A cataract refers to an opaqueness of the lens of the eye of a dog, preventing the eye from receiving light, thus reducing the ability of the dog to see properly. A cataract can be very small, causing minor vision problems, or can cover the entire lens of the eye, causing total blindness.
Cataracts in dogs can be caused be a number of conditions, most notably: diabetes, heredity, and old age. The development of cataracts can occur quickly, maturing in just a few weeks, or very slowly, taking years to fully mature. Cataracts that mature quickly are usually associated with diabetes in dogs.
The only current treatment known for treating cataracts is the surgical removal of the lens. During this procedure, the dog’s defective lens is removed and an artificial lens is then placed in the eye, restoring the dog’s vision. During this procedure, a small incision is made in the capsular bag that contains the lens and a probe in inserted into the bag, which ultrasonically emulsifies the lens, allowing it to be removed. The new intraocular artificial lens is inserted and the incision is closed.
The risks of surgery include: infection, damage to the structures surrounding the lens, and complete blindness. The procedure is performed under high magnification under the steady hand of a board certified ocular surgeon in order to elicit the best results.
Dogs will have near normal vision after a successful procedure, though perfection, or even improvement is usually not an option since the intraocular replacement lenses are limited. Dogs can also experience degradation in vision due to advancing age and scarring from the procedure.
Cataract surgery is expensive because the surgery is extremely delicate and requires a great deal of skill and technical equipment to accomplish. The procedure in dogs is much the same as the procedure in people, but most dogs do not have medical insurance that will cover any of the cost. The average cost of cataract surgery in dogs ranges from $1500-$3000 per eye, depending on the facility and skill level of the surgeon.
Recovery time varies with each patient, but most owners can expect their dogs to spend a minimum of two to three nights in the hospital for observation after surgery and will be required to have several follow up visits at predetermined time frames in order to ensure that there are no complications from the surgery.
In dogs with diabetes who have quickly maturing cataracts, many times medical intervention is unnecessary as the cataracts will hypermature and go away on their own, usually within a matter of months or a year or so.