Dog Eye Care
Dogs aren’t quite as dependent on their eyes as we are (nose, eyes, ears, remember?), but their vision is still a major way that dogs interact with the world. As the Pack Leader, you have to pay special attention to your dog’s eyes during her care routine.
How do dogs get eye infections? Sometimes they just get something in their eye that has bacteria. Other times they may come into contact with another dog that’s infected.Signs of a canine eye infection include excessive crying and whining, light sensitivity, redness, and green or yellow discharge that crusts over their eyes. Breeds prone to eye infections include cocker spaniels, Maltese, Pekingese, poodles, pugs, and Shih-Tzus.
What is a Cataract?
Like a camera, eyes have a clear lens inside them that is used for focusing. A cataract is any opacity within a lens. The opacity can be very small (incipient cataract) and not interfere with vision. It can involve more of the lens (immature cataract) and cause blurred vision. Eventually, the entire lens can become cloudy, and all functional vision lost. This is called a mature cataract. Some mature cataracts will transform over time into hypermature cataracts. Hypermature cataracts usually are reduced in size due to loss of water and proteins from the lens. This causes the lens to shrivel and the lens capsule to wrinkle—similar to a grape turning into a raisin. Hypermature cataracts vary in how cloudy they are. Some are completely cloudy, and others have clear areas that can allow some vision IF the rest of the eye is functional. Depending on the dog’s age and breed, it can take several months to years for a mature cataract to turn into a hypermature cataract.
How are Cataracts treated?
Once a lens has developed a cataract, there is no known method to make the lens clear again. Immature, mature, and hypermature cataracts can be treated by surgically removing them.
However, nutritional support of the lens can help to prevent or lessen the severity of developing cataracts. Nutritional supplementation can help to enhance lens health by providing oral antioxidants designed specifically for support of the canine eye. Antioxidant supplementation may also help reduce ocular inflammation that occurs in dogs both secondary to cataract formation and following cataract surgery. A unique antioxidant supplement product designed to support the health of the canine eye has recently been developed. Ocu-GLO™ is a pharmaceutical-grade canine vision supplement containing 12 antioxidants; it is specifically formulated for support of the canine eye—especially for retina and lens health. Ocu-GLO™ was developed by two veterinary ophthalmologists (one of which is Dr. Terri McCalla) and a compounding pharmacist. It is important to understand that no cataract can be reversed; once the lens is cloudy, it stays that way unless cataract surgery is performed to remove it. Two exceptions to this rule are: 1) some nutritional cataracts can improve over time; and 2) hypermature cataracts can develop clear zones over time. However, as this process occurs in hypermature cataracts, damage to the eye also occurs in the form of lens-induced inflammation (called lens-induced uveitis or LIU). LIU, in turn, can cause glaucoma, retinal detachment, and/or lens luxation (slippage of the lens from its attachments, allowing the lens to float around inside the eye and cause damage and pain).
Cataract surgery is one of the most common surgeries performed on humans. However, not all dogs with cataracts need or should have cataract surgery. In fact, most dogs with cataracts do not need surgery, because most lens opacities in dogs (and a lens opacity is a cataract, no matter how tiny or big) are small and don’t significantly interfere with vision. Just because a dog’s eye has a cataract does not mean that the dog must undergo cataract surgery. Only a veterinary ophthalmologist can determine if cataract surgery is indicated in an affected patient. Cataract surgery is a quality of life surgery—not a life-saving surgery. The ophthalmologist must evaluate many criteria before determining if a dog can or should undergo cataract surgery. However, it is also true (in Dr. McCalla’s view) that restoring a blind dog’s vision with cataract surgery is one of the most satisfying parts of being a veterinary ophthalmologist, and surgery can give a dog a wonderful new lease on life. For a blind dog to again be able to see its owner, to play with toys, look out the window and actually see things—this is life-changing for canine patients and their owners. This is especially true if the dog is elderly and deaf or hard of hearing, and/or has senile dementia and cognitive issues—to have its vision restored can make a huge difference in its quality of life.
What are the risks involved with Cataract surgery?
Cataract surgery is a highly successful procedure, but there are risks. Chances of the patient having improved vision after surgery are high for most dogs (90%–95%). But 5% to 10% of dogs will not regain good vision due to complications, and (worst case scenario) may actually be permanently blind in one or both of the operated eyes. Because of species differences in how reactive eyes are to cataracts, inflammation, and to intraocular surgery, cataract surgery is not as successful in dogs (or other domestic species) as it is in humans and other primates. Additionally, it must be kept in mind that no surgery on any species can be guaranteed to be successful.
If your dog has significant LIU (most commonly caused by a hypermature cataract or a rapidly-developing cataract), this also decreases the success rate. LIU is the primary reason that the sooner that cataract surgery can be done, the better.
- The risk of intraocular scar tissue. All dogs develop some intraocular scar tissue (primarily opacities of the lens capsule). Excessive scar tissue will limit vision. Puppies and young adult dogs develop more capsular opacities than older dogs. Anti-inflammatory medication and antioxidant supplementation with Ocu-GLO™ may help reduce the formation of severe capsular opacities.
- The risk of glaucoma. Glaucoma (increase in eye pressure) occurs transiently in 30% of dogs that have cataract surgery, usually within the first 24 hours after surgery. This is not as bad as it sounds; most of the time, these pressure increases are temporary and quickly resolve with treatment within the first 1–2 days after surgery. However, glaucoma can also occur later—months to years following surgery. Glaucoma not only can cause complete vision loss, but also may require the need for additional medications or surgery. It can be painful (in the form of a headache) and cause LOSS OF THE EYE if uncontrolled.
- The risk of retinal detachment. While surgical re-attachment of the retina is sometimes possible, the success rate can be low and this complication usually results in complete vision loss. However, if it is caught early the surgical success rate is much higher.
- The risk of intraocular Infection. While this is rare, it can cause complete vision loss as well as LOSS OF THE EYE (i.e. surgical removal of the eye).
- The risk of general anesthesia. Anesthesia safety has progressed tremendously during the last 5 years. However, even healthy pets CAN DIE UNDER GENERAL ANESTHESIA. We take anesthesia very seriously. All patients are monitored extensively by our surgical team. All patients receive electronically assisted ventilation and monitoring of their blood oxygenation, carbon dioxide levels, respiration, temperature, heart function, and blood pressure.