A cataract is a white opacity that develops in the lens of the eye. The causes in dogs can include genetics, diabetes, aging, and congenital anomalies. Cataracts can form slowly over many years or develop very quickly over a few days. They may also vary in degree of severity. Advanced cataracts can cause blindness and painful inflammation inside the eye. Some can be very minor and not cause appreciable vision impairment or problems.
Currently, surgery is the only treatment option for cataracts. No medications have been proven to dissolve or prevent them. Surgery is generally recommended when the cataracts become so advanced that they cause other problems in the eye.
After your initial consultation, a number of tests will need to be performed to determine if your pet is a good candidate for cataract removal. Blood work and urine testing (both completed within one month of surgery) are required and can be performed either by us or your family veterinarian.
Skin infections or dental disease can increase the risk of infection after cataract surgery. If present, your pet may require a dental cleaning or treatment for skin issues prior to surgery. We will also perform an electroretinogram (ERG) and ocular ultrasound to ensure that the retina is functioning normally and that there are no abnormalities in the back of the eye that would change the prognosis.
Cataract surgery is an elective procedure, and we will help you determine if it is the best option for your pet. Surgery involves removing the cataractous lens and, in most cases, placing a prosthetic lens to restore normal vision. Surgery is typically successful, but complications can occur in 10-15% of cases. Our ophthalmologist will discuss these potential risks with you.
If surgery is not recommended, pets with cataracts can still lead happy lives despite their vision impairment. Each pet adapts differently to being blind, but dogs are usually quite functional despite their blindness. Since chronic cataracts can be inflammatory to the inside of the eye, a daily life-long anti-inflammatory eye drop is often recommended in cases where surgery cannot be performed.
Surgery and post-operative rechecks are available at both our Greenville and Asheville hospitals. Some patients may require an overnight stay for observation, however, cataract surgery is typically an outpatient procedure. Frequent rechecks are necessary to ensure that healing is occurring as it should. Every patient is unique and some may require more follow up than others.
All patients will receive oral medications, wear an e-collar for 2-3 weeks, have restricted activity and limited bathing for one month, and be placed on a rigorous eye drop schedule for a minimum of one month. Many patients are prescribed one or two eye medications indefinitely to minimize scarring and inflammation long-term.