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Cataracts in Dogs- Causes and Treatment

Updated on August 24, 2009

Dogs with Cataracts

Cataracts are one of the most common health issues that affect dogs' eyes. All dog breeds can develop cataracts, but you'll find that some types of cataracts are more common with one breed than another.

For the most part cataract is the disruption of the normal arrangement of the lens fibers in the eye, which causes the loss the transparency of the lens, causing vision loss. If you think that your dog has cataracts, you'll notice the a white appearance. But, you may find that even if your dog displays cloudy eyes, your vet may say that he doesn't have cataracts.

Many older dogs have nuclear sclerosis, which is even more common than cataracts. It is the slight graying of the lens that occurs in both eyes at the same time. This condition does not affect vision.

Even though cataracts are common in dogs, veterinarians do not fully understand and the only treatment is surgery. Most dogs that undergo the surgery come out much better than when they went under.

nuclear sclerosis
nuclear sclerosis

Types of Cataracts and Causes

What age your dog starts to develop cataracts is very important to help classify the type of cataract that he has, and which type it is, will determine the cause. In many causes the age of the dog will tell you if the dog has developed cataracts solely because of his breed.

  • Congenital Cataracts:Present at birth. Caused by infection or a toxin that formed the cataracts while in the womb. In some cases congenital cataracts can be inherited. You'll find that Miniature Schnauzers are prone to inherited congenital cataracts.
  • Developmental Cataracts (Early Onset): Also known as Juvenile Cataracts in dogs. Develop early in the dog's life. This type can be caused by outside sources such as trauma, diabetes, infection, toxin, or they may be inherited. You'll find that Afghan Hounds and Standard Poodles are prone to inherited cataracts at an early age.
  • Senile Cataracts (Late Onset): Develop at 6 years or older. This type of cataracts is caused by old age. At this age, nuclear sclerosis is a common cause, and is more frequently confused for cataracts.
  • Inherited cataracts: Most dog breeds are prone to certain disorders, cataracts is one of them. Inherited cataracts commonly occurs in conjunction with another ocular disease. Dogs that have cataracts in their history and pedigree should not be bred, as the pups will inherit the disorder.

Dog Breeds Prone to Inherit Cataracts

Age Cataracts May Start to Appear 
Afghan Hound 
6-12 months 
American Cocker Spaniel 
6+ months 
Boston Terrier 
Chesapeake Bay Retriever
1+ years
German Shepherd
8+ weeks
Golden Retriever
6+ months
Labrador Retriever
6+ months
Miniature Schnauzer
Congenital or 6+ months
Old English Sheepdog
Siberian Husky
6+ months
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
6+ months
Standard Poodle
1+ year
Welsh Springer Spaniel
West Highland White Terrier
Other dog breeds that are prone to cataracts include Cocker Spaniels, Alaskan Malamutes, Dachshunds, English toy spaniels, Great Danes, Pekingese, and Vizslas.

Causes of Cataracts in Dogs

There are many potential causes of cataracts in dogs. The most common causes include infection, toxin, age, other disorders, and genetic health history (IE inherited cataracts).

You'll find that dogs with diabetes commonly also have cataracts. The two disorders are not one in a kind, but the extra glucose in the dog's body can cause an increase of water to the lens in the eye. The increased water can cause the fibers in the lens to break down, which causes cataracts. Cataracts caused by diabetes will frequently result in cataracts in both eyes.

As for trauma causing cataracts, you'll find that car accidents or penetration of the eye with a thorn, shotgun pellet, or another object can cause cataracts to develop. This usually occurs in one eye.

Cataract in the left eye.
Cataract in the left eye.

Treating Cataracts in Dogs

If your vet diagnoses your dog with cataracts, you may want to consider a treatment. The most effective means of treating cataracts so that your dog can see when it's all done and over with it, is surgery. The vet can surgically remove the lens.

Other than that, there really isn't a proven non-surgical means of treating the condition.

Not all dogs are good candidates for cataract removal surgery. Your vet will be able to determine whether he feels your dog will benefit from the surgery and make a successful recovery.

If the dog's cataracts go untreated, the cataract may slip from the tissues in the eye that are holding it in place, making it free to float around the eye. If the cataract is free to float around the eye, it may settle and block fluid drainage in the eye, which can lead to glaucoma, causing permanent blindness.

Sometimes cataracts may start to dissolve over time, which sounds like it could be beneficial to the dog, but it isn't. When the cataract starts to dissolve is can cause deep and very painful inflammation in the eye, which will cause even more problems for the dog.

So, if you beleive that your dog has cataracts that are causing him to have vision problems, you need to consult your vet so that you can determine if your dog is a good candidate for surgery.


Disclaimer: Please be aware that the advice in this article should in no way replace that of a licensed veterinarian. The methods outlined above may or may not work for your pet. If you have any concerns, you should consult a veterinarian.


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    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 7 years ago from Georgia

      it is possible that hereditary is anywhere in the dog's pedigre. It could be grandparents, greatgrandparents, etc. It doesn't have to be immediate mom and dad.

    • profile image

      Jj Awesk 7 years ago

      If a 18 mth. lab retriever has developmental cataracts and the parents do not have any eye cataract problems; can it skip a generation that the grandparents may have had early Onset eye cataract problems,(therein it still being Hereditary)?

    • profile image

      Lynn hinkel 8 years ago

      If my male 5 year old toy poodle is not a good candidate for surgery, what can I do? Any eye drops or something?