Do you want to know more about cataract surgery for dogs?
Just as cataracts dim some humans’ vision, it also may affect a dog’s eyesight.
Perhaps you’ve had a veterinarian mention cataract surgery.
But when you got home, a myriad of questions popped into your mind:
- What is the dog cataract surgery success rate?
- What is the recovery time?
- What are dog cataract surgery complications?
- What aftercare is needed?
If you regret not asking the vet then and there, this article will answer some of those burning questions.
Why Consider Cataract Surgery for Dogs?
The answer is all about quality of life.
Cataracts are an opacity (lack of transparency) of the ocular lens.
In the early stages, a cataract is like trying to see through dirty spectacles.
As cataracts become more dense, no light reaches the retina and the dog cannot see at all.
Think of painting over the lens’ of your spectacles.
But this blindness can be reversed when the object blocking the light, the cataract, is removed.
Many dogs adapt perfectly well to blindness.
But when cataract surgery for dogs is an option, it’s one worth thinking about because it can restore vision.
How Much Is Cataract Surgery for Dogs?
This is a specialist procedure, requiring magnifying loupes and miniaturized surgical instruments.
Cataract surgery is costly, approximately $3,500 for per eye.
But the dog cataract surgery cost will be less for the second eye when done at the same time as the first.
Happily, there is no increased risk of complications, whether one or two eyes are operated on.
The Development of Canine Cataract Surgery
Vets have been aware of canine cataracts since the 1830s but concluded no treatment was possible.
In the 20th century, improvement in anesthesia led to attempts to restore vision by fully removing the lens.
Known as “extra-capsular cataract extraction,” this early technique had limited success.
A poor success rate meant further advances were on hold until 1967 when Charles Kelman had a Eureka moment inspired by his dentist’s ultrasonic drill.
Kelman’s technique used ultrasonic waves to liquefy the contents of the lens, making it easier to suck out.
This was the forerunner of the modern phacoemulsion technique used in dogs today.
With the careful selection of appropriate cases, phacoemulsion is a highly successful procedure, which has restored vision to thousands of dogs.
Can Dogs Have Cataract Surgery?
Dogs can have cataract surgery but only after careful assessment of the eye by a specialist veterinary ophthalmologist.
The specialist runs a number of tests to ensure that the retina is healthy and that removing the lens would restore vision.
The surgeon also assesses how advanced cataract formation is.
Early cataracts carry an excellent success rate, but it’s not always possible to operate on hyper-mature (old) cataracts.
Also, it’s important to stabilize any underlying disease, before going ahead.
This reduces the anesthetic risks for the patient and complications due to ongoing eye disease.
How Does Cataract Surgery Work?
Surgery on the eye is delicate and intricate, so general anesthesia is required to keep the patient completely still.
Using magnifying surgical equipment, the surgeon makes an incision through the cornea in order to access the lens.
A small probe is then inserted through the lens capsule into the body of the lens itself.
The probe directs ultrasonic waves into the lens, which breaks down the cataract into a jelly-like substance.
A mixture of irrigation (flooding the lens with fluid) and suction (sucking out the debris) removes the broken down lens material.
A prosthetic lens is then dropped into the empty shell of the original lens. Once healed, this allows the dog to return having near-normal vision.
What Dog Cataract Surgery Aftercare is Required?
Cataract surgery for dogs is often done as day surgery, with the patient going home at the end of the day.
However, if the dog has a health problem that needs monitoring, such as diabetes, then a longer stay may be required.
The owner’s most pressing responsibility is to make sure the dog doesn’t rub his face or eyes.
This often means this pet pal will have to wear a cone for seven to 10 days.
In addition, the vet will supply pain-killing medications and oral antibiotics.
This helps keep the dog comfortable and reduces the risk of postoperative infection.
These may be required for several weeks following surgery.
Dog cataract surgery aftercare requires the owner to put topical drops into the eye several times a day.
There will be a cocktail of different drops, including:
- Antibiotic drops: Keeps the incision clear of infection
- Anti-inflammatory drops: Decreases the inflammation caused by operating on the delicate tissue of the eye
- Drops to dilate the iris: Reduces the chance of scar tissue gluing the iris to the new lens
If dog cataract surgery complications are going to occur, it’s often in the first few days after the op.
But regular three-monthly check-ups are needed in the long term to confirm that the pressure within the eye is stable.
How Long Is Dog Cataract Surgery Recovery Time?
Modern anesthetics mean most dogs are up and chirpy within 24 to 48 hours of their procedure.
The eye will be sore and tender for around 10 days, which is also the length of time it takes to heal.
During this time, rubbing the face could damage the eye.
Therefore, it’s essential to wear a cone and even bandage paws until the dog is signed off by the clinician.
What Are the Dog Cataract Surgery Complications?
As with any procedure, dog cataract surgery does carry risks.
These include postoperative infection; ulceration of the eye; and inflammation within the eye, glaucoma and wound breakdown.
A cloudy eye after cataract surgery for a dog may result in postoperative inflammation or increased pressure within the eye.
Make sure the surgeon is aware of the cloudiness.
She may want to check the pressure within the eye and add in a further medication.
A further (rare) complication is retinal detachment following cataract surgery.
Bichon Frise dogs seem at greater risk of this than other breeds, but even so, the incidence is low.
In the hands of a skilled specialist, the complication rate for cataract surgery for dogs is low, especially for early-stage cataracts.
More mature cataracts are technically more demanding to break down, and the risks can be greater.
The surgeon will always discuss this with you ahead of the procedure.
In a worst-case scenario, complications could lead to the loss of the eye.
What Conditions Can Cataracts Surgery Help?
A cataract can develop spontaneously, as a result of the dog’s advanced years. Cataract formation is also common in diabetic dogs.
But other conditions can also cause cataracts, such as head trauma involving a blow to the eye or inflammation (uveitis) within the eye.
Indeed, some young dogs develop juvenile (early onset) cataracts due to an inherited condition.
Whatever the cause of the cataract, provided the dog is healthy and the condition stable, then cataract surgery for dogs can help.
The Role of the Vet
A vet in first opinion practice is well-placed to diagnose cataracts in dogs.
They will assess the patient’s fitness to cope with an anesthetic and discuss treatment options with you.
It may be that cataract surgery is recommended, but first, the dog’s overall health must be improved.
The vet will work with you on this to prepare the dog for referral.
A veterinary ophthalmologist is a specialist who accepts cases referred from first opinion practice.
This specialist has advanced training in procedures involving the eye, along with an operating microscope and the necessary microsurgical instruments.
She will manage the immediate post-operative period and follow-up appointments.
Once she is happy the dog has recovered sufficiently, the dog will be returned to the original vet for all other care.
If your best buddy lives to play ball but has cataracts, all is not lost.
With successful cataract surgery for dogs, they’ll be back chasing that ball like the pup they are.
References and Further Reading:
Aguilar, A., DVM, 2017, “Anesthesia Case of the Month,” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association
Azoulay, T., et al., 2013, “Immediately Sequential Bilateral Cataract Surgery in Dogs: A Retrospective Analysis of 128 Cases (256 Eyes),” Journal français d’ophtalmologie, 36(8), pgs. 645-51
Clode, A. and Gloud, D., “Phacoemulsification in Dogs,” Vetstream
Dees, D.D., et al., 2017, “Effect of Prophylactic Topical Hypotensive Medications in Reducing the Incidence of Postoperative Ocular Hypertension After Phacoemulsification in Dogs,” Journal of Veterinary Ophthalmology
Fischer, M.C. and Meyer-Lindenberg, A., 2014, “Cataracts in Dogs: An Overview and Guideline for Decision Making in Treatment,” Tierarztl Prax Ausg K Kleintiere Heimtiere, 42(6), pgs. 411-23
Pryor, S.G., et al., 2017, “Retinal Detachment Post Phacoemulsification in Bichon Frises: A Retrospective Study of 54 Dogs,” Journal of Veterinary Ophthalmology