Cataracts can result in blurred vision and eventual blindness for dogs, but surgery can help to restore sight in many cases. Here, our San Jose veterinarians share a little about cataract surgery for dogs.
What are cataracts?
Within each of your dog’s eyes, there is a lens, much like the lens of a camera. This lens works to focus your pet'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.
What is the treatment for cataracts in dogs?
In many cases, cataracts in dogs can be surgically removed and replaced with an artificial lens. Unfortunately, however, not all dogs with cataracts are suitable candidates for this surgery. If your dog 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 is important. Regular twice-yearly wellness exams allow your veterinarian to check your dog's eyes for signs of developing cataracts and recommend treatment before they become more serious.
If your pup has been diagnosed with cataracts and is a good candidate for surgery, the sooner the surgery can be performed, the better the long-term outcome for your pet is likely to be.
Pet parents with dogs who are not suitable for surgery should rest assured that, although their dog will remain blind they can still enjoy a good quality of life. Dogs are very adaptable creatures and with a little practice, your dog will adapt and be able to navigate their home well by using their other senses to guide them.
What is the cataract surgery process for dogs?
Every veterinary hospital is different, but in most cases, you will drop your dog off either the morning of surgery or the night before. While some special care is required for dogs with diabetes, in all cases your veterinarian 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 your dog may, unfortunately, not be suitable for cataract surgery.
In dogs, cataract surgery is performed under a general anesthetic. A muscle relaxant will also be administered to help the 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 veterinary surgeon will recommend that your dog stay overnight for monitoring. Once your dog heads home, intensive aftercare will be required, 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 veterinarian 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 are rare, but some complications seen by veterinary ophthalmologists 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 veterinarian'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.
How do I find an eye doctor for my dog?
Veterinarians that specialize in caring for the eyesight of pets are called veterinary ophthalmologists. Typically, these specialists only book appointments when patients have been referred to them for care by their primary veterinarian. If you are concerned about your dog's eyesight, contact your regular veterinarian and request a referral to a veterinary ophthalmologist near you.