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Many pet owners worry that eye disease could compromise the health, safety, and quality of life of their favorite pooch. So what's to be done?
Vision loss in dogs can be caused by one of two things: cataracts or nuclear sclerosis. To determine which condition is causing the sight loss, an electroretingram (ERG) or ultrasound is used. This test detects retinal disease in a dog's eyes. If diagnosed with nuclear sclerosis, there is no option to reverse the condition, but if cataracts are found, veterinary ophthalmologist Dr. Ralph Hamor assures dog owners surgery is a safe option.
However, before assuming your dog has cataracts, it's important to know that aging dogs are also prone to nuclear sclerosis, the hardening of the lens that causes their clear lens to take on a grayish appearance. Fortunately the grayish-blue haze does not interfere with your canine's vision. Nuclear sclerosis also occurs in humans causing people in their 40s and older to need reading glasses as they lose their ability to see things closely. Luckily, dogs that are diagnosed with nuclear sclerosis never had good near-vision in the first place, so the change in their eyes doesn't make a significant difference to their sight.
Eyes are like cameras and have a clear lens inside them we use to focus and see. Cataracts start out as a fuzzy, opaque haze that lies within that clear lens. As cataracts intensify, they can interfere and blur vision. Cataracts in both people and dogs have the ability to blind as the condition worsens.
Surgery is not an option for all dogs. Considered a quality of life surgery versus a life-saving surgery, ophthalmologists must evaluate cataract candidate pooches. Most dogs who are diagnosed with cataracts do not need to remove them because most lens opacities in dogs are small and don't significantly affect their vision. In the case of dogs with worsened vision or blindness due to cataracts, however, giving a blind dog its sight back can significantly improve the dog's life experience.
"For a blind dog to again be able to see its owner, to play with toys, look out the window and actually see things - this is life-changing for canine patients and their owners," said Dr. McCalla to AnimalEyeCare. "This is especially true if the dog is elderly and deaf or hard of hearing - to have its vision restored can make a huge difference in its quality of life."
With the ability to see again, comes a price to pay. Cataract surgery currently costs about $4,000 due to the specialized equipment and training required for the procedure. Using tools initally created for humans, the price includes the advanced training and expertise of a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist.
So with all things considered, it will be up to you to decide whether to make an appointment for Fido. Rest assured, the procedure will be safe, but also keep in mind dogs have an easy time adjusting to their declining eyesight!