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Questions for Dr. Shawn - Blindness, Cataracts

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"Dear Dr. Shawn:
"My 10-year old dog seems to be losing his sight. He can’t fetch like he used to, and occasionally bumps into corners. I suspect he has a mild cataract. What causes them, and is there anything I can do to preserve his sight? He is in great shape otherwise."

Answer:
"A cataract, which is technically an increased opacification and calcification of the lens in the eye, can occur at any age. Puppies and kittens can be born with congenital cataracts, and dogs can develop cataracts as a result of diabetes. However, most cataracts are senile cataracts that develop in older pets, usually 10 years of age and older. Particular breeds such as poodles, cocker spaniels, and other small breeds are more commonly affected than other breeds. While various herbs and homeopathics such as bilberry or cineraria might slow down the growth of cataracts and are always worth trying, in cases of severe cataracts (mature or hypermature cataracts) surgery is usually necessary in order to restore vision.

A much more common problem in older pets is called nuclear sclerosis. In this very common condition in older pets, the lens starts to look a bit cloudy. However, vision is not interfered with and the condition does not progress. Usually, your veterinarian can tell the difference with a simple ophthalmic examination. By looking at the eyes in a darkened room, a light is shined through each lens. If the light reaches the back (retina) of the eye, the diagnosis is nuclear sclerosis. If the doctor can’t see the retina, then a cataract is diagnosed and more testing can be done if needed. If surgery is needed, most pets do very well, suffer few complications, and return to near-normal vision."


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