes should be avoided in favor of harnesses with no pressure on the neck.
Your dog will also need four or five follow-up visits to the clinic to ensure recovery is going well. These check-ups can be spaced over a period of three to six months, although this approximate timeframe may be extended if there are any complications.
Cost of Cataract Surgery in Dogs
Cataract surgery in dogs involves the use of highly trained veterinary ophthalmologists, coupled with specialized equipment.
The total veterinarian bill for a successful cataract surgery will be around $3,500, although this figure does not usually include the follow-up consultations, of which there will be at least four to five, and their cost will depend on the location of the clinic and the particular veterinary ophthalmologist. You should ask your vet whether those check-ups are included in the final cost.
However, the cost of surgery does cover the cost of the examination and tests before the surgery, the hospital stay, medications, anesthesia, a sterilized operating room and the surgery itself.
Dog Cataract Surgery Considerations
Cataract surgery is the preferred method of curing cataracts in dogs, and its success rates are high. Over 90 percent of dogs will have improved vision after surgery.
Owners should still consider that there is a long recovery period and their dog will need to avoid extreme exercise. But once healed, your dog should benefit from permanent improved vision, unless altered by other conditions. There are risks associated with every surgery and a cataract procedure in dogs is no different. Some side effects include a scar tissue which can limit vision, the risk of eye pressure known as glaucoma, retinal detachment, infection, and anesthesia side effects.
However, for the majority of dogs, the surgery goes smoothly with very few complications, if any at all.
Cataract Surgery Prevention in Dogs
Since cataracts can be caused by a variety of things such as old age, disease, diabetes, eye trauma and genetic traits, it can be difficult to prevent them. However, there are dietary supplements, lifestyle choices, and foods that can be used for your dog's overall eye health and can help lower the risk of developing cataracts later on.
Maintaining a healthy diet and body weight in accordance to your dog's breed and age; using supplements with antioxidants and frequently exercising will all aid in preventing eye diseases. This is true for both pets and humans!
There are also products on the market that support healthy eye function in dogs by delivering antioxidants. Most of them include grape seed extract, lutein, omega-3 fatty acids, alpha lipoic acid, co-enzyme Q10, green tea extract and lycopene. Many dog owners state that these ingredients work together to combat oxidative stress, which may help your dog prevent cataracts.
It is important to keep your dog in good condition and ensure yearly eye health checks, especially when the dog gets older.
Finally, if you notice your dog suffered a forceful trauma on or around the eyes, or if your pet regularly scratches the area, it's best to schedule a vet visit.
Cataract Surgery Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My 14 yr old teacup Chihuahua has cataracts and seems to have lost most of his vision over the last month, we've scheduled a specialist appt. He is on a daily low dose of phenobarbital for seizures he had several months ago that fortunately seem to now be under control. If he indeed is a cataract surgery candidate, would him being on this medication prevent him from having the surgery - or is it like humans that take medications, they are instructed to stop taking them days before surgery?
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Hi. My dog is a 9 year old diabetic toy poodle who also has Addisons. His cataracts have progressed to the immature stage and I would like him to have cataract removal surgery. However, during testing, he was found to have dry eye (STT = 11 left eye and 10 in the right eye). He was put on tacrolimus for the last 4 weeks and will be re-tested for dry eye. Also, they performed an ultrasound and ERG and his retinas are good (188 left eye and 162 right eye). His ocular pressure is also good. My question is should dry eye prevent him from being a surgery candidate at this level? Please let me know. thanks so much.
Dry eyes are a contraindication for cataract surgery as post surgery the eye needs to be sufficiently lubricated to help healing and preventing ulcers. The link below is to the Saunders textbook of Veterinary Ophthalmic Surgery on cataract surgery and Schirmer test results. Generally keratoconjunctivitis sicca poses a higher risk of decreased tear production after surgery with a greater chance of complications such as corneal ulceration, surgery is at your Veterinarian’s discretion as they need to balance risk vs reward; however some options may be available. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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