Diabetic Miniature Schnauzer blinded by cataracts. His left eye has a misshapen pupil secondary to lens capsular rupture (Eyelid hair is tinged green due to application to eye of diagnostic fluorescein dye). Photo Courtesy of Dr. Carmen Colitz.
Diabetic dogs can live healthy lives. Unfortunately, a common complication of diabetes in dogs is cataracts (cloudy lenses). In fact, 75% of dogs develop cataracts and blindness in both eyes within 9 months of being diagnosed with diabetes. The cataracts develop very quickly—sometimes overnight! If untreated, the cataracts cause intraocular inflammation called Lens-Induced Uveitis (LIU) that harms the eyes by causing glaucoma (increased intraocular pressure). If the LIU is uncontrolled and glaucoma develops, cataract surgery might not be possible. Glaucoma causes a chronic headache (similar to a migraine). In worst case scenarios, cataracts form rapidly in both eyes, the lens capsules split/rupture, severe LIU occurs resulting in glaucoma and severe painful intraocular inflammation (phacoclastic uveitis), and both eyes need to be surgically removed. This is a tragic outcome, and one to be avoided if possible. Thus, DO NOT WAIT until your dog’s diabetes is controlled, before seeing an ophthalmologist!!
Another very important recommendation is that if your diabetic dog is started on a special dog antioxidant vision supplement called Ocu-GLO™ , BEFORE they develop cataracts, blindness can be prevented in many of these dogs. A 2012 clinical study in Great Britain found that diabetic dogs supplemented daily with Ocu-GLO™ did not develop blinding cataracts over a one-year period. This has also been Dr. McCalla’s clinical experience with Ocu-GLO™ supplementation in diabetic dogs, as long as the diabetes remains well-controlled.
If cataracts are developing in your diabetic dog, this is an ophthalmic emergency; you must have your pet examined by a veterinary ophthalmologist as soon as possible . To locate a veterinary ophthalmologist near you, please ask your family veterinarian or visit the ACVO website . You can read about cataract surgery in our article Cataracts and Cataract Surgery in Dogs .
One breed that is at high risk of developing diabetes is Miniature Schnauzers. This breed is prone to developing pancreatitis (a risk factor for diabetes), which may in turn be associated with elevated blood levels of fat (triglycerides). Miniature Schnauzers are genetically predisposed to elevated fat levels (hyperlipidemia), with about 20% (or more, based on clinical studies) of adult dogs being affected. Some dogs do not develop hyperlipidemia until they are at least 3-4 years of age.
Cataract in a diabetic dog, with lens capsular rupture causing LIU. Note the dark brown pigment on the lens from the 9:00 to 12:00 edge of the pupil; this is where the inflamed iris adhered to the lens, resulting in pigment adhesions. Photo Courtesy of Dr. Carmen Colitz.
Even if cataract surgery is not an option for your pet, an ophthalmic examination is very important, to help you decide what to do for your pet’s eyes. If glaucoma has occurred, your pet might not cue you that it has a headache. If LIU is present, your pet might not cue you that the eyes are inflamed and uncomfortable. These eye problems are often subtle, but if present, medical treatment is required—perhaps even lifetime treatment.
Diabetic dogs actually tend to have a better surgical success rate after cataract surgery than “normal” dogs with cataracts. The surgery is same-day surgery, with no overnight hospital stay. Both eyes are done at the same time. However, if cataract surgery is not possible, dogs usually adjust to their vision loss and are happy, as long as the eyes are comfortable. There are books and websites that can help your pet if vision loss is permanent: www.blinddogs.net , and the book “ My Dog is Blind but Lives Life to the Full ” by Nicole Horsky.
‘Murphy’ underwent cataract surgery in both eyes to remove her diabetic cataracts. She regained her vision and her best quality of life!