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What To Expect During Canine Cataract Surgery

From The Operating Room To Recovery

By Ellen Thompson. April 28, 2014 | See Comments

Yellow Lab at the Vet

If your dog is getting ready to have cataract surgery, it is important to know what to expect going into surgery as well as what to expect once your pup comes out of surgery. Here are some helpful tips on what to expect and the type of care your dog will require during the long recovery process.

If your dog’s eyes are starting to appear cloudy, chances are they have developed cataracts. This ocular condition occurs when the eye’s lens, made of mostly water and protein, begins to fog due to a rearrangement of the protein. This keeps light from properly entering the eye.

The most common cause of cataracts in dogs is genetics. Breeds with a genetic predisposition to the condition include the Cocker Spaniel, Poodle, Siberian Husky, Schnauzer, Old English Sheepdog, Samoyed, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Maltese, Boston Terrier, and Yorkshire Terrier. Aging, diabetes, and trauma are other common causes.

Partial or complete loss of vision may occur when cataracts develop, so of course you’ll want to act as quickly and effectively as possible. One of the most effective treatments is cataract surgery, in which the cloudy lens is removed and an artificial lens is implanted to restore or improve vision.

How Will I Know if Cataract Surgery Is Necessary?

No pet parent wants to put their loved one under the knife if they don’t have to, especially if your pet is older, which is when dogs typically develop cataracts.

What you need to keep in mind is that cataract surgery is not a vital life-saving surgery. It is a quality of life surgery, meaning it’s not always necessary. But if you’re looking to improve your dog’s quality of life by giving them a clearer view of the world, then cataract surgery may be the answer. However, your dog will first have to go through a few screenings and tests to see if they are able to undergo the procedure.

A veterinary ophthalmologist will perform an eye exam to be sure the ocular condition is in fact a cataract. Your dog’s general health will then be assessed, since they will have to be put under anesthesia for the surgery. Tests will take place a month before the surgery and include blood and urine analysis, possible chest x-rays, EKGs, or other procedures as recommended by your vet.

Attention will then be placed on preexisting conditions that could affect the surgery; if your dog is on cortisone medications or arthritis drugs, they must be stopped at least 10 days before the surgery. You’ll also have to keep any inflammation of the eye (due to an infection or other issue, for example) to a minimum with anti-inflammatory eye drops before the surgery. 

What Does Canine Cataract Surgery Entail?

Once all preliminary screening is complete and the vet has determined your dog is a good candidate for canine cataract surgery, the procedure, known as phacoemulsification, will be scheduled. Here’s what to expect:

  • Your dog will be hospitalized for three to four days.
  • General anesthesia will be administered.
  • A small incision in the eye will be made and and a gel will be injected to keep the eye from collapsing.
  • The cloudy lens will be removed and a plastic, lightweight intraocular lens implant (IOL) will be put in its place.
  • The eye is then closed with small, absorbent sutures.

How Can I Help My Dog Through Recovery After Cataract Surgery?

Caring for your pet after such a delicate surgery is extremely important and will include:

  • Regular anti inflammatory medications such as pills, eye drops, and ointments several times daily for four to six weeks post surgery.
  • Use of an Elizabethan collar for four weeks post surgery.
  • Reduction in exercise. Too much activity can cause retinal detachment or the sutures to break.  
  • Reduction in barking. Again, this can cause retinal detachment or the sutures to break. This may mean fewer walks and reasons for excitement.
  • Regular visits to the veterinary ophthalmologist for evaluations up to a year post surgery.

The success rate of canine cataract surgery is about 90 percent. Keep in mind that certain breeds are more at risk for developing post-surgery complications, such as retinal detachment and glaucoma.

Infection, inflammation, bleeding, and ocular scarring are other complications that may occur if correct post-surgery care is not followed. 

More on Eye Health

What Causes Cherry Eye In Dogs And Cats?
Cat And Dog Glaucoma
Cat And Dog Conjunctivitis Treatments At A Glance

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Canine Cataract Surgery at a glance

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  • 1Canine cataract surgery is a quality of life procedure, not a life-saving procedure.
  • 2The surgery entails implanting an artificial lens to restore or improve vision.
  • 3Success rates soar at around 90 percent.