Cataracts are opacities in the lens of the eye. Many people mistakenly think the cloudiness is on the surface (thought
to be a "film" on the eye), but in fact, the cloudy lens is deep inside your pet?s eyeball.
Most cataracts are inherited, and are found in many breeds such as the Cocker Spaniel, Poodle, Husky, Schnauzer,
Golden and Labrador Retrievers, and terriers. Other causes of cataracts include: Diabetes, trauma, inflammation, and
puppy milk replacers. Many cataracts will worsen to the point of blindness but certain types, especially in the
Retriever breeds, can remain small for the entire life of the patient. A common phenomenon occurs in many
developing cataracts where the patient can develop an allergic type of reaction to the cataract. This allergic reaction is
a LOCAL reaction and can result in many complications such as scar formation and glaucoma.
Treatment for cataracts is surgical removal and may be done in one or both eyes depending on the specifics of each
patient. Before surgery is performed, your pet may have two special tests beyond the full eye exam to check the
health of the retina or nerve layer in the back of the eye. These tests, called the ERG (electroretinogram) and
ultrasound, may be performed with sedation so that the patient does not move the head or eyes; these tests are NOT
PAINFUL and have virtually no risk associated with them. If your pet does not pass these tests, removal of the
cataracts would not improve vision and therefore, surgery should not be performed.
Cataract surgery is elective and requires a significant time commitment on your part. Eyedrops must be administered
several times daily before surgery and for about 6 weeks after surgery. The patient must wear a protective plastic
e-collar for 2 weeks after surgery, and your pet will not be able to be groomed or vaccinated during the 6 week
healing period. The postoperative checkups are usually performed the day after surgery and then one, three, and six
weeks after surgery. At that time, medications may be gradually discontinued and long term checkups are made about
4 months after surgery and then once a year. The success rate is OVER 90% but as with any surgery there are risks.
The surgery is performed under general anesthesia and depending on the specifics of the cataracts, age, and cause the
ophthalmologist may perform either a small incision technique (phacoemulsification) or a large incision method
(extracapsular cataract extraction). The small incision technique is more common today and carries the benefits of
shorter surgery and healing times. Often, the ophthalmologist will remove cataracts in each eye at the same surgery.
Phacoemulsification is the same technique performed for human cataract removal; the tiny probe breaks up the
cataract with ultrasonic vibration and draws out the cataract particles. Many people believe that cataract removal is
done with a laser but that is incorrect!! After removal of the cataract(s) your ophthalmologist may suggest replacement
of the lens with an artificial lens to obtain sharper vision as is the case in human cataract surgery.
We wish to Thank the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists for allowing the use of their definitions on