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Cataract Surgery For Dogs & Cats

Education > Dog Health & Behaviour 10th May 2019
 


Cataract is the leading cause of blindness, especially in senior dogs. Surgery can remove cataracts and help blind dogs see again.

WHAT IS A CATARACT?

The lens is a clear structure inside the eye that focuses light and images on the retina. It is made up of clear protein surrounded by a very thin and elastic capsule. A cataract is an opacity or cloudiness that forms within the lens.

Very small cataracts would not affect vision too much. However, as the cataract progresses, it can cause uveitis (inflammation in the eye), retina damage or glaucoma, leading to permanent blindness. Signs of uveitis include increased eye redness, squinting, excessive tearing and light sensitivity.

WHAT IS NOT A CATARACT?

Senile nuclear sclerosis is commonly seen in dogs 7 years and older. Lens fibers are continuously being produced. As older fibers are compressed in the nucleus, the lens take on a bluish-grey hue. No treatment is required as light can pass through a sclerotic lens. The cloudiness does not impair vision.

WHAT CAUSES CATARACTS?

When cataracts occur in younger dogs (less than 6 years of age), it is usually hereditary. Cataracts can also develop from:

  • diabetes (early detection and surgery is important with diabetic cataracts which can progress rapidly)
  • old age
  • toxins
  • trauma
  • nutritional deficiency

If your dog’s eyes look cloudy or bluish-grey, schedule an examination by a veterinary ophthalmologist. A series of diagnostic tests will be performed (e.g. to check tear production, measure intraocular pressure (IOP), evaluate ocular surface with fluorescein stain test). Advanced testing may include electroretinography (ERG) to evaluate the electrical activity of the retina. If the retina is not functioning properly, cataract surgery will not visually benefit your pet.



Before cataract surgery: Nala's cataracts developed when she was just 1. A year later, she was blind.



After cataract surgery: Nala's family has given her the gift of sight.

“We started performing cataract surgery once a week but due to an increase in demand, we have to create more slots for surgery. Many of our patients are Toy Poodles and Miniature Schnauzers.” ~ Dr Heng Yee Ling, Mount Pleasant (Farrer)



PREPARING THE EYE FOR CATARACT SURGERY

Under general anaesthesia, the eyeball usually rolls back into the socket, making it inaccessible to the surgeon. An intravenous nerve block is administered which makes the eyeball rotate to the centre. A small corneal incision is made to gain entry into the eye and a blue dye injected to stain the lens to make it clearly visible. A small window is then created in the lens capsule through which the cataract is broken apart and removed via a procedure called phacoemulsification.

INSERTING THE INTRAOCULAR LENS

Once the cloudy lens material is removed, the capsule is cleaned and polished. An artificial replacement lens is then inserted into the lens capsule. This will improve the vision of the patient tremendously.

SUTURING THE CORNEAL INCISION

After the corneal incision is closed up with absorbable sutures, the patient is monitored closely as she recovers from anaesthesia. Post-operative eye medications are administered. Intraocular pressure is measured at regular intervals to ensure it is within normal range.

HOW DO I CARE FOR MY PET AFTER SURGERY?

Vision usually improves within 24 hours and continues to improve over several weeks. Your pet will require the following:

  • Oral medication
  • Medicated eye drops
  • Elizabethan collar to prevent self-trauma to eyes
  • Regular re-examination of the eyes to monitor the progress of your dog’s recovery.