FAQ About Cataracts in Dogs, Cats, and More
What is a cataract?
The lens in the eye is used to focus light onto the retina where light is turned into an image that is
sent to the brain to be processed. A cataract is an opacity or cloudiness in the lens. It can be very
small and not affect vision or involve the entire lens, causing blindness.
What causes cataracts?
The most common cause of cataracts in dogs is an inherited defect in the lens. These cataracts
usually occur at a young age and are called juvenile or hereditary cataracts. In addition, cataracts
may occur due to an injury to the eye, inflammation in the eye, or a systemic disease such as
diabetes. In an older dog, the lens may develop into a cataract as a degenerative aging process. It
is normal for lens to become slightly grey to blue in color when a dog reaches approximately 6-7
years of age. This is lenticular (or nuclear) sclerosis. It will occur in every animal and does not
usually affect vision; however it may be mistaken for cataracts.
Are some breeds more likely to develop cataracts?
Cataracts are more likely to be found in popular purebred dogs and cats since the breeding of
related animals allows abnormal genes to be concentrated. All animals, including birds, fish, and
reptiles may develop cataracts.
Is surgery the only way to cure cataracts?
The only treatment for cataracts is surgical removal. Cataract surgery in dogs typically has a 90-
95% success rate for returning vision. Many claims for non-surgical “cures” have been made
since the beginning of time, but all have been proven ineffective.
Is my pet too old for cataract surgery?
Old age is not considered a disease. Therefore, if a pet is healthy and does not have any serious
ailments such as heart, liver or kidney failure, general anesthesia can be recommended and
cataract surgery performed.
What is required before surgery?
A complete examination of the eyes is necessary to determine if a pet is a good surgical
candidate. Electroretinogram (ERG) testing is required to evaluate retinal function. An ocular
ultrasound is done to ensure there are no intraocular masses and rule out retinal detachment.
Blood and urine samples are submitted to evaluate your pets general health. Medications are
administered beginning a few days prior to surgery.
How does cataract surgery work?
Cataract removal is a delicate surgical procedure only performed by veterinary ophthalmologists.
At our animal eye clinic, surgery is usually done in the morning on an outpatient basis. The cataracts are removed using a
technique called phacoemulsification, which is the same technique used in people. It uses
ultrasonic vibrations to liquefy the lens, which is then removed from the eye through a small
incision. The incision is less than 3 mm, or half the width of a pencil eraser.
Are there artificial lenses for dogs?
Yes. An artificial lens restores the vision to as close to normal as possible. Lens implants are
available and are used with routine phacoemulsification cataract surgery. In certain cases,
instability of the cataract or complications during surgery prevents the placement of an artificial
lens. If an artificial lens cannot be placed, your pet will still be able to see. However, objects up close will appear blurry. Most pets can see and conduct routine activities even if they do not
receive an artificial lens.
What is the immediate aftercare like?
After surgery, additional medications are sent home along with complete instructions. Follow-up
visits are very important to monitor the healing process and detect any complications early. Most
pets are seen the day after surgery, then one week post-op, 2-3 weeks post-op, 6-8 weeks postop,
and then 1-2 times yearly for monitoring. Some complications may not appear until as long
as a year after surgery, so these rechecks are important. The success of the surgery is directly
related to post-surgery treatment and monitoring. Vision will return as the healing in the eye
takes place. For this reason, vision may not be apparent immediately after surgery. Reports are
sent to you regular veterinarian to keep them informed of your pet’s progress.
Following cataract surgery: After the first 8 weeks
If everything is going well, the frequency of recheck examinations will be decreased. However,
recheck examinations are still very important to the success of the cataract surgery and your pet’s
new vision. The frequency of rechecks will be personalized to your pet, and will depend on how
well the eyes are healing. Most patients will still need some topical anti-inflammatory therapy.
Continued administration of the eye drops as directed by the ophthalmologist is very important
for the prevention of complications. The most common complication seen after cataract surgery
in dogs is glaucoma. Glaucoma may not develop until six months to four years after cataract
surgery, which illustrates the importance of adhering to the recheck schedule. You have
dedicated time, effort and money to help give your pet vision, and we will want to help you keep
your pet seeing and comfortable for a long time. Please return for the recommended recheck
exams, administer the recommended medication and, as always, call us if you notice any
Should I wait until my pet is blind to do cataract surgery?
No. Once a cataract is showing signs of progression, even if it is just in one eye, then surgery
should be considered in the affected eye. As the cataract matures, it becomes harder and more
difficult to remove through the small incision. Other complications can occur in the eye as the
cataract matures, which can make surgery more difficult, or in severe cases, not possible. Serious
vision-threatening complications that may occur after surgery include inflammation, glaucoma
and retinal detachment. These complications are less likely if the cataract is removed early.
What if my pet is not a candidate for cataract surgery?
Some pets cannot have cataract surgery, for reasons such as poor ERG or ocular ultrasound
results or poor health. Cataracts cause irritation in the eye, which can lead to secondary problems
like inflammation and glaucoma. For this reason, pets with cataracts that are not having surgery
will still receive eye drops and regular monitoring to decrease any irritation and keep the eyes