Cataract Surgery for Dogs: What to Expect

Cataracts are a common problem in humans. They cause vision problems and they affect our ability to see clearly. There are many different types of cataracts, but there are two main types that most people experience at some point in their lives: Age Related Cataracts (AR) and Glaucoma. AR cats have already developed the disease when they were young; it’s called neovascularization or vascular aging. Glaucoma is a condition where the eye’s lens becomes inflamed, causing increased pressure inside the eye. These conditions often develop together, so if one develops first, it usually means that both will eventually progress to become worse. Both diseases can be fatal without treatment.

The causes of these disorders are not completely understood yet; however, they’re thought to result from changes in cell growth and death processes within the retina which leads to damage and loss of light sensitivity.

There are several treatments available for AR and glaucoma, including prescription drugs such as Warfarin (Coumadin), which reduces blood clotting, and anti-coagulants like Coumadin (Lovenox). These medications work well in treating the symptoms of these diseases. However, these medications do not cure them.

Treatment options for dogs with cataracts include surgical procedures such as LASIK or laser surgery. However, the underlying diseases cannot be cured using these procedures. Other options for treating age-related cataracts include lens replacement and intraocular lens (IOL).

In Canine Glaucoma, extra fluid constantly builds up in the eye. This increases pressure inside the eye and may cause the delicate tissue to slowly die. It’s important to get treatment as early as possible since glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in humans.

Common symptoms include redness of the eye, eye pain, and increased sensitivity to light. Glaucoma can only be diagnosed with certainty by a vet. It’s usually detected during a routine check-up. The underlying cause is unknown, but certain types of glaucoma occur in certain breeds of dogs including poodles, Boston terriers, and shih tzus.

Tracking an animal’s eye health is vital since some symptoms are rarely noticed by their owners. A simple blood-pressure test can detect early glaucoma and mean life-long vision is saved.

The causes of cataracts are usually related to either a combination of genetics and diet, which means they’re “silent”; the formation of crystals inside the lens, also known as “age-related fiberous cataracts”. These are called “snowstorm cataracts”. Other types are “hemicataracts”, which are usually only found in the eyes of people who have had jaundice as a child.

A combination of age and exposure to sunlight or another source of radiation can also cause cataracts. These cataracts are called “solar cataracts”.

Cataract surgery is a simple, safe and common procedure that is routinely carried out by most vets. It involves removing the cloudy lens from the eye and replacing it with a clear artificial one. After the operation, most pets can see almost as well as they could before the surgery.

The operation takes about 15 minutes and can be performed under local anesthetic.

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Infectious keratitis (IK) is a contagious infection of the cornea, where the transparent outer layer of tissue (cornea) of the eye becomes damaged and begins to disintegrate. It is often caused by a combination of a genetic susceptibility to the disease and environmental factors.

Most animals affected with IK are 2-5 years old when the disease becomes apparent, but it can occur much earlier and later in life as well.

Infectious Keratitis is not as common as other eye diseases in dogs, but it is an important one to be aware of since it has potentially devastating consequences if left untreated.


The main symptom of IK is eye pain. Your dog may rub his eye(s), seem agitated or restless, and the eye(s) may be red and have a lot of liquid drainage. If the disease is advanced enough, there may be other symptoms such as a grayish-white patch on the cornea, swollen eyelids, and lethargy.


Since IK is a disease that primarily attacks the cornea, it is important that your veterinarian treats the eye itself. This may involve flushing out the eye several times to remove infectious material and applying topical medication to kill the bacteria causing the disease. In advanced cases, surgery may be required to fully remove the damaged tissue from around the eye.

Most dogs respond well to treatment and can recover their normal eye function within a few weeks.


Since IK is an infectious disease, it is important that if your dog has had it, he not be introduced to other dogs who are in multi-dog households until his disease has been resolved. IK is also a good example of why breeders should have their breeding stock checked for eye diseases on a yearly basis and not just once when they are adults.

The actual causes of the disease are corneal ulcers and an overgrowth of certain bacteria. The main bacteria involved are “pseudomonas aeruginosa” and “streptococcus”. These eat away at the cornea and cause extreme pain to the dog it infects.

There are many risk factors involved, and not all dogs that have these bacteria in their eyes develop the disease.

The main ones are genetics (only certain breeds such as collies, Scottish terriers, Shetland sheepdogs, and some mixed breeds are at risk), age (dogs over 3 years of age are more likely to develop IK), and immune system status (dogs with an otherwise healthy immune system are less likely to develop IK).

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Once the disease is in full swing, it can require several surgeries and potentially months of eye ointment applications to cure. In some cases, dogs are unable to recover vision after the disease is done with them. The sooner the disease is caught and treated, the more likely a full recovery will be made.

Cataracts are a clouding of the lens of the eye, which prevents light from passing through and allows the retina to receive images. Not all cataracts cause vision loss, but all vision loss over time is caused by cataracts. They can be congenital (present at birth), or they can be acquired later in life.

While there are several types of cataracts, the main two that affect dogs are mature and juvenile. A mature cataract is one whose formation begins in the dog’s adulthood. The other, a juvenile cataract is rarer and starts to form in the dog before birth.

While there is no actual cure on hand for cataracts, there are treatments available that can help your dog see more comfortably. Your veterinarian may recommend surgery or application of certain drugs to help with the cloudiness of the lens. In some cases where the cataract has not caused too much vision loss, no treatment may be necessary at all.

However, surgery is usually the preferred treatment.

Cataracts can form quite suddenly in your dog, and catching it early can help the dog resume everyday activities. The main sign of cataracts is a loss of vision in the affected eye. Other signs can be a “glazed over” look to the eye or an increase in blinking with the eye.

Mats are another painful condition that can affect your dog’s eyes. While technically they can form anywhere on your dog’s body, they are most common on the top of the dog’s head and near the eyes. Their formation is caused by a buildup of dead hair around the hair follicles of the skin.

The pain associated with mats is caused by the pulling action of the mat on the skin as the dog tries to move around. The longer the mat stays in place, the more likely dead skin and fur will get caught up in it and cause a painful hotspot. The symptoms are pretty obvious; your dog will either have a lot of swelling around one of his eyes or a large mass that he is trying to scratch at constantly.

Since the eyes are very sensitive, this can be an especially painful condition for your dog.

Not all mats are caused by dead hair, however. Sometimes mats can be caused by long sections of hair that have been rubbed the wrong way and curled under the skin. They can also form from long fur that has not been groomed properly; making sure to brush out all of the dead underside hairs can help prevent matting from occurring.

There is no actual cure for mats. They can only be removed. However, this is not a job that you can do at home.

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Vets and groomers are the only ones who should be attempting to remove mats from your dog’s skin. This is because mats are especially painful when they are pulled at and even the gentlest of removal methods (cutting them out) can cause them to be painful to your dog. Having a professional do it when they are already at the vet’s office or grooming salon is usually not too much more expensive and it will be worth it to your dog.

Torn or damaged ear tissue can cause deafness in dogs. The most common cause of this deafness is from the inner ear becoming infected. This infection sometimes causes the eardrum to break, which then allows the infection to enter the middle and inner parts of the ear.

This is especially easy if your dog’s ear canals are shaped in a way that traps dirt and debris inside of them.

The symptoms of a broken eardrum and inner ear infection are pretty apparent, and can include disorientation and head-shaking on the part of your dog. Your dog may also develop a fever or “drunken gait” as another sign that he is sick.

If your dog is suffering from a broken eardrum and inner ear infection, the treatment will vary depending on how bad the problem is. Sometimes, vets will be able to clear up the infection with medication and cleaning of the ear canals. In other cases, the vet may have to perform a surgery to remove the middle and inner parts of the ear that were infected so that they can heal.

Some dogs will recover completely from this surgery; others will suffer permanent deafness in that ear.

As you can see, ears are a complex part of your dog’s anatomy with many potential problems. Since there is a lot involved, it is important to take good care of your dog’s ears. Make sure he always has access to clean, fresh water and that you put ear cleaner drops in his ears once a month.

If your dog goes swimming, make sure to dry his ears completely or they are likely to become infected. As a last resort, you can buy cotton earplugs that you can put in your dog’s ears when he goes swimming so that water doesn’t get trapped inside.

If you notice any of the symptoms of a broken eardrum or inner ear infection, take your dog to the vet. Just because he’s showing no signs right now, doesn’t mean that he isn’t suffering from it. Ignoring the problem will only allow it to get worse and could lead to permanent hearing loss.

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If you catch it in time, there is a good chance that your dog can recover from this condition.

Cleaning your dog’s ears on a regular basis will help you to notice potential problems before they get out of hand. It will also help to keep the odor down, which is always a good thing when it comes to your dogs!

Questions and comments go below.

Sources & references used in this article:

The effect of elective phacofragmentation on central corneal thickness in the dog by GL Lynch, JL Brinkis – Veterinary ophthalmology, 2006 – Wiley Online Library

Cataract Surgery in Dogs by S Woodham-Davies – Veterinary Nursing Journal, 2019 – Taylor & Francis

Evaluation of the testosterone response to hCG and the identification of a presumed anorchid dog by GCW England, WE Allen… – Journal of Small Animal …, 1989 – Wiley Online Library

Anaesthetic regimes for cataract removal in the dog by SS Young, KC Barnett, PM Taylor – Journal of small Animal …, 1991 – Wiley Online Library

Canine retinal surgery by SJ Vainisi, JC Wolfer – Veterinary Ophthalmology, 2004 – Wiley Online Library