Have you ever looked into an older animal’s eyes and seen a strange milky color there? It probably means he has cataracts. A cataract is where the lens of the eye becomes cloudy in a process called opacification.
For an eye to see properly, light rays must reflect from an object to the cornea (the outermost layer of the eye) and through the lens (which focuses the rays) to the retina. The lens needs to be transparent to transmit light to the retina. With a cataract, the lens is cloudy or opaque and vision is impaired.
Cataract formation is a progressive disease. It can lead to extremely impaired vision, total blindness, and lens or eye removal.
What causes them?
Cataracts have various causes in dogs and cats:
• Genetics – some cataracts are inherited and occur more frequently in specific breeds
• Congenital – some animals are born with cataracts
• Diabetes mellitus – only affects diabetic dogs, not diabetic cats
• May be secondary to other eye diseases such as glaucoma
• Age related – senile cataract formation
• Nutritional disorders
• Trauma – eye injury
Treatment requires surgery
Up until fairly recently, the only option for cataracts was the surgical removal of the lens and its replacement with an artificial lens. As with humans, this is a very common surgical procedure (especially in dogs). However, it can carry risks, including:
• Damage to the structures surrounding the lens
• Complete blindness
If the procedure is successful, the animal will have near normal vision. However, the capabilities of intraocular replacement lenses are limited. Nearly all animals will experience vision degradation due to advancing age and certain scarring from the procedure.
Cataract surgery is expensive because it requires the skills of a veterinary ophthalmologist. As well, the technical equipment and methods are almost exactly the same as those used for humans. One major difference is that unlike humans, most animals do not have medical insurance that will cover the surgery’s cost, which ranges from $1,500 to $3,000 per eye.
Recent studies have shown that nutrition plays an important role in preventing or delaying cataracts. It has been found that certain natural antioxidants given to older humans and animals (dogs in particular) reduce age related cataracts.
In humans, a high intake of fruit and vegetables has a protective effect, while too much sugar and high glycemic carbohydrates increase the risk for cataract formation. The glycemic index (GI) refers to how quickly a food causes blood sugar to rise. High GI foods, like white bread, pasta and potatoes, tend to cause a quick surge or peak in blood sugar, while low GI foods such as pulses and many high fiber grains create a more gradual increase.
Those who eat lots of yellow or dark leafy vegetables, as well as foods rich in vitamin E, reduce their risk of developing cataracts. Higher intakes of vitamin C or combined antioxidants have long term protective effects against cataracts.
• Give your companion 50 IU of vitamin E for every ten pounds of weight – add it to his food once a day.
• Give him 100 mgs of vitamin C twice a day for every ten pounds of weight. If possible, use powdered vitamin C and add it to food. Vitamin C can cause diarrhea so proceed with caution.
• Add carrots, kale and other green and yellow vegetables to his diet.
• Try protecting his eyes with bilberries. Their antioxidant qualities protect the tissues of the eye, especially when used in supplement form. In a human study, Italian researchers found that bilberry mixed with vitamin E stopped lens clouding in a large percentage of people with early stage cataracts. Mix 50 mgs in your animal’s food every day.
• Protective products such as Can-C eye drops for humans and dogs (www.can-c.biz) also help. These natural lubricating eye drops contain the super-antioxidant N-acetylcarnosine, which has been clinically proven to reverse and prevent cataracts.
The drops work where needed to clear away age-accumulated damage, leaving the eye free to begin self-healing. You want your dog or cat to enjoy good vision all his life. Starting early to help prevent or slow cataract formation will help ensure he sees clearly for years to come.