One of the most common conditions that affect a dog’s eyes are cataracts. The formation of cataracts in dogs can be caused by various things. All breeds and ages of dogs can develop cataracts but certain breeds are more susceptible to cataracts than others; among these are Cocker Spaniels, Poodles, Miniature Schnauzers, and Terriers.
Cataracts are an interference of lens fibers that obstruct sight by blocking clarity in the lens, either partially or totally. Smaller cataracts may not disrupt a dog’s vision at first, but the cataract could grow in size and density and cause a dog to lose its sight entirely if the cataract is not removed.
Cataracts that form in dogs over 6 years of age are called “senile cataracts.” When cataracts develop much earlier than this they are called “developmental cataracts.” Developmental cataracts can be hereditary or caused by trauma, infection, toxicity, or diabetes. “Inherited cataracts” are common in Standard Poodles, Afghan Hounds, Miniature Schnauzers, Old English Sheepdogs, and Welsh Springer Spaniels.
Congenital cataracts are present at birth; developmental cataracts develop early in a dog’s life; senile cataracts occur in dogs over six years of age, and inherited cataracts occur independently or in association with other visual diseases. Cataracts can also be caused by a trauma related to an auto accident or an object penetrating the eye. In trauma cases, the lens becomes damaged and a cataract may develop.
As a dog ages, eye health becomes a major concern. Over time, free radicals can cause oxidative stress on the cells of the eyes, and as a consequence, dogs have more difficulty fighting oxidative stress as they get older.
Exposure to oxygen and sunlight causes a chemical reaction in the cells, and the lens of the eyes are affected by this oxidative action because the lens acts as a light shield for the retina. Blood flow also decreases as the animal ages, resulting in nutrients being slowly depleted from the eye, causing even more stress and damage.
Dog cataracts are not a problem you might face only if you have an older dog. Cataracts can form at a fairly early age in some breeds. Afghan Hounds can develop cataracts at age 6-12 months, American Cocker Spaniels at 6 months or slightly older, German Shepherds at 8 weeks, Golden Retrievers at 6 months or later, Labrador Retrievers at 6 months or later, Siberian Huskies at 6 months or later, and the Standard Poodle at a year or later.
Cataracts are easy to identify by their white or bluish-white appearance in the pupil of the eye. If you suspect that your dog has or is developing cataracts or an eye problem, contact a veterinary ophthalmologist immediately.