Cataracts, Blindness, and Diabetic Dogs
Diabetic dogs can live healthy lives. Unfortunately, a common complication of diabetes in dogs is cataracts (cloudy lenses). In fact, 75% of dogs develop cataracts and blindness in both eyes within 9 months of being diagnosed with diabetes. The cataracts develop very quickly—sometimes overnight! If untreated, the cataracts cause intraocular inflammation called Lens-Induced Uveitis (LIU) that harms the eyes by causing glaucoma (increased intraocular pressure). If the LIU is uncontrolled and glaucoma develops, cataract surgery might not be possible. Glaucoma causes a chronic headache (similar to a migraine). In worst case scenarios, cataracts form rapidly in both eyes, the lens capsules split/rupture, severe LIU occurs resulting in glaucoma and severe painful intraocular inflammation (phacoclastic uveitis), and both eyes need to be surgically removed. This is a tragic outcome, and one to be avoided if possible. Thus, DO NOT WAIT until your dog’s diabetes is controlled, before seeing an ophthalmologist!!
Another very important recommendation is that if your diabetic dog is started on a special canine antioxidant vision supplement BEFORE they develop cataracts, blindness can be prevented in many of these dogs. A 2012 clinical study in Great Britain found that diabetic dogs supplemented daily with this vision supplement did not develop blinding cataracts over a one-year period. This has also been Dr. McCalla’s clinical experience in diabetic dogs, as long as the diabetes remains well-controlled.
If cataracts are developing in your diabetic dog, this is an ophthalmic emergency; you must have your pet examined by a veterinary ophthalmologist as soon as possible. To locate a veterinary ophthalmologist near you, please ask your family veterinarian or visit the ACVO website. You can read about cataract surgery in our article Cataracts and Cataract Surgery in Dogs.
One breed that is at high risk of developing diabetes is Miniature Schnauzers. This breed is prone to developing pancreatitis (a risk factor for diabetes), which may in turn be associated with elevated blood levels of fat (triglycerides). Miniature Schnauzers are genetically predisposed to elevated fat levels (hyperlipidemia), with about 20% (or more, based on clinical studies) of adult dogs being affected. Some dogs do not develop hyperlipidemia until they are at least 3-4 years of age.
Even if cataract surgery is not an option for your pet, an ophthalmic examination is very important, to help you decide what to do for your pet’s eyes. If glaucoma has occurred, your pet might not cue you that it has a headache. If LIU is present, your pet might not cue you that their eyes are inflamed and uncomfortable. These eye problems are often subtle, but if present, medical treatment is required—perhaps even lifetime treatment.
Diabetic dogs actually tend to have a better surgical success rate after cataract surgery than “normal” dogs with cataracts, if it is ‘caught’ early enough. The surgery is same-day surgery, with no overnight hospital stay. Animal Eye Care helps reduce stress for both your pet and for you; prior to surgery, you will sit with your pet in our Comfort Room as you give your pet its preoperative medications and we get your pet ready for surgery. Then we will admit your pet to our hospital for surgery. Following surgery, you will sit with your pet in the Comfort Room as your pet wakes up from anesthesia, and then you both go home. Both eyes are done at the same time.
However, if cataract surgery is not possible, dogs usually adjust to their vision loss and are happy, as long as the eyes are comfortable. There are books and websites that can help your pet if vision loss is permanent: www.blinddogs.net, and the book “My Dog is Blind but Lives Life to the Full” by Nicole HorskyBecause 3 out of every 4 diabetic dogs develop blinding cataracts, and because the cataracts develop quickly and cause blindness that can be permanent if surgery is not performed ASAP, it is important that you educate yourself now about eye care options for your pet. At the very least, start your diabetic dog on a specific canine antioxidant vision supplement BEFORE cataracts form, to help prevent them from forming! Also educate yourself now about diabetes in dogs. An excellent resource is http://www.k9diabetes.com/. Besides proper diet, exercise, insulin dosage, and placing your pet on a specific antioxidant vision supplement, there is also a special veterinary supplement available to help in the regulation and maintenance of blood glucose levels in diabetic dogs and cats (see our Veterinary Supplements page).
Animal Eye Care is located 20 miles south of the Peace Arch Canada/U.S. border— just a 45 minute drive from cities in the southern Vancouver BC suburbs. Dr. McCalla will examine your pet and answer all your questions and concerns, with the care and attention that you and your pet deserve.
Here is some helpful information about diabetes management in dogs:
A handy conversion chart for the two different types of blood glucose measurement units. mg/dl is U.S. and mmol/l is Canada/Europe :
- Living With A Diabetic Dog: How To Keep Your Dog Healthy, Prevent Common Problems And Avoid Complications by Amy Newton Thomas.
- Diabetes in Dogs by J. K. McEnroe
- Sugarbabies: A Holistic Guide to Caring for Your Diabetic Pet by Randi E. Golub CVT