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Cataracts are one of the most common causes of vision loss in dogs and frequently lead to blindness. Cataracts in dogs are usually easy to spot. The clouded look of the pupil gives them away. Unfortunately, many dog owners assume that cataracts just come with age and don’t think to intervene to address them. This is troubling because eye health is so important to a dog’s general health and quality of life.

A cataract is a permanent change in the thin, clear, highly organized protein fibers that make up the lens of the eye. This change transforms the clear protein into a milky, white, opaque one. Once the proteins change throughout the entire lens, it is like a frosted pane of glass, and as the lens thickens it becomes more difficult for the pet to see around. A cataract that is fully developed (mature) leaves the eye functionally blind. It is often at this point that clients note their pet bumping into things, especially in dim lighting. The good news is that there is treatment available for cataracts so that your canine can have good vision and eye health throughout their golden years.

Cataracts shouldn’t be confused with nuclear sclerosis, which is haziness caused by hardening of the lens as a dog gets older. All animals experience this change with age. The good news is that light is still able to pass through and contact the retina, so your dog can still see if she has nuclear sclerosis. (She may not be able to read the newspaper anymore, but she won’t be bumping into things.) Often, people think their pets have cataracts when they really have nuclear sclerosis.

Types and Stages of Cataracts in Dogs

Congenital cataracts

– Cataracts present at birth. Usually in both eyes. Can be inherited or caused by infections or toxins.

Early onset cataracts

– Develop before 3 years of age. Can be inherited or caused by infections, toxins, diabetes mellitus or trauma to the eye.

Late onset cataracts

– Develop at or after 6 years of age. Often confused for nuclear sclerosis (normal clouding of the eye due to aging)

What causes cataracts in Dogs?

Most cataracts in dogs are the result of a genetic or hereditary defect. Many dog breeds are predisposed to hereditary cataracts, which may occur as early as at birth or develop later in young or middle-aged dogs. Dogs affected by hereditary cataracts should not be used for breeding. Depending on the cause, cataracts may or may not progress to total blindness.

Factors that lead to the development of cataracts in dogs include:

  • Hereditary/genetic
  • Congenital (occurring at birth)
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Other eye disorders, such as glaucoma
  • Trauma to the eye
  • Inflammation of the eye
  • Radiation or other toxic chemicals
  • Electric shock

Symptoms of Cataracts in Dogs

The first indication of a cataract is typically when a pet owner notices his dog’s eyes looking cloudy. This cloudiness does not automatically diagnose a cataract, as many dogs develop some cloudiness in their eyes as they age. However, it is important to have a dog that develops cloudiness in the eye(s) evaluated by a veterinarian in order to check for cataracts or other health concerns.

Other signs of possible cataracts include:

  • Eye redness that doesn’t go away
  • Inflammation of the eye socket(s)
  • Vision problems
  • Pawing at eyes
  • Disorientation/confusion

How do I know if my dog is having vision problems?

One of the most challenging things about owning a pet is the fact that they can’t tell you what is wrong. So, it can be difficult to detect dog vision problems before they have become significant. Some indications that your dog may be having trouble seeing include:

  • Bumping into things, particularly in low light
  • Suddenly sniffing for treats instead of looking for them
  • Changes in your dog’s usual ability to fetch/retrieve

How is it Diagnosed?

If you observe symptoms of cataracts or vision loss in your pet, schedule an appointment with a veterinarian. The veterinarian will want to know when the symptoms were first noted, if any trauma to the eye or head has occurred and if your pet has been behaving differently. Your veterinarian will examine your dog’s eyes using a light. Veterinarians also use blood tests to determine if any underlying conditions might have caused your dog’s cataracts.

Treatment Options

One of the goals of cataract surgery in canines is to return functional vision. There are no known remedies that can reverse the forming of a cataract — surgery is the only option for cataracts once they have formed.

Cataracts are removed with a surgical procedure under general anesthesia. The lens is removed, and the veterinarian replaces it with a lens made from plastic or acrylic. There may only be a need to operate on one eye, or the veterinary ophthalmologist may need to perform the procedure on both eyes.

Veterinarians also run tests to look for underlying conditions that are known to cause cataracts. Treating any conditions that can cause cataracts to form is essential because it reduces the chances that those conditions might cause further health issues.

Medical Management

Medical management of cataracts starts with a visit to a veterinary ophthalmologist to determine the level of inflammation and assess whether it is appropriate to start topical NSAIDs (e.g., diclofenac or ketorolac) and eye lubricants, or if more intensive therapy is needed.

Long-term medical management can vary from daily NSAIDs and lubricants to managing ongoing developments in eye pressure changes and corneal health. Many dogs can lead perfectly happy lives with cataracts as long as they are able to maintain pain-free eyes. They can adapt to life without vision by memory mapping familiar environments and their acute sense of smell.

Prevention of Cataracts in Dogs

The best way to prevent canine cataracts is to keep your pet as healthy overall as possible, since cataracts can be caused by medical conditions like diabetes. If your pet develops diabetes or another medical condition associated with cataracts, working closely with your veterinarian to manage your pet’s condition as well as possible can help prevent the development of cataracts.

Cataracts themselves can be difficult to prevent, but early detection can be very helpful in preventing blindness or other complications associated with cataracts.


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