Cataracts are one of the leading causes of blindness in dogs.
And like many dogs with cataracts, Bernie has simply adapted, so much so that he is commonly mistaken for a sighted dog.
Tom and Madeline, Bernie's owners, are considering having the 7-year-old schnauzer's cataracts removed and wonder about the possibility of regained sight for him. According to them, Bernie developed cataracts in both eyes when he was about 2 and eventually became totally blind.
A cataract is described as any opacity that develops within the lens of the eye. These can be focal changes that only obscure a portion of the lens, leading to some degree of blindness, or they can completely opacify the lens and cause total blindness. Dogs can be born with cataracts or can develop them at an early age, as I suspect is the case with Bernie. He may have started to develop his cataracts earlier in life, with Madeline and Tom noticing the change as his sight became affected.
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There are cataracts that occur as a result of underlying metabolic disease, such as is diabetes mellitus.
Treatment is available for dogs. It involves a specialized surgical procedure and usually results in complete resolution.
I am sure there are many of you who have had cataract surgery and can attest to its merits. In humans, of course, the surgery is most often done well before blindness occurs. In dogs, the opposite is usually the case.
Cataract surgery in dogs is usually done by a specialist in veterinary ophthalmology. One point to consider before surgery is whether the eyes are able to function behind the cataracts, because if they are, removal of the cataracts can restore vision. There is a significant cost involved. Still, it is certainly worth discussing with your veterinarian.
Beyond the cataract removal, Tom and Madeline will have the option of having the ophthalmologist implant a lens replacement in one or both of Bernie's eyes, which then will allow for more normal visual acuity.
Jeff Kahler is a veterinarian in Modesto. Questions can be submitted to Your Pet in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.