Are your pet’s eyes looking a little cloudy? It could be the lens thickening with age, but it could be something more serious. Here, we give you a peek into the world of veterinary ophthalmology by addressing a common medical condition affecting the lens - cataracts.
What is the lens of the eye?
In a healthy eye, the lens is a small clear structure that sits behind the pupil and is held by the iris. While the lens is just one part of the eye, it plays a vital role in your pet’s vision: it focuses the light rays that pass through onto the retina, providing clear images of objects regardless of their distance.
What causes cataracts?
Any part of the eye including the lens is susceptible to disease, which has the potential to impair your pet’s vision. Cataracts are the opacities in the lens of the eye, giving the eyes a cloudy or hazy appearance. This condition affects older and younger pets alike. Over 150 dog breeds may inherit genes that contribute to hereditary cataracts.*
The most common causes of cataracts in dogs is heredity and diabetes mellitus while in cats it is uveitis, an inflammatory condition in the eye leading to eye redness and pain. Other causes of cataracts include:
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Metabolic disorders
- Age-related disease
- Exposure to radiation during cancer treatment
Symptoms of cataracts
Get your pet to the vet if you notice a cloudy, bluish or white appearance in one or both eyes or, if your pet’s actions lead you to believe they are having struggling with their eyesight. If left untreated, cataracts can lead to lens luxation (movement of the lens out of its normal position), glaucoma, eye inflammation, eye pain and complete blindness.
Treatment of cataracts
Like with many medical conditions, the treatment depends on the underlying cause. Diagnostic tests, such as an ophthalmic examination and blood work, help veterinarians and veterinary ophthalmologists identify the cause and appropriate treatment. The most common and effective treatment for pet cataracts is surgery.
Cataract surgery involves removing or dissolving the affected lens (lensectomy via phacoemulsification) and replacing it with an artificial lens or lens implant. According to Petplan’s claims data in 2019, the average cost of cataract surgery is $4,530!
Will pet insurance cover cataracts?
Pet insurance will not cover the diagnostics or treatment for pre-existing conditions. This means if the cataracts or the cause of the cataracts were evident prior to the start of your policy, it will not be covered. That is why it’s so important to protect your pet as soon as possible.
Pet insurance providers will pick up the costs after you enroll and the waiting periods have passed, but make sure you find the most comprehensive coverage. If you have a breed that has a higher risk of cataracts, you may want to find a provider that has hereditary condition protection. It’s important to be aware of common costs associated with the condition and see what each provider will cover before enrolling.
In most cases, cataracts cannot be prevented. However monitoring for symptoms of vision loss or eye changes at home combined with regular veterinary exams will allow you and your veterinarian to detect a problem at first sight.
*Davidson MG, Nelms SR : Diseases of the Canine Lens and Cataract Formation. Veterinary Ophthalmology, 4 ed. Blackwell, Ames IA 2007 pp. 859-887.
**Maggs, D, Miller, P, Ofri, R : Slatter’s Fundamentals of Veterinary Ophthalmology, 4 ed. St. Louis, MO 2008.
†Collins, BK : The Blind Cat. (Proceedings). Waltham Feline Medicine Symposium, 1997. Cote, E : Clinical Veterinary Advisor: Dogs and Cats, St. Louis, MO 2007 pp. 182-184.
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