Some Background Information
A normal young lens is clear like glass. It acts like a magnifying glass to make objects up close appear crisply detailed and clear by focusing near objects accurately onto the retina.
When the normally clear lens inside the eye becomes opaquely cloudy, this impairs vision and is called a cataract.
From left to right, these photos show an actual clear dog lens, a mature cataract, and a dog eye following cataract surgery with placement of a clear artificial replacement lens.
There are no medications proven to dissolve cataracts in people or in pets. Therefore, the treatment of choice for advanced, vision-impairing cataracts is surgery. The cloudy lens is removed by phacoemulsification technology and a replacement lens is usually surgically implanted.
Here are Three Good Resources on Veterinary Cataract Surgery:
Veterinary Vision’s cataract surgery video
ACVO’s Cataract Surgery Video
ACVO’s Cataract & Cataract Surgery Brochure
The photo at left shows an operating room at Veterinary Vision where cataract surgery is being performed.
Cataract surgery is performed using phacoemulsification to break up the cloudy lens and aspirate it from the eye.
The replacement lens is made of an inert material which is well tolerated and inhibits cataract regrowth.
Will My Pet Be Blind If He Does Not Have a Lens Placed?
Absolutely not. Occasionally, weakness in the zonular fibers which hold the lens capsule in place or tears in the lens capsule may make it difficult or impossible to safely implant a replacement lens. Vision without a replacement lens is still somewhat blurry up close- but much better than with an advanced cataract.
How Likely is Surgery to Prove Successful for My Pet?
Cataract surgery is approximately 85% successful for pets that pass their pre-operative retinal testing. However, this means that in 15% of cases, complications may prevent vision recovery or result in later vision loss. The purpose of the examinations before and after cataract surgery is to detect, prevent, or treat these complications early whenever possible. In uncomplicated cases, vision will begin to noticeably improve within a few days; after six weeks, healing is usually complete and vision is at its best.
Lucky rescued dog Joe is seen at left demonstrating his acrobatic skills and charm several months following cataract surgery performed by Dr. Lynch.
What Practical Information Do I need to Know Before Proceeding?
MEDICATIONS: You will need to have the time, willingness, and skill to apply eye medications before and after cataract surgery, initially four times daily, and continuing for approximately SIX WEEKS after cataract surgery on a gradually decreasing frequency. Some dogs and owners find this easier than others, but it is critical, so you may want to practice.
PAIN? There is very little discomfort after cataract surgery and pain medications are rarely needed, but the eyes will become inflamed, which may be seen as initial redness and squinting.
ELIZABETHAN COLLAR: This protective gear is essential to prevent rubbing at the delicate eye and stitches. It must be worn at all times during the first weeks following the cataract surgery (exact duration determined by your doctor and pet’s behavior). Many people say that this is the hardest part of the entire cataract surgery. Eating, drinking, and sleeping are entirely possible with the collar on although some help may be needed and, of course, lots of TLC! Here is a video that illustrates some hints to make it easier for your dog to eat with an Elizabethan collar in place. Cats can manage it too: video.
PRE-PAID POST-OPERATIVE EXAMS: We see your pet frequently after surgery to make sure things are going as planned and to intercept any complications early should they develop. Typically, exams occur ONE DAY after cataract surgery, ONE WEEK after cataract surgery, THREE WEEKS after cataract surgery, SEVEN WEEKS after cataract surgery, and 15 WEEKS after cataract surgery. Additional rechecks may be needed and, once healing is complete, annual exams are recommended. In most cases there are no sutures to remove.
Read testimonials from owners of patients who have had cataract surgery here.