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Ophthalmologic

This is a Eyes condition.

Hereditary Cataracts

What is Hereditary Cataracts?

One of the leading causes of blindness in dogs (and humans!), cataracts are a progressive disease of the lens that causes functional blindness, but can be surgically corrected. The lens maintains a precise ordering of fibers such that it remains perfectly transparent: that’s why your dog’s pupils are black, because you're looking right through the lens into the pigmented back of the eye, and why light passes through it unhindered. With cataracts, the fibers grow disordered, leading to lens clouding, light failing to hit the retina, and blindness. Cataracts usually start as a small point in the lens and while some don't change size at all, some can grow to encompass the entire lens. Dogs with cataracts have a characteristic milky blue pupil and are functionally blind, though some can still see shadows. Currently, the only treatment for cataracts is surgical, where the cloudy interior of the lens is removed and replaced with a clear synthetic lens material. While cataracts are typically a disease of the aged dog and can be associated with other eye diseases (these would be termed secondary cataracts), certain breeds are genetically predisposed to developing primary cataracts. In these breeds, cataracts can develop as young as weeks to months of age, and are so termed juvenile cataracts.

What are the signs & symptoms that develop in affected dogs?

Affected dogs will first show a cloudy haze in their pupil that becomes progressively more milky blue to crystalline in appearance. Vision will become progressively worse, and dogs may start bumping into furniture, be more hesitant on steps, and run into walls or doorways.

When do signs and symptoms develop?

While cataracts are typically a disease of the aged dog and can be associated with other eye diseases (these would be termed secondary cataracts), mutations in the HSF4 gene cause cataracts to form at an accelerated rate in comparatively young dogs (approximately 2-7 years of age).

How do vets diagnose this condition?

Veterinarians will examine your dog’s eyes, and may use a light or lens to assist in the diagnosis. Please note that there are other ocular diseases that are commonly mistaken for cataracts so be sure to have your dog evaluated by a veterinarian.

How is this condition treated?

Surgical correction by a veterinary ophthalmologist is currently the only treatment available to restore your dog’s vision. The other alternative is careful monitoring and lifestyle changes to make your dog’s blindness more manageable.

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