Like humans, our pets can also experience cataract formation! Cataract formation is a common and correctable cause for changes in a pet’s vision. Before we dive in though, let’s first back up and explain this eye disease. Normally, the lens of the eye focuses light onto the retina to create a clear image of the world around us. However, when the lens becomes a cataract, it becomes cloudy or pearl-like within the eye and the image is no longer in focus. The cataract decreases visual acuity, or the ability of the eye to distinguish shapes and details of objects at a given distance. Pets with complete cataract formation can still appreciate light, dark, and shadows.
Cataract surgery remains the only method to restore vision in pets (and people!) with vision loss. For this reason, we’re sharing the five-step process to veterinary cataract surgeries to provide pet parents with a better understanding of the surgery itself, as well as pre-surgery and post-surgery expectations. So, without further ado, here are the five steps of your pet’s cataract surgery!
Step One: The Initial Exam
After your pet is referred to a board-certified ophthalmologist, your pet’s medical history will be reviewed. Then, the ophthalmologist and Ophthalmology team will perform a comprehensive eye exam – which includes a microscopic assessment of your pet’s eyes, vision, eye pressure (via tonometry), tear production (via a Schirmer tear test), and fluorescein stain application.
Step Two: Pre-Surgical Testing
Since our pets can’t speak, all cataract surgery patients undergo screening tests prior to surgery. This helps to determine if your pet is a suitable candidate for the surgery. These tests include an ultrasound of the eye, electrical testing of the retina (via electroretinogram), and screening for glaucoma (via gonioscopy).
Step Three: Discussion about Surgery Pros and Cons
Depending on exam findings and pre-surgical testing, your pet may or may not be a candidate for cataract surgery. Either way, we will have a candid conversation with you about your pet’s ability to have a successful surgery outcome, what to expect after surgery, long-term care, and complications.
Step Four: The Surgery
Now for the actual cataract surgery – which is similar to human cataract surgery. It’s worth mentioning that in dogs, cataract surgery has an 80-90% success rate! After surgery prep, including administration of general anesthesia, here is a brief breakdown of what happens during your pet’s cataract surgery:
- After entering the eye, a circular incision is made in the lens capsule.
- The lens material is removed resulting in an empty capsule.
- A synthetic lens implant is then inserted into the empty capsule to help focus light onto the retina.
- Note: Lens implants are not required for vision, but they focus light on the retina and improve visual acuity after surgery.
- Your pet can see immediately, and vision will continue to improve for 1-2 weeks following surgery.
- Most patients have significant inflammation following cataract surgery. Frequent topical and oral medications are used after surgery to reduce the inflammation and the risk of complications. Treatments are reduced slowly after surgery; however, most dogs require low-frequency, life-long eye drops.
- The most significant complications of cataract surgery in dogs are retinal detachment and glaucoma.
Step Five: Frequent Follow-Up Exams
Multiple follow-up exams are recommended after your pet’s cataract surgery. Typically, patients are seen one day, one week, two weeks, one month, and then three months following surgery. Rechecks are then recommended every six months for long-term follow-up and monitoring.
At Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota, we understand that cataract surgery is a major investment in your pet’s vision. You can expect an honest assessment of your pet’s candidacy for cataract surgery and an individualized treatment plan whether or not you choose to proceed with surgery. Please speak with your family veterinarian or schedule a consultation with our Ophthalmology Service if you have concerns about your pet’s vision.