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Maxamillion knocks out Cataracts

by Katie McKay | Jan 24, 2014

Normal vision and good working peepers mean good quality of life for our dogs, but dogs are actually very resilient when it comes to adapting to loss of sight.  Eyes are very important indicators of health and the best thing you can do is watch for potential problems.  Most can be fixed if caught early enough. 

Good things:

  • Clear and moist
  • No discharge (look for colored, watery or thick) and check for “redish” fur around the eyes which is indicative of wetness
  • No redness.  The third eyelid below the eye is naturally a pink to red color but the white part of the eye should not be red
  • Pupil size is normal and responds to light (shrinks in bright light)

Bad things:

  • Squinting or excessive blinking
  • Rubbing the eyes with paws or on the furniture or carpeting
  • Excessive discharge
  • Thick and yellow or green discharge from the eyes
  • Signs of pain like holding the eye closed, not wanting to be pet or touched on the head

Let’s get back to Maxamillion and his special eyes.  Max has cataracts. Although these are fairly common, they are not always correctly identified by pet owners.  Remember when we talked about the lens and how it’s soft and stretchy?  The lens is made of mostly water and protein.  The proteins are very orderly and well-mannered and line up to keep the lens clear and allow light to pass through it.  Well as we age, the proteins lose the zip in their step (stinks getting old) and may begin to clump together making a part of the lens cloudy (immature cataract).  Over time, if proteins keep clumping, they cloud up more and more of the lens (mature cataracts). Cataracts are mostly related to aging, but sometimes can develop because of other problems.  Diabetic dogs can develop cataracts as fast as overnight!  They can also develop from trauma or are inherited, which is a problem with golden retriever and other irresponsible dog breeding.  Typically they develop in both eyes and develop at the same rate, which can be a few months to a few years.

This is Max’s left eye containing a mature cataract.  Unfortunately since, like most rescue dogs, we don’t know a lot about his history, we’re not sure how long he’s had it.

 

Natural clouding of the eye, called lenticular sclerosis is often confused with cataracts.  Normal aging causes a hardening and thickening of the lens which causes it to become gray and the pupil will appear cloudy.  It, unlike cataracts, does not seem to affect eyesight, but can affect depth perception after time.  It is tough to distinguish, so you should always make sure your dog has a good eye exam with your veterinarian.




This is a picture of Max’s right eye. Most of what you see here is lenticular sclerosis or normal aging changes, but if you look very closely you can see a very small cataract developing in this eye too.  The cataract is very white and opaque and is shown by the arrow.  Lenticular Sclerosis is grayish/blue and more cloudy than opaque and is the area around the cataract.  



Again, it’s tough to tell the difference, so make sure your vet does a full exam to help distinguish what is what.  Remember before that normally cataracts develop in both eyes at the same time, but Max’s are quite different.  This makes our medical decision making for our dogs much more difficult because we don’t know their history.




We are lucky to have so many partners in rescue.  The experts at Animal Eye Care examined Max and with their guidance, we decided that since Max had lost vision in his left eye, but still retained most of the vision in his right eye, the best thing for him was surgery to remove the mature cataract.  It could take months or years for the right eye to worsen, but waiting so we could do them both at the same time, was likely to result in permanent damage.  The longer the mature cataract is obstructing vision, the more damage to the retina and other fragile parts of the eye.  Removing the mature cataract now would give Max the best vision and the best options down the road should the smaller cataract grow and cause a problem.  The surgery is very similar to human cataract surgery where the old lens is broken up, removed and then replaced with a plastic or acrylic lens or “Phacoemulsification with intraocular lens implant”.  I dare you to use that in a sentence.  If you are feeling especially thirsty for knowledge, there are videos of the actual surgery (strong stomachs only) and computer generated versions on YouTube.  It’s really pretty fascinating, yes I did watch it……twice.

Leading up to the surgery, Max had to get eye drops twice a day.  For the surgery to be successful, inflammation must be controlled both before and after.  The vets can monitor the inflammation by monitoring the pressures in the eyes.  Normally these pressures run around 10 to 25 and are measured in millimeters of mercury, (just go with it, it’s way too complicated to explain). Immediately following surgery Max’s pressures were around 15mmHg and were measured every hour.  Typically these pressures are monitored regularly for 6-8 weeks as the eye heals from surgery.  Within that time, light sensitivity decreases and vision becomes more refined and clear.  This, of course is very dramatic for dogs that have both eyes done at once, since they go from only being able to see dark and light to being able to see again!  For Max, it was more about keeping better tabs on a tennis ball when I threw it.  The post care was pretty straight-forward….no violent head shaking and three types of eye drops that would gradually be decreased over the next two to three months.  With the handy white board and dry erase markers at my side, we were able to keep up with the rotation and Max was a good sport about it.

Unfortunately Max was less than cooperative about a post op pic, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.  He’s sure to be attending our next swim when the weather warms up, so you can see for yourself.  

So keep an "eye" on your dog's peepers and stay on top of their health!  We'll have one more discussion about other eye problems and what to do in case you encounter one.  In most cases it's an emergency, when it comes to eye problems and we all know emergencies always happen when our regular vet offices are closed.

Til next time!

Cheers!

Katie