As your dog ages, you may notice that their eyes are beginning to develop a bluish haze. This may be due to a condition called Lenticular Sclerosis (also known as Nuclear Sclerosis).
Veterinarians consider this a normal change in your dog’s eye lenses as they age. It shouldn’t significantly impact your dog’s vision.
However, if your dog’s eye looks white and opaque, or if you see white spots on your dog’s eyes, this could be a sign of cataracts.
Cataracts occur for a variety of reasons, and they can greatly impact your dog’s quality of life. A mature cataract can result in complete loss of vision for your pup. A hypermature cataract can result in fluid build-up in the lens capsule and cause pain.
To treat your dog, your veterinarian will likely recommend cataract surgery, which can cost between $2,700 and $4,000 on average. This is not an expense most pet parents can pay out of pocket. But pet insurance can help you pay for cataract surgery, so you can get your dog the care they need and keep them seeing clearly.
$2,700 - $4,000
the average cost of cataract surgery in dogs
A cataract is an opacity in your dog’s eye lens. It prevents light from passing through to the back of the eye or scatters the light so that your dog’s vision is blurred. Normally, light passes through the lense and is processed at the back of their eye to create a clear image in your pet’s brain of what they’re seeing. Your dog may be affected by cataracts in one eye or both eyes.
Cataract formation can be caused by infectious diseases or even by trauma, but the most common types of cataracts are hereditary cataracts. For example, congenital cataracts occur at birth and typically affect both eyes while diabetic cataracts develop rapidly as a result of canine diabetes. Cataracts can occur at any age, but they are more common in old age.
Cataract surgery helps your dog see clearly again by removing the cataract. The surgery can also prevent your dog from experiencing cataract-related pain in the future. Chronic cataracts can cause inflammation inside the eye, leading to increased pain and problems like glaucoma.
According to Michigan State University’s Veterinary Medical Center, the long-term success rate of uncomplicated cataract surgery in dogs is about 85% to 90%. This means that at least 85% of cataract surgeries result in a dog who can see and has no increased pressure within the eye for at least one year. Complications are rare, but they can include retinal detachment, scarring, or infection.
The process begins with a visual examination of your dog’s eye, which your vet will do with a bright light and a magnifying lens. You may need to go to a veterinarian who is a specialist in animal ophthalmology — the study of ocular health in animals. A veterinary ophthalmologist will likely conduct your dog’s surgery.
Dog cataract surgery works in almost the same way as human cataract surgery, although your dog will likely be put under general anesthesia during the operation. Once anesthetized, your dog’s affected eye lens will be emulsified using ultrasonic waves in a procedure known as phacoemulsification. The lens will be removed and replaced with an artificial lens known as an intraocular lens, or IOL.
After surgery, your dog may be hospitalized for a night to recover. They’ll need to wear a cone to keep them from scratching their eye. Your veterinarian will provide you with eye drops to give your dog at home and will schedule future appointments for checkups.
As we mentioned, the average cost of dog cataract surgery is anywhere from $2,700 to $4,000. This cost includes the original exam, testing and diagnostics, anesthesia, surgery, treatment, and hospitalization. However, additional expenses may arise if additional steps need to be taken to get your dog feeling back to feeling like new.
If you’re hesitant about the cost, you may be tempted by one of the many products on the market that claim to cure or reduce the severity of cataracts in dogs. One of the most heavily marketed products is an eye drop containing Lanosterol. You should always ask your veterinarian before using any treatment on your dog, especially treatments that can be purchased without a prescription.
According to a 2019 paper published in the journal Nature that covered three studies of such products on the eye lenses or rats, “All three studies failed to provide evidence that lanosterol or 25-hydroxycholesterol have either anti-cataractogenic activity or bind aggregated lens protein to dissolve cataracts.”
Surgery is still the gold-standard treatment for cataracts in dogs preferred by veterinarians.
Your best course of action is to obtain pet insurance before cataracts ever present themselves. If you obtain insurance while your dog is still young and healthy, you’ll be able to claim canine cataract surgery on your policy when your dog needs it.
Pet insurance reimburses you for a large percentage of covered costs at the vet. The most common types of pet insurance plans are accident/illness plans, which cover injuries and most pet illnesses, including canine cataracts. You can also get wellness coverage that reimburses you for routine care.
Keep in mind, however, that no pet policies cover pre-existing conditions.
Use Pawlicy Advisor to find the best provider for you (based on breed, age, location, and more), you can see exactly what each plan covers by clicking on the “Coverage Details” section and scrolling down. Below, you can see that the selected plan covers illnesses and even has an example from an emergency glaucoma treatment:
In this example, a treatment that would have cost the pet parent $3,500 was reduced to $700. Their pet insurance policy reimburses 80% of their veterinary costs after their annual $500 deductible is met.
You can customize plans to offer higher reimbursement rates and even more coverage through Pawlicy Advisor. Just enter some basic information about your dog and the algorithm will present you with our top recommendations.
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Aliyah Diamond has more than ten years of experience in animal hospitals - working with dozens of species from dogs and cats, to elephants and snow leopards. Her lifelong passion for helping animals currently has her earning her doctorate of veterinary medicine at Cornell University and helping Pawlicy Advisor educate pet parents.