Cataracts are a relatively common eye condition in dogs that can result in blurred vision and eventual blindness. In many cases, surgery can help to restore sight. In this post, our Seattle vets share a little about cataract surgery for dogs and what you can expect if your dog has cataract surgery.
What are cataracts in dogs?
Thinks of the lens in each of your dog's eyes as similar to the lens of a camera. This lens works to focus your pooch's vision to provide clear sight. A cataract is a cloudiness or opacification 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.
How can cataracts in dogs be treated?
Cataracts in dogs can often be surgically removed and replaced with an artificial lens. That said, not all dogs with cataracts may be able to undergo this surgery. If your pup has a pre-existing retinal detachment, retinal degeneration, severe inflammation of the eyes, or glaucoma, cataract surgery may not be an option for your dog.
When it comes to preserving your dog's vision, it's critical for conditions such as cataracts to be diagnosed early. Regular twice-yearly wellness exams give your vet the chance to check your dog's eyes for signs of developing cataracts and recommend treatment before they become more serious.
If your dog has been diagnosed with cataracts and has been deemed a suitable candidate for surgery, the sooner the surgery can be performed, the better their long-term outcome is likely to be.
If your pup isn't a candidate for surgery, rest assured that, while your dog will remain blind, they can still enjoy a good quality of life. Your dog will soon learn to adapt and use their other senses to navigate their home environment.
What is the cataract surgery process for dogs?
You'll likely find each veterinary hospital has different protocols and procedures. However, in most cases, you'll 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 vet will provide you with detailed instructions regarding care and feeding leading up to surgery day. Make sure to carefully follow your vet's instructions.
- 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, unfortunately, your dog may not be suitable for cataract 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 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 vet performing your dog's ocular surgery will recommend that your dog stay overnight for monitoring. Intensive at-home aftercare will be required following surgery 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 vet will be able to give you a long-term prognosis for your dog. However, generally speaking, dogs that have cataract surgery see high success rates in the 2 years following surgery. The success rate for 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.
How much is cataract surgery for dogs?
Many factors contribute to the cost of your dog's cataract surgery, such as the cost of the artificial canine intraocular lens inserted in the eye after a cataract operation, operating facilities and pre-surgical and post-op care. Your veterinarian can provide a cost estimate for your dog's procedure.
Are there risks with cataract surgery for dogs?
All surgical procedures with pets come with some level of risk. Complications stemming from cataract surgery in dogs is rare, but some complications seen by vets 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 your dog's cataract surgery will most likely be about 2 weeks. During this part of their recovery 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, 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 may be reduced. However, some dogs will need to remain on medication 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.