Diabetic Dogs: Helping to Prevent Blinding Diabetic Cataracts In Your Patients
We know that diabetic dogs can live healthy lives. Unfortunately, a common complication of diabetes in dogs is cataracts. In fact, 75% of dogs develop cataracts and blindness in both eyes within one year of being diagnosed with diabetes— and often much sooner. 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). Unfortunately, some patients with rapid-onset diabetic cataracts will develop severely swollen (intumescent) lenses due to the osmotic change occurring within the lenses. The lens capsules of these swollen cataracts can split and rupture, resulting in severe LIU-induced endophthalmitis (“phacoclastic uveitis”). These eyes either need emergency cataract surgery (if possible) or the affected eye(s) need to be surgically removed. It is a terrible complication of diabetic cataracts, and is the primary reason that diabetic cataracts are usually an emergency condition requiring immediate care by an ophthalmologist.
However, if your diabetic patient is placed on the daily canine antioxidant vision supplement BEFORE it develops significant diabetic cataracts, it can help prevent blinding cataracts from forming. A one-year clinical study was performed in Great Britain and presented at the 2012 ACVO Annual Scientific Proceedings, in which diabetic dogs that were supplemented did not develop blinding cataracts, as long as the supplement was given daily and doses were not missed.
Additionally, if the diabetes is difficult to control in your patient, dogs (and also cats) may benefit from being placed on a specific supplement designed to help regulate glucose metabolism (see our Veterinary Supplement page).
However, if cataracts are forming, it is important to have your pet examined by a veterinary ophthalmologist as soon as possible. You can read about cataract surgery in our article Cataracts in Dogs, here on this website. Dr. Terri McCalla can consult with you regarding your patient, or you can refer them to our office ASAP.
Even if cataract surgery is not an option, an ophthalmic examination is very important, to help the owner decide what to do for their pet’s eyes. If glaucoma has occurred, the dog might not cue the owner that it has a headache. If LIU is present, the dog might not cue the owner that the eyes are inflamed and uncomfortable. These eye problems are often subtle, but if present, medical treatment is required—perhaps even lifetime treatment.
In Dr. McCalla’s experience, diabetic dogs tend to have a better surgical success rate after cataract surgery than “normal” dogs with cataracts. The surgery is same-day surgery, with no overnight hospital stay. Both eyes are operated on 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 these patients if vision loss is permanent: www.blinddogs.net, and the book My Dog is Blind: But Lives Life to the Full! by Nichole Horsky (available on Amazon.com)
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 suburbs. Dr. McCalla will examine your patient and answer all of your clients’ questions and concerns, with the care and attention that they deserve.
Because 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, AND because some cataracts result in lens rupture and removal of the eye(s), rapid referral to a veterinary ophthalmologist should occur as soon as possible following diagnosis of diabetes.