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Cataracts in Dogs and Cats

Cataracts are common in older dogs and rarely in older cats. They often occur in dogs or cats with diabetes, and are found in older pets that have immune disorders, a chronic disease, chronic skin problems, hip dysplasia and ear problems. Cataracts can also occur in young pets as a result of genetics or an injury to the eye.

A cataract is an opaque spot on the lens of the eye, which makes it difficult for a dog or cat to see through. The lens lies behind the iris and the pupil, and works like a camera lens. It focuses light onto the retina at the back of the eye, where an image is recorded. The lens also adjusts the eye's focus, which allows a dog or cat to see things clearly, up close and far away.

Nutritional deficiencies—especially carotenoid deficiencies (the red,orange and yellow plant pigments that give fruits and vegetables their vivid colors and provide potent antioxidant protection)— can rear their ugly head in the form of cataracts, too.

Symptoms of Cataracts in Dogs and Cats

  • A bluish, gray or white color change inside of the eye
  • Inflammation or redness
  • Pain and squinting
  • The tendency to bump into things
  • A reluctance to go upstairs or jump up onto furniture, walls, etc.
  • A hesitancy in unfamiliar environments

Diagnosis

All or some of these may be needed:

  • A complete medical history and physical examination.
  • An eye examination using an indirect ophthalmoscope and a slit lamp biomicroscope.
  • Blood tests.
  • An ultrasound examination of the eye if the cataract is too opaque to allow examination of the retina.
  • An electroretinogram to evaluate the function of the retina, especially if the cataract blocks visualization of the retina.

Conventional treatments

  • If your pet has mild cataracts that don't interfere with its vision, your vet will probably not recommend any treatment.
  • If your pet has significant vision impairment, the cataracts may need to be surgically removed, and an artificial intraocular lens replacement may be recommended.

Using a Natural Approach

Good nutrition plays an important role in the overall health of your pet and can help to maintain healthy eyes and vision. When an animal has severe vitamin deficiencies or is malnourished, cataracts and other eye disorders can develop.

There are several vitamins, botanicals and other nutrients that helped to nourish the eyes and slow down the progression of cataracts:

Vitamins A, C and E have antioxidant properties which fight free radicals that can damage the lens of the eye.

Bilberry extract (Vacciuium myritllus) derived from a fruit similar to the blueberry, contains active ingredients for eye health and proper vision. The berries are rich in the antioxidant anthocyanosides -- the red pigments that are beneficial in ophthalmology and vascular diseases. Nicknamed "the vision herb" bilberry has a substantial body of research that confirms its benefits for human eyes. This herb is very helpful to animals with early stage eye disorders or for animals that have a genetic predisposition to eye problems.

Zinc is a mineral linked to good vision and may protect eye tissue from damaging light and inflammation. Zinc is found in healthy retinal tissue.

Lutein, a carotenoid found in dark, leafy greens, is also found in the retina of healthy eyes where it acts as a shield against harmful light and may help protect the eyes against damage from ultraviolet radiation.

Quercetin is a natural antioxidant bioflavonoid that protects cells from damage by free radicals.

Alpha Lipoic Acid is the "universal antioxidant" because it works in both water and fatty tissues, providing antioxidant protection to all your pet's cells. It restores numerous biological functions that become diminished with aging and helps to prevent cataracts.

Mixed Carotenoids contain antioxidants found in carotenoid-rich food, that is, produce that are rich in color. Two specific carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, provide antioxidant protection in the macular region of the eye and have been found to reduce the incidence of cataracts.

Grape Seed Extract has a high content of compounds called oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs), which are potent antioxidants. They provide a wide range of antioxidant benefits: supporting healthy skin, providing cardiovascular support, improving blood circulation and reducing the risk cataracts.