Is It Cataracts?

Find out what's behind those cloudy eyes.

By | Posted: Mon May 2 00:00:00 PDT 2005

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Cataract Cloudy or Old-Dog Cloudy?
A young dog's normal lens is clear, but exhibits a greenish shine when illuminated. The lens of an eye with cataracts or nuclear sclerosis appears cloudy.

Because both types of change can look similar, nuclear sclerosis is sometimes mistaken for cataracts. But with a closer look, their appearance is quite different.

When viewed with an ophthalmoscope, a sclerotic lens has an even, pearly opacity, with a grayish-to-bluish tinge. Cataracts, on the other hand, appear like whitish chunks of crushed ice that vary in size, shape, and opacity. While nuclear sclerosis affects both eyes equally and simultaneously, cataracts may affect one or both eyes.

Nuclear sclerosis does not significantly impair vision. But cataracts, depending on their size and stage, can cause complete blindness. In fact, cataracts are the most common cause of canine blindness. If your dog has cataracts, she may, for example, bump into furniture or exhibit uncharacteristic trepidation when walking.

Cataracts can also predispose your dog to other serious eye problems, such as uveitis (painful inflammation of the vascular portions of the eye), glaucoma (increased pressure in the eye, which leads to destruction of the lens and retina), and retinal detachment.

If you suspect your dog has cataracts, take her to your veterinarian, who will attempt to distinguish cataracts from nuclear sclerosis by dilating your dog's pupils and examining her lenses with an ophthalmoscope.

Treating Cataracts
Depending on the severity of your dog's cataracts, your veterinarian may refer you to a veterinary ophthalmologist for surgery, particularly if both eyes are affected. Your dog's retinas must function adequately prior to the surgery. An electrode recording test, electroretinography, will assess retinal function.

The surgical procedure, phacoemulsification, involves ultrasonic destruction of the lens. The softened lens material is then sucked from the capsule with a needle. The ophthalmologist typically will place an artificial lens inside the empty capsule, restoring focusing ability. In rare cases, such as if the lens tilts out of position, a dog's eye will require removal of the lens and capsule.

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