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Canine Cataract Surgery Outcomes

Michele Edelmann, VMD, DACVO Garden State Veterinary Specialists

While almost everyone knows someone who has had cataract surgery, many people are unaware that our canine companions can get cataracts too! They may develop due to genetics, nutrition, diabetes, old age or trauma. Although most dogs are not reading, writing, driving or working, visual impairment from cataracts may still affect the quality of their life. The first sign of cataracts in pets is often a white, cloudy change within the center of the eye. Cataracts may progress to cause complete blindness. If untreated, cataracts may result in painful inflammation and elevated intraocular pressure (glaucoma). 

There are no proven medical treatments like drops or pills that can reverse cataracts. Surgery is the only treatment that can restore vision. Surgery also reduces the risk of painful consequences from cataracts like intraocular inflammation and glaucoma. Cataract surgery involves removing the white, cloudy lens and replacing it with a clear, artificial lens under general anesthesia. Considering the expense, extensive aftercare and follow-up required with cataract surgery, owners of dogs with cataracts often decide whether to pursue this procedure based on reported success rates and the advice of their primary veterinarian. 

Dr. Michele Edelmann, a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist (DACVO) at Garden State Veterinary Specialists, recently conducted a clinical retrospective analysis on the outcome of cataract surgery in 182 eyes of 102 dogs. The average follow-up time after surgery was 327 days. This research has been accepted for publication in the journal “Veterinary Ophthalmology.”

The study found that 100 percent of dogs regained vision immediately postoperatively, and 86 percent of dogs kept that vision long-term. The most common cause of vision loss despite surgery was glaucoma (high ocular pressure). Several factors were associated with success: 

• Early intervention: Dogs who had cataract surgery within weeks or months of developing cataracts had better outcomes than dogs who had cataract surgery years after developing cataracts. 

• Younger patient age: Younger dogs had more positive visual outcomes and reduced risk of developing postoperative glaucoma. 

• Diabetic status: Diabetic dogs had favorable visual outcomes. This was likely since diabetes can cause rapid-onset cataracts and vision loss, and therefore, owners bring their pets in right away (for early intervention.)

• CDE: This study was the first to evaluate an intraoperative variable called Cumulative Dissipated Energy (CDE), and its effect on visual outcome. CDE reflects how much machine energy was required to break up (emulsify) and extract the cataract. The study found that lower CDE is significantly correlated with a positive visual outcome and a reduced risk of glaucoma. 

Veterinary ophthalmologists may now be able to better predict your pet’s chance of success immediately after surgery. If you think your pet may have cataracts, consider scheduling a consultation with an ophthalmologist today.

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