You probably know generally what a cataract is, but other than the fact that it is a blue-gray haziness that opaques the lens, there may not be much else you know about the condition. Because it's Cataract Awareness Month, and because this eye disease is quite common in dogs and can happen to your cats too, we've rounded up 10 of the most important facts you should know about the condition.
1. Cloudiness does not necessarily mean cataracts.
Many pet owners believe that if their pets' eyes are cloudy, it means that they have cataracts. While this is an indicator of the disease, it does not guarantee that their dog or cat has it. As animals approach their senior years, their eyes begin to develop a hardening of the lens. This results in a cloudy, blue-gray haze over the eye. This is called nuclear sclerosis. Nuclear sclerosis is not a cataract. A cataract is any opacity in the eye's lens. The only way to truly determine whether your dog has nuclear sclerosis or cataracts is to consult a veterinary ophthalmologist. There is still a chance, however, that your pet has both nuclear sclerosis and cataracts.
2. There are different levels of cataracts.
There are different stages of cataracts. The earliest is referred to as incipient. This is when the cataract takes up no more than 10-15 percent of the lens. The next stage is called the immature cataract. This typically involves the entire lens. Pets may still be able to see during this stage. Next is the mature stage. Mature cataracts usually involve the entire lens, completely obscuring tapetal reflection. The final stage of a cataract is the hypermature stage, where there is a wrinkled lens capsule with a swollen milky cortex.
(Source: Veterinary Medical Center of Long Island)
3. Cataracts do not necessarily mean blindness in pets.
While cataracts may lead to glaucoma or permanent blindness, this is not always the case. Mild forms of cataracts may only cause haziness in the eye, but can still allow pets to see, although it may be a bit hazy. If cataracts are this small, it will most likely not bother your pet.
4. Cataracts can progress slowly or quickly.
Depending on various factors, cataracts can develop over a few weeks or can take up to a year. For example, diabetic cataracts develop very quickly, almost overnight. However, cataracts formed over age typically develop slowly, sometimes over a few years.
(Source: Animal Eye Care)
5. Diabetes is a main cause of cataracts.
Approximately 75 percent of diabetic dogs will develop blindness from cataracts within a year of diagnosis. They develop so quickly that they often result in surgery. If your pet has been diagnosed with diabetes, it is important to monitor its eyes and bring the animal to an ophthalmologist when you notice its eyes have begun to cloud.
(Source: Animal Eye Care)
6. Medication can cause cataracts.
Over-medicating your pet can lead to many different diseases, cataracts included. Medication is a common cause of cataracts in dogs due to toxicity from drugs like vaccines, heartworm preventives and flea/tick medications. It’s important to not over-vaccinate your pets and to make sure all medications flush through their systems quickly.
7. Cataracts can develop at any age.
While cataracts are most commonly caused by age, there is such a thing as juvenile cataracts. Because cataracts can be hereditary, some puppies may be born with the disease. Cases are extremely rare. Juvenile cataracts can develop between 6 months and 6 years of age.
8. Cataracts are more common in dogs than cats.
Cataracts are one of the most common eye problems for our canine companions. In addition, most forms of cataracts in dogs are genetic, with diabetes coming in a close second as the most common cause of the disease.
9. Certain dog breeds are more prone to cataracts than others.
Most cases of cataracts are inherited. There are certain breeds that are predisposed to cataracts, including Miniature Poodles, American Cocker Spaniels, Miniature Schnauzer, Golden Retrievers, Boston Terriers and Siberian Huskies.
Next: Cats & Water: Myths Debunked
10. Cataracts are rare in cats.
Unlike their canine counterparts, cats rarely get cataracts. Most of the time, when they do, it’s caused by eye injury or infection. Even cats with diabetes rarely suffer from cataracts. When cats age, their eyes do. too; however, it is typically nuclear sclerosis and not cataracts.