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What You Need To Know About Cataracts and Your Bernese Mountain Dog

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A Thorough Look at the Causes of Cataracts in Bernese Mountain Dogs and the Best Options for Treatment

Bernese Mountain Dogs are beautiful, lovable giants. Their exceptional good-naturedness makes them ideal family dogs, and being from the Swiss mountains, there is no better dog for a playful romp in the snow.

Bernese Mountain Dog Cataracts Explained

If you have a Bernese Mountain Dog for your best buddy, keep in mind that they have a genetic predisposition to certain inherited diseases. These include osteochondritis dissecans, degenerative myelopathy, abnormal lymphocytes, elbow dysplasia, eosinophilic panosteitis, hemolytic anemia, idiopathic epilepsy, progressive retinal atrophy, and hereditary cataracts.

As dog cataracts are the most common of these, this is what we’ll be talking about today. Cataracts cause cloudy eyes in dogs. On the inside of your Bernese Mountain Dog‘s eye, there is a lens that focuses light on the retina, where vision occurs. A cataract is when this lens becomes opaque. Sometimes cataracts in dogs‘ eyes will not result in vision loss, but in other cases, they can lead to partial impairment and even blindness.

There are names for the stages of cataracts in dogs. An incipient cataract covers less than 15 percent of the lens, an immature cataract covers 15 to 99 percent, a mature cataract 100 percent and results in vision loss, and a hyper mature cataract is where there is wrinkling of the lens as it becomes solidified and shrunken.

Cataracts in dogs can also lead to secondary eye problems such as glaucoma and lens luxation. So be vigilant with those beautiful brown eyes, and if you see signs of cloudiness, or if your pooch bumps into things in dim lighting, it’s time for quick action.

Causes of Cataracts in Bernese Mountain Dogs

Dog cataracts result from an alteration of the protein fibers that make up the lens of your Bernese Mountain Dog‘s eye. The normally clear proteins become white and opaque. This prevents light from reaching the retina and so causes poor vision or even blindness. Dog cataracts begin quite tiny, and the rate at which they grow is highly variable.

Inherited Cataracts

Hereditary cataracts are the most common kind and gene mutations cause them. Genetic testing is available for this, but keep in mind that not every dog with this mutation will develop dog cataracts, and some without the mutation will. Unfortunately, dog cataracts can develop for genetically predisposed dogs, regardless of care.

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Diabetes

Diabetes is also a leading cause of cataracts in dogs. Diabetes causes dog cataracts because the high blood sugar level affects the proteins in the eye’s lens. If your pup develops diabetes, cataracts usually expand rapidly and can quickly cover the entire lens. A diabetic dog has a 75 percent chance of developing mature cataracts within 6 to 12 months of the onset of the disease.

Eye Injuries

Eye injuries can cause cataracts in dogs, as the damage can often lead to inflammation. This inflammation then affects the proteins in the lens. The most common causes of eye injuries in dogs include riding in a car with their head out the window, scratches caused by tree branches, rubbing at their eyes, fights with other animals, abnormal growth of eyelashes, and dangerous projectiles such as fireworks.

Age-Related Cataracts

In older dogs, cataracts can develop even if your Bernese Mountain Dog doesn’t have the relevant genetic mutation and without the presence of any other underlying cause. The eye structure simply changes over the years, which eventually affects the proteins in the lens. The good news is, dog cataracts that develop in older dogs tend to grow more slowly than those resulting from injuries and diabetes and so are easier to catch before they become fully mature.

Toxins and Nutritional Deficiency

Cataracts in dogs can also result from exposure to a toxic substance or nutritional deficiencies, though these causes are less common. Some toxins that can lead to cataract development are ketoconazole, commonly used to treat fungal infections, and disophenol, used for treating hookworm infection.

Because of nutritional deficiencies, we do not yet well understand dog cataracts. Many believe that deficiencies in certain amino acids may cause them. This can happen when Bernese puppies receive commercial milk replacers rather than nursing from their mothers.

How Cataracts Can Affect Your Bernese Mountain Dog

Cataracts can lead to pain or discomfort for your Bernese Mountain Dog. This is because dog cataracts often cause inflammation as the protein structure of the lens changes. A cataract left untreated for too long will cause blindness, not allowing light to pass through the lens.

Dog cataracts can also lead to glaucoma, in this case, lens-induced glaucoma. This occurs when proteins from the cataract discharge into the eye, clogging the outflow of fluid. This build-up of fluid then increases pressure on the eyes, which can create a lot of pain for your Bernese Mountain Dog. If untreated, the pressure on the eye becomes so great that there can be damage to the optic nerve. This can cause permanent blindness.

Lens luxation is another condition caused by dog cataracts. The lens capsule holds the lens of your Bernese Mountain Dog’s eye in place. Damage to this structure can cause the lens to luxate or freely move within the eye.

It is important to note that not all cataracts in dogs will lead to glaucoma, lens luxation, or blindness. These conditions, if caught early, can likely be avoided. If the cataracts are age-related, they may develop so slowly that there is only a slight reduction in sight. They may even become static or stop developing altogether. However, to be on the safe side, if you notice a sign of cataracts in your Bernese Mountain Dog, schedule a consultation with your vet right away.

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Life Expectancy of a Bernese Mountain Dog With Cataracts

Fortunately, dog cataracts will not shorten your Bernese Mountain Dog‘s life expectancy. Even if your dog goes blind, most dogs adjust well to losing their sight. With extra care and love, a blind dog can still live a long, wonderful life.

Signs That Your Bernese Mountain Dog Might Have Cataracts

In most cases, you cannot prevent dog cataracts. But since dog cataracts are hereditary, it might be a good idea to check the medical history of your Bernese Mountain Dog‘s parents. If either of them suffered from dog cataracts, you should be extra vigilant in checking your dog’s eyes.

Cloudy eyes in dogs are, of course, the primary sign of cataracts. The eyes may also look opaque or bluish-gray. With a mature cataract, you will see what looks like a white disk in the eye’s part that usually looks black.

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A dog with more developed cataracts will start bumping into things, such as walls or furniture, especially in dim lighting. Your Bernese Mountain Dog may also become unsure about stairs or have trouble finding their food and water bowls.

You may get confused between dog cataracts and nuclear sclerosis, which can also cause cloudy eyes in dogs. This is a normal aging phenomenon caused by a hardening of the lens in your dog’s eyes. Fortunately, this will not cause your Bernese Mountain Dog to lose their vision, as it does not prevent the light from passing through the lens.

How to Care for and Treat Your Bernese Mountain Dog for Cataracts

Make an appointment with your vet at the first sign of cataracts in your Bernese Mountain Dog. They will examine your dog’s eyes using a bright light and magnifying lens. Doing so will enable them to see not just mature cataracts but cataracts that are just forming and haven’t yet affected your dog’s vision. They will also check for the secondary conditions described above, glaucoma and lens luxation. Your vet will probably also do blood work to check for underlying causes such as diabetes.

Surgery

Because there is no way to reverse the development of cataracts in dogs, surgical correction is often the best option. It is the only way to restore vision, and it is best to do it as soon as possible, as this minimizes the difficulty and risks. Your Bernese Mountain Dog does not have to have a mature cataract before surgery is an option. In fact, it is ideal to do this procedure while the cataract is immature.

Before surgery, the vet or ophthalmologist will do a few tests to check the function of the retina, such as an electroretinogram and ocular ultrasound. They have to do this as they cannot see through the cataract and into the eye, just as your Bernese Mountain Dog cannot see out through it. As long as the retina appears healthy, your pup should have its vision restored after the cataracts get removed.

Phacoemulsification is the process to remove dog cataracts. Sometimes it is necessary to operate on only one eye, or sometimes both eyes will need the procedure. They perform the surgery under general anesthesia, with a special piece of surgical equipment that pulverizes the lens, reducing it to small pieces that the vet can then remove. If the lens capsule is stable, a lens implant, made from plastic or acrylic, is then inserted to replace the damaged one. At this point, your Bernese Mountain Dog‘s vision will return to normal.

If the lens capsule is not stable enough, the dog’s vision will still be significantly improved, just by the removal of the cataract.

Removal of the cataract will improve the dog’s vision, even if the lens capsule is not stable. Your pup won’t be able to focus well up close, but dogs adapt quickly to this change in their vision and can get along quite well.

After surgery, your vet will probably ask you to medicate the surface of your Bernese Mountain Dog‘s eye for several weeks. They may also ask you to give your pup oral medications to control pain and inflammation and prevent infection. Your dog will also need to wear a hard-sided Elizabethan collar for about two weeks (yes, the dreaded cone!). Your vet will probably also require follow-up examinations within the first month after surgery, or they may refer you to an ophthalmologist to further evaluate the condition of your dog’s retina. Most dogs have few complications and are running and playing just a few days after the surgery. Of course, all this can get quite expensive, so make sure you have good pet health insurance!

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Eye Drops

Sometimes surgical correction is not possible for dog cataracts. This is because cataract-removal surgery causes temporary inflammation in your pup’s eyes, so if there is already significant inflammation in the eye, surgery could cause more damage to the retina, and it may be impossible for vision to return. In addition, if your Bernese Mountain Dog has another illness, such as kidney or heart disease, anesthesia may be too risky.

If surgery is not possible, anti-inflammatory eye drops are often prescribed to help control the inflammation. The drops won’t treat the dog cataracts or restore vision, but they can help your dog feel more comfortable, prevent damage to the retina, and help prevent glaucoma from developing.

How to Help Your Bernese Mountain Dog Live a Fulfilling Life With Cataracts

If your Bernese Mountain Dog is a candidate for surgery, their life will return to normal shortly after the procedure. If not, there are things you can do to help them continue living a full and happy life by your side. Even with mature dog cataracts, your pup will probably have some light and shadow awareness, so you can help them by keeping rooms as bright as possible.

Living With a Blind Dog

If your dog goes blind, remember that dogs are very adaptable. Your Bernese Mountain Dog will soon learn how to function without sight. However, they may feel vulnerable and anxious, so it’s necessary to keep them in a consistent routine and maintain a safe, comfortable home environment. You should block off stairs and swimming pools, pad sharp edges on furniture and remove dangerous branches and other sharp objects from your yard. Soon enough, your Bernese Mountain Dog will create a mental picture of your house and may even learn to go safely up and downstairs. But of course, be careful to avoid injury as this may harm your pup’s confidence.

It is also a good idea to start your Bernese Mountain Dog off with a safe zone, like a small bedroom with no other pets. You can then let them slowly explore the rest of the house and interact with other pets. If your pup becomes confused, you can lead them back to their safe zone. Eventually, they should be able to roam the house and yard freely. Just remember, when you have a blind dog, it’s not a good idea to rearrange your furniture. Try to keep your home as clutter-free as possible and avoid putting boxes and other objects on the floor.

You can also help blind dogs navigate your house through their other senses. For example, you can use scent markers, such as lightly applied vanilla essential oil by the door to the outside and cedar oil by their bed (this will also deter fleas!). Another idea is to add wind chimes by exterior doors for when they are trying to find their way back in or a ticking clock to warn them of sharp corners or places they can get stuck.

Tactile markers are another excellent technique. You can put a textured mat beneath your Bernese Mountain Dog‘s food and water bowl and carpet runners to help guide them through the house. Small rugs in front of furniture can help them remember the location of couches and chairs. Mulch, sand, and landscaping stones can help similarly outside.

It is also a good idea to stimulate your Bernese Mountain Dog‘s senses to keep them motivated. If they sit in the same place too long and get used to excessive sleeping, this can lead to joint problems (especially since they are bigger dogs), weight loss, limb weakness, and even crippling arthritis. Sound-making toys and scent-tracking games can keep your pup inspired to be active and also help fine-tune their sense of sound and smell. You should also take them for walks to keep them stimulated by unfamiliar smells. Just make sure you keep to the same path and use a short or rigid leash. You might also consider putting your Bernese Mountain Dog‘s bed near a window and keeping it open whenever possible. And of course, talk to your pooch! The sound of your voice will be a significant source of stimulation and comfort.

Also, remember that blind dogs may feel more vulnerable with strangers and can easily become overwhelmed when new people come into the house. It can help to ask guests to talk to your dog and let him approach them when he is ready. Introductions to other animals should also take place cautiously. One trick is to put a bell on the other pet so that your dog will always know where they are and if they are approaching. Keep in mind that it is also easy for you to startle your pup, inadvertently. Talk to them before you pet them, and when you are near, step a bit more heavily, so they know where you are.

Just remember, there are always options for dealing with cataracts in dogs, and that with a little extra care, even a blind dog can have a wonderful life. You might just find that taking care of their additional needs brings the two of you that much closer and that the extra love required only adds to the joy your best buddy brings you.