Non-Surgical Solution Proving Successful For Treating Canine Cataracts
A cataract occurs when an opacity develops in the lens of the eye. The eye will appear cloudy or blue. The blue color that tends to develop in the eyes of old dogs are not cataracts; that phenomenon is called nuclear sclerosis. Any clouding or bluing of the eyes should be checked by a veterinarian. Treatment for age-related nuclear sclerosis is not recommended, but untreated cataracts tend to progressively get worse and will eventually lead to blindness. Untreated cataracts can also cause glaucoma and painful inflammation of the eye.
In dogs, cataracts are often due to genetic factors. They may be present at birth or develop during the first few years of life. Certain breeds, such as smooth fox terriers and American cocker spaniels, are particularly prone to develop cataracts. The other common cause of cataracts is diabetes. Dogs that develop diabetes are very likely to develop cataracts within a year of onset of diabetes. Trauma and uveitis can occasionally lead to cataract formation.
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Traditionally, cataracts are treated with surgery. The cloudy lens is removed and is replaced with an artificial lens. Surgical treatment is very effective in restoring vision to dogs affected by cataracts, but not all dogs are suitable candidates for surgery and not all dog owners can afford it. Recovery from surgery can be stressful for both the dog and the dog’s caregiver. The dog has to be kept quiet for several weeks, and eye drops have to be applied several times a day during the recovery period.
Treatment with anti-inflammatory eye drops has been offered as an alternative when surgery could not be performed. In one study, 35 eyes from 20 dogs were treated with anti-inflammatory drops. However, the treatment was successful in only 15 eyes of nine dogs (only 43% of the eyes). A new, more effective medical treatment may be available soon. A drug called lanosterol has been proving successful in treating cataracts. A study of seven dogs reported that the drug, given both by injection into the eye and applied as drops, was very effective in simply dissolving cataracts and restoring normal vision to the dogs.
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Lanosterol, a steroid with a structure similar to cholesterol, was developed by a group studying congenital cataracts in humans. Its exact mechanism of action is not clear yet, but it is thought to prevent lens crystallin proteins from aggregating. Once the drug becomes available to veterinarians, dog owners will have a new option for restoring vision to their dogs without having to go through the trauma and expense of surgery.