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If you’ve noticed your pet’s eye lenses becoming cloudy or opaque, your pet could be developing cataracts.

Though cataracts can decrease vision, or even cause complete blindness, not every companion animal that develops cataracts requires surgery. Dr. Lucien Vallone, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explained how cataracts can affect pets.

“A cataract is an opacity of the lens,” Vallone said. “A clear lens is necessary for good vision; thus, any opacification can cause decreased vision. However, not all cataracts are the same. Some cases of cataracts are so severe they can cause blindness and inflammation in the eye, which may cause significant discomfort. Some cases are small enough they don’t interfere with vision at all and should be monitored.”

All companion animals can develop cataracts, but Vallone said cataracts are common in dogs. Several breeds of dogs may be predisposed to cataracts, though not every dog within these breeds are affected.

“Veterinarians encourage dog breeders to participate in breed-soundness examinations,” Vallone said. “These examinations screen dogs for any evidence of heritable disease. Specifically, veterinary ophthalmologists will usually recommend prospective pet owners to ask dog breeders if their dogs have undergone yearly Eye Certification Registry (ECR) examinations. These examinations are performed by board-certified ophthalmologists and help breeders to eliminate cataracts that are potentially inherited.”

Vallone added that cataracts in companion animals—especially dogs—could be a sign of another health concern, such as diabetes mellitus.

“In addition to cloudiness of the eyes, diabetic animals often display fluctuations in appetite, weight, thirst, and urination,” Vallone said.

Currently, cataract surgery is the only treatment for companion animals to restore clarity to the lens. Vallone said the procedure is similar to cataract surgery in humans but requires general anesthesia. Topical therapies often can prevent the common and painful complications of cataracts but cannot restore vision.

If you think your pet may be developing cataracts, consult your veterinarian. All animals with any form of cataracts should be evaluated by a veterinarian or veterinary ophthalmologist to help preserve vision and health.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

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