Dog owners should seek veterinary advice if they suspect that their dog has cataracts or other vision problems. Dogs with uveitis (inflammation of certain interior structures of the eye) should be treated with topical anti-inflammatory medication, but the only effective treatment for cataracts is surgery. A thorough eye examination is important, because cataracts can progress rapidly. Short of blindness, cataracts can progress to glaucoma and to retinal detachment, at which point surgery may no longer be a viable treatment option.
The only realistic treatment for dogs with impaired vision due to cataracts is surgery. The goals of surgery are to restore vision and hopefully prevent the common secondary sequellae of cataracts, which are uveitis, glaucoma and retinal detachment. The prognosis for dogs undergoing surgical removal of cataracts is better if it is done early in the course of cataract development. Of course, a veterinarian will want to be sure that the dog is otherwise systemically stable and healthy prior to surgery. For example, dogs suffering from diabetes mellitus should have that disorder controlled and their blood glucose levels normalized before having surgery for vision problems. However, it is particularly important to remove cataracts associated with diabetes mellitus, because those cataracts can cause rapid deterioration of vision and ultimately blindness if left unchecked.
Cataract surgery usually requires preliminary ophthalmic ultrasound and an electroretinogram to check whether the posterior part of the eye is normal. If it is, the veterinary ophthalmologist will remove the cataract through a procedure called phacoemulsification, which involves ultrasonic fragmentation of the lens itself. This is followed by implantation of an artificial lens to restore normal vision. Without this artificial lens, dogs will be extremely far-sighted after cataract surgery, with little useful remaining vision. After surgery, the dog may be placed on exercise restriction for several weeks, may need to wear an Elizabethan (cone) collar and may also be given topical antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications, sometime long-term. Regular re-checks by a veterinary ophthalmologist are recommended as well. If cataract surgery is not performed, the cataracts should be monitored frequently for progression. If the condition causes total or near-total vision loss (often with accompanying pain), surgical removal of the eye (enucleation) may be advised.
Without treatment, most dogs with cataracts will lose vision in the affected eye. With surgical correction, 90% to 95% of dogs will have their vision restored successfully. Early diagnosis and treatment are of course very important to the outcome for each affected animal.