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Cataract Surgery for Dogs

Cataracts in dogs are an eye condition that causes blurred vision and eventual blindness if left untreated. In this post, our San Diego vets discuss cataracts in dogs and how surgery can be used to treat them.

Cataracts in Dogs

Each of your dog’s eyes has a lens that is similar to the lens of a camera. This lens works to focus your pup's vision to give them clear sight. A cataract is an opacification or cloudiness that can occur on all or part of the lens, this interferes with a clear image being focused on the retina and hinders your dog's ability to see clearly.

Treating Dogs With Cataracts

It's often possible for cataracts in a dog's eyes to be surgically removed and replaced with an artificial lens. That said, not all dogs with cataracts are appropriate candidates for this procedure. If your pup has a pre-existing retinal detachment, retinal degeneration, glaucoma, or severe inflammation of the eyes, cataract surgery may not be an option for them.

When it comes to saving your dog's vision, it's important for conditions like cataracts to be diagnosed early. Regular twice-yearly wellness exams allow your vet to check your dog's eyes for signs of developing cataracts and recommend treatment before they become more serious.

In dogs diagnosed with cataracts that are good candidates for surgery, the sooner the surgery can be performed the better the long-term outcome is likely to be.

If your pup isn't suitable for surgery rest assured that, although your pup will remain blind they can still enjoy a very good quality of life. With a little practice, your dog will soon adapt and be able to navigate their home environment, using their other senses to guide them.

Canine Cataract Surgery

Every veterinary hospital has its own process, but in most cases, you will drop your dog off either the morning of their surgery or the night before. While some special care is required for dogs with diabetes, in all cases your vet will provide you with detailed instructions regarding your dog's feeding and care leading up to the day of their surgery. Be sure to follow your vet's instructions carefully.

Pre-Surgery Tests

  • Before the surgery begins, your dog will be sedated and an ultrasound will be performed to check for problems 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, unfortunately, your dog may not be suitable for cataract surgery.

The Surgery

  • Cataract surgery will be performed under a general anesthetic. A muscle relaxant will also be administered to help your dog's 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 for humans. 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.

After the Surgery

  • In most cases, the vet conducting your dog's ocular surgery will recommend having your dog stay overnight for monitoring, after their cataract surgery. Intensive at-home aftercare will be required following surgery including the use of several types of eye drops, multiple times each day.

The Success Rate of Cataract Surgery in Dogs

Our veterinarians in San Diego are often asked, 'Will my dog be able to see after cataract surgery?'. The good news is that lots of dogs will have some vision restored by the very next day, but generally, it takes 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 their vision as soon as they recover from the surgery. Your vet will be able to give you a long-term prognosis for your dog however, 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 your dog's surgery and throughout their life.

Potential Risks of Dog Cataract Surgery

There is some level of risk involved in every surgical procedure performed on pets and people. Complications stemming from cataract surgery in dogs are rare, but some complications seen by vets 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 Dogs 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 vet'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 might be reduced, but, some dogs will have to stay on medications permanently.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your dog showing signs of cataracts? Contact our San Diego vets to have your pup diagnosed and cared for.

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