SPCA New Zealand
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Juvenile cataracts in dogs

My dog Oreo is 17 months old and has been diagnosed with juvenile cataracts. Can I please have some advice on what juvenile cataracts are and how best to help him? The eye specialist says he’s too young for an operation so we just have to put eye ointment in his eye for the next few months, but I’m scared about what will happen when he has the operation – I hope he won’t be in pain.

I am sorry to hear that Oreo has been affected by juvenile cataracts. Cataracts affect the lens of the eye, which is a highly specialised tissue that helps to focus what the eye sees into sharp images. In order to do this, the lens must be transparent and have a refractive surface.

A cataract is any opacity within a lens; this can lead to difficulty focusing and, when the cataract progresses, cause blindness. Usually, juvenile cataracts are a result of a hereditary defect, but the mode of inheritance of cataracts is only known for a small number of breeds; genetic tests for mutations which result in cataracts are available for some of these breeds. Once a dog develops a mature cataract that is causing significant vision loss or blindness, surgery to remove the lens is the only way that sight can be restored. Assessment of cataracts and the surgery is a highly specialised procedure that needs to be performed by a veterinary ophthalmologist (a vet

erinarian who specialises in medicine and surgery of the eyes). After surgery, dogs need careful management; this usually includes post-operative treatment with antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medication, and pain relief. These will mostly be topical medications that must be administered into the eye. The dog should be trained to accept this process before surgery by making the experience as positive as possible. This can be achieved by gently getting the dog used to the administration of topical medication and following the administration with a treat, cuddles, or gentle play (depending on what is the best reward for that individual dog). Dogs need to be monitored frequently after surgery by their ophthalmologist for potential complications that can occur following cataract surgery, such as glaucoma and retinal detachment. The eye that has been operated on is very fragile after surgery and it is important that patients are prevented from rubbing the eye; usually an Elizabethan collar is used for this. Patients should also be kept very quiet for at least two to three weeks after surgery – this means no rough play, and only very gentle, short, on-leash walks. After successful cataract surgery, dogs will have almost normal vision. However, they won’t have ‘perfect’ vision as it is not possible to give them an exact replacement of the original living lens. There will also be some inevitable inflammation in the eyes after surgery that causes some scarring, which has some negative impact on vision. However, remember that dogs with

a mature cataract are blind before their surgery, so even if their vision is not perfect after surgery, it will be a huge improvement. The patient’s vision usually improves during the first week after their surgery, but it can take two to three weeks for full vision to return. Most dogs seem to suffer minimal to no pain after surgery and any pain is pre-empted and treated appropriately to make them as comfortable as possible. I hope this information is helpful to you and that Oreo’s surgery is very successful. I wish you and Oreo all the very best!

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