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Understanding Dogs with Cataracts

Cataracts is an eye disease which affects the transparency of the lends making then cloudy and leading to impaired sight or even blindness. Diagnosing and treating this condition takes a specialist and certain equipment your local vet may not have so you may need to ask for a recommendation. There are several potential causes of cataracts in dogs. Some have it as a congenital disease inherited from their parents. This can be spotted early in puppies, even younger than 8 weeks old. It could also have been caused if the mother was ill during her pregnancy.

Other causes include trauma, diabetes and inflammation. Senior dogs can develop cataracts too just as a part of aging. While any dog can get cataracts there are some breeds who are more prone. Out of the 70 breeds who were tested and proved to be genetically more likely to develop cataracts the more commonly affected breeds include;

Bernese Mountain Dog


Afghan Hound


Siberian Husky





Rhodesian Ridgeback


Irish Setter

West Highland white terrier

Standard poodle

Staffordshire Bull Terrier

Belgian Shepherd

Cocker Spaniel

Saint Bernard



Boston terrier

German Shepherd

Golden and Labrador Retriever



Lhasa Apso

Miniature schnauzer

Great Dane


The four main stages of Cataracts

Early onset reveals seams on the lends and case is disrupted.

The immature stage will reveal seams that are more developed and obvious in a Y shape and they will be affecting the lens capsule integrity.

The mature stage will have a loss of vision in the dog and lens that are fully hardened.

Overripe stage is where the lens are swelling, the eye is painful and red and the dog may have other eye problems.

How do Cataracts Develop?

While there are different causes for cataracts in dogs and even different forms, the way it develops is very similar in each dog. In a normal lens there is a balance of one third protein and two thirds water which keeps it in a dehydrated state. It is the pump system using sodium water in the lens that maintains that balance. If that system is damaged somehow the lens gets more water than it should and insoluble proteins also increase which can lead to a transparency loss in the lens and the formation of a cataract.

Types of Cataracts

There are different forms of cataracts that can develop depending on the dog's age. How young the dog is can help determine too if it is a hereditary condition that can show up in particular breeds of dogs. Here are some types of cataracts dogs can develop.

Congenital –

This type is there from the birth of the puppy and most often happens in both eyes. Although they are born with it, this is not always from a hereditary condition there are other factors that could have caused it including infection, disease or toxins in the mother when the puppies were still in the womb. Miniature Schnauzers are prone to primary congenital cataracts at this stage.

Early Onset –

Also known as developmental cataracts this happens early in puppies. It can be inherited or caused by something else including infection, trauma, diabetes and so on. Standard Poodles and Afghan hounds are two amongst several breeds who are likely to display inherited cataracts at this stage.

Late Onset –

Also known as senile cataracts this occurs in dogs who are older than six. It is less common in dogs and more common in people. Sometimes another condition called Nuclear sclerosis is mixed up with cataracts in senior dogs. Most of the time older dogs do not have cataracts they actually have Nuclear sclerosis which is a normal condition to happen in older dogs where the lends slightly grays. Usually it affects both eyes and happens at the same time in both. As vision is not hugely affected there is no need for treatment.

Inherited –

This can develop on its own or along with other eye diseases. If a dog has inherited cataracts it should not be used for breeding purposes.

Diabetes mellitus –

Diabetic dogs can develop cataracts due to the increase in glucose in the lens. If the cataracts is as a result of this it develops fast if the dog is not helped with his diabetes and it affects both eyes usually.

Cause and Symtpoms

Causes include;

Old age




Toxic substances

Electric shock



Symptoms depend on the how much lens opacity the dog still has and are basically vision related. If he has less than 30 per cent lens opacity then probably you will not notice any symptoms in him as he is not that impaired at that level. However dogs with over 60 per cent opacity will begin to have loss of vision and may display difficulty in areas that are dim or dark. This may be when you notice it impacting his life. In dogs with diabetes caused cataracts you will also observe an increase in urination, weight loss and his thirst will have increased as well as vision loss difficulties.

Diagnosing Cataracts

Take your dog into his vet if you see cloudiness in one or both of your dog's eyes. You will need to give a history of your dog's health and possibly his parent's health. They will carry out a physical exam and possibly run some tests such as blood count, urine, and biochemistry. Further tests like ultrasounds and and electroretinography may be done too.


Treatment Options and Management

If the cause of the cataracts is a trauma of some kind this will be repaired via surgery and the lens can be removed if needed. Other forms of cataracts have the option of surgical treatment or non surgical. The latter uses drugs in the form of injections but does not have a high success rate currently. More successful is surgical removal of the lens. A dog needs to be in general good health though before undergoing this procedure and afterward you will need to apply eye drops while it heals. Since this is a progressive disorder it is important to make a decision on treatment as soon as possible before your dog becomes blind. However the treatment depends on whether the condition is hereditary or not too so you will need to follow your vet's advice.

How fast this progresses depends on what the cause is, where in the yes is affected and how old your dog is. If your dog is able to have surgical removal there will be some time afterward where you will need to monitor him and apply after surgery care. You can discuss management of the condition with your vet if you have any concerns or questions.