Dr. Doug Mader's - "To Your Pet's Health"
Sunday, August 22, 2010
In a Beagle's Eye: Is It a Cataract or Is It Nuclear Sclerosis?

Q. I have a 13-year-old beagle. My groomer said that he has cataracts and that there is a surgery that can be done but it is very expensive. I want him to see but I probably cannot afford the surgery. Is there anything else that can be done? He seems to be able to see. When he is outside the eyes look blue.

-- JT

A. I have met some very experienced groomers over the years and many have alerted their clients to health problems. So I am happy to see that your pet is in good grooming hands. However, that said I think it would be wise to have your dog examined by a veterinarian to make sure that what you are actually looking at in your dog's eyes are in fact cataracts.

I am assuming that you are referring to your dog's "pupil" as turning blue and not the iris (the colored part of the eye). Usually the normally colored iris (brown, black, blue, green, etc.) does not change color as a pet ages or in different light (unless there is disease present). The pupil is filled with what is normally a clear lens. This lens, when healthy, cannot be seen and appears to be the "black hole," or the pupil in the center of the eye.

Based on your description of the eyes looking "blue" in the light, I doubt that your dog has cataracts. Cataracts occur inside the lens and make the center of the eye look cloudy white, not blue. By your description it sounds like your dog has developed nuclear sclerosis. This is very different from cataracts, and when it occurs it gives the eyes a blue color in the center.

Cataracts develop from a number of different causes. They can occur as a normal progression of age or as a result of disease, such as diabetes. If your dog does have cataracts, there is a surgery that will remove them. This is important because, if left untreated, there is a possibility that your dog could develop glaucoma secondary to the cataracts, a very painful condition that can be controlled if diagnosed early. Dogs with cataracts will ultimately go blind.

In addition, if the cataracts are caused by diabetes, the diabetes needs to be treated as well.

Nuclear sclerosis is also an age-related condition. It involves structural changes to either the lens within the eye or the clear capsule that surrounds the lens. In either case, the pet does not lose its sight and there is no risk of glaucoma developing from the sclerosis. With nuclear sclerosis the patient does not go blind. There may be some mild vision loss, but mostly in the form of visual acuity.

I encourage you to take your beagle to your veterinarian for a complete physical and eye examination. A thorough pet eye exam involves an evaluation of the cornea and sclera (the white part), the inner membrane, the tear ducts, the lids, a check for tumors and testing for tear production and eye pressure (glaucoma test). Once this is done, drops are used to dilate the eyes so the retina and internal structures can be evaluated. This is not an expensive examination and is very important, especially in older pets.

If your dog does have cataracts and you cannot afford the surgery, there is a relatively new eye drop that claims it can treat cataracts. I have yet to see hard science to back it up, but I have heard stories that it seems to work. It is called Can-C and is available, without a prescription, on the Internet.

Dr. Mader is an ABVP board certified veterinary specialist practicing in the Keys. Send your questions to Mvh525@aol.com.