Pet Talk: Cataracts

If your Spot is seeing spots, cataracts could be to blame. As people age, they often develop vision problems, including cataracts. The same holds true for your aging pet. Bumping into objects and failing to retrieve toys may be signs of vision loss. These are especially significant if they occur within the pet’s normal environment, but vision loss can be attributed to various eye diseases or conditions including cataracts.

Cataracts “Cataracts are any opacity – a cloudiness — of the eye’s lens,” explains Dr. Joan Dziezyc, a veterinary ophthalmologist in Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “Opacities may be quite small and interfere little with vision, or they may involve the entire lens causing blindness.”

Dziezyc says that cataracts may develop because of an inherited defect or they can be caused by inflammation, trauma and diabetes. The lens does become harder with age and thus appears grayer, causing many people to mistake this change for a cataract. This normal aging process does not impair vision other than making focusing on close objects more difficult.

Diet does not seem to affect cataract development, but heredity does. “Certain animal breeds are afflicted with hereditary cataracts. This is especially true in dogs,” Dziezyc adds. Miniature Schnauzer, American Cocker Spaniel, Bichon Frise, all Poodles, Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, Boston Terrier, Siberian Husky, Lhasa Apso and Australian Shepherd are breeds that are prone to develop cataracts.

Dogs and horses are most often diagnosed with cataracts, but all animals are susceptible to the ailment, Dziezyc notes. Cataracts also can be a symptom of another disease such as diabetes, inner eye inflammation, or other conditions and that’s why it is important to have the primary disease treated. As long as a cataract does not impair vision, no treatment is necessary. But when vision is poor, surgical removal may be considered.

Dziezyc says that cataract surgery is delicate and after-surgery care — combined with cooperation from the patient and treatments administered by the owner — are essential for success. “Modern cataract surgery employs ultrasound and lens replacement,” Dziezyc explains. “A needle that is attached to an ultrasonic hand piece allows the cataract to be broken up (emulsified) and aspirated from the eye through a tiny incision.

“Intraocular lenses can be placed in the lens capsule inside the eye after removal of the cataract. This lens allows images to focus on the retina and the patient has pre-cataract vision restored.” Dziezyc says that eyeglasses aren’t an option for pets and without intraocular lenses, images will not be completely in focus.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.