Recently, our 14-year old dog, Scrappy, developed a cataract in her right eye that matured very rapidly. Her inability to see out of that eye was quickly noticeable. She would bump into things, seemed less sure of her surroundings, and even fell down the stairs a few times. Her lens, which helps to focus light on the retina allowing her to see, had become so opaque that it reduced the amount of light entering her eye. Thus, causing her vision loss. As with most cataracts, old age is the most probable cause. They can be seen in younger dogs but the cause is more likely due to hereditary disease (Labrador Retrievers and Boston Terriers for example), other illnesses such as diabetes, or injuries to the eye. Cats can develop cataracts but it is rare.
If your pet is diagnosed with a cataract it will be placed into one of four categories: incipient, immature, mature, and hypermature. Incipient describes a cataract that is so tiny it obscures less than 15% of the lens and causes no visual impairments. Immature cataracts block more than 15% of the lens and may involve different layers or areas of the lens and mild visual deficits appear. Mature cataracts block the entire lens, the retina cannot be seen in an exam, and the pet will experience near-blindness to blindness. Hypermature cataracts cause the lens to shrink and the lens capsule to appear wrinkled, resulting in total blindness and painful inflammation.
In Scrappy’s case, her cataract was diagnosed mature and due to the rapid onset of the maturity required immediate surgery by a veterinary opthamologist. If we had not done the surgery it would have led to a hypermature lens that would have completely broken away and ended up at the front of her eye causing tremendous painful pressure and permanent blindness. I am happy to report that her surgery was a success and she is now able to see again from her eye. The change in her has also been impressive to watch as she has a renewed sense of confidence that she can navigate her environment. My husband and I couldn’t be happier. A special thank you to Dr. Broadwater of Charlotte Animal Referral and Emergency Hospital for taking such great care of our little girl.