Cataract Surgery Dilemma

Blind dogs can live happy lives, but surgery can restore sight, making it a bit easier on dog and owner.

By | Posted: Mon Jan 17 00:00:00 PST 2005

Q. I have a 10-year-old male Bichon Frise, Willie. He has lost his vision in his right eye due to cataracts and is beginning to lose vision in his left eye. Other than his sight, he is in good health. I have seen an ophthalmologist regarding his vision, and she recommended cataract surgery. According to what I have been reading, there is a 90 to 95 percent success rate in canine cataract surgery. 

Since Willie is a Bichon Frise, he has a higher risk factor of retinal detachment. The success rate for his breed is around 70 percent. I have been struggling to decide if I am making the right decision by opting for surgery. 

My biggest concern is that the surgery will cause him to become blind prematurely. Of course, if he doesn't have the surgery he will eventually be totally blind, however, he would have a chance to adjust to it more gradually. 

The other factor that I am concerned about is glaucoma. He can also get glaucoma as a result of the surgery.

My question to you is, with all of the risk factors involved, do you feel as though cataract surgery is right thing to do? I want my dog to live the rest of his life as a happy, healthy pet.

Dr. Jon GellerA. You do have a challenging decision to make. On one hand, if you do not have the surgery done, Willie will eventually go blind. However, with a 70-percent success rate, there is a possibility of complications, that could cause worse problems.

Cataracts are a gradual solidifying of the lens in the eye, which prevents light from passing through. It is usually a breed-related genetic condition, but can also be the result of diseases like diabetes.

One thing to consider is that cataracts are not a painful condition, and blind dogs can live quite fulfilling lives, just as people do. I believe Willie can live a "happy dog life" without being able to see, if he is otherwise healthy. Dogs rely greatly on their ears and nose for sensory input, compared to people.

However, successful surgery could provide for good vision for the rest of Willie's life, but there are risks with the surgery that could make things worse.

You may want to get a second opinion from another ophthalmologist. Good luck with this difficult decision.

Jon Geller, DVM

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Velma   Austin, Texas

6/24/2013 8:22:33 PM

I have a dog that is 15 years old. She has heart surgery that went well. Now her cataracts are getting worse and she is loosing her sight. I know she has only a few more years, but she was always an active dog and I would want her last years to be happy ones. The heart pacer was implante by Texas A and
The vets were amazing, however we are trying to pay them. Another problem is I am an unemployed teacher and we don't have extra money to get her help.

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R.G.   Austin, TX

7/16/2011 3:51:46 PM

My 12-year-old dog developed cataracts four months after being diagnosed with diabetes. He could still see, but we could tell he was losing vision very rapidly; day by
We went to a vet opthalmologist who told us that there was a high success rate of lens implantation in dogs like this, even considering age. She said if I didn't do it, there was a great chance of him developing a detached retina or glaucoma, a painful condition that could lead to removal of the
That, scaring me to death, led me to decide to do the cataract lens
As it turned out, the left eye could not have an implant and she shouldn't have tried. She removed the lens of the eye. It developed a detached retina, for which she felt surgery wouldn't do any good. She said she didn't know until she got in
The other eye has an
He did fine for a bit, but now has had every complication that can occur: the detached retina, glaucoma, uveitis, infection, corneal
He was on Rimadyl for nearly three months, which I took him off a few days ago because he had diarrhea, stomach upset, was staggering, lethargic, etc.; all the symptoms of Rimadyl complications. The vet said there are no other oral antiflammatories that help the eyes. Well, my family vet said he needed help with his system, or we would lose the

I got a second opinion last week, who took him off Methazolamide, which made a dramatic difference in his behavior.

At one point, he wouldn't move, wouldn't open his eyes, was lethargic, walked in circles, staggered, was imbalanced, weak, wouldn't eat, and wouldn't drink. While he has bouts of low blood sugar, it wasn't continually low through all these bouts. Throughout this ordeal, he has had continuing bouts of not eating and drinking and stomach
We should have taken our chances and let him be a blind, happy
He is moving back to his old self, but isn't there
He is on many eye drops and ointments, all of which are

If you are considering this surgery, get a second and maybe a third opinion. The cost will be well worth it, as failure and complications are FAR more expensive. If the vet opthalmologist doesn't suggest an immediate physical before she does an expensive retina test, be leery.

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lynne   wallingford, CT

2/9/2011 3:14:46 PM

thanks for a very honest and upfront information on cataract surgery

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Karen   Montgomery, AL

8/9/2010 12:04:42 PM

I have a 11-year-old toy poodle and I'm pretty sure he's blind in his right eye from cateract. He seems to be developing cateract in his left eye. Even with pet insurance I can't afford to get his eye(s) fixed. Is there anythig other than surgery that can help him. I hate to see him go completely blind. He's constantly rubbing his left eye on the carpet, I suppose he's trying to see if it will clear up. Is there anyone that will do free surgery or is there a medication I can buy?

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