What exactly are cataracts in cats, and will your cat go blind or need surgery? We take you through the basics on feline cataracts and what to do if your cat has them.
Like people, cats may develop cataracts. “A cataract is an opacity in the lens of the eye, which sits directly behind the iris (colored part of the eye),” says Beth Kimmitt, D.V.M., resident of ophthalmology at Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in West Lafayette, Indiana. “We see cataracts more commonly in dogs, but they can occur in both species.”
Cats develop cataracts for different reasons. “The most common cause of cataracts in cats is due to long-term uveitis (inflammation inside the eyes),” Dr. Kimmitt explains. “Diabetes does not cause cataracts in cats (unlike dogs).” Sometimes, cats develop cataracts simply as a result of aging.
If you see a white haze in one or both of your cat’s eyes or notice your cat bumping into things or having trouble getting around the house, it could be cataracts. “Cataracts are diagnosed with an eye exam,” Dr. Kimmitt says. “If an owner notices cataracts start to develop, he should make an appointment with his veterinarian for further evaluation.” It’s important to have the eyes checked out to make sure your cat isn’t suffering from any secondary eye conditions in addition to the cataracts, particularly uveitis, a painful inflammation of the eye.
If your cat has a cataract in only one eye, she might be able to see pretty well with the unaffected eye. Sometimes, cataracts are small so even if they affect both eyes, the cat still might have decent vision. Other times, cataracts develop so slowly that the cat is able to adjust to the vision loss, and you might not even realize she can’t see as well as she once did.
Cloudy eyes aren’t always an indication of cataracts. Senior cats might also develop a condition called nuclear lenticular sclerosis, which makes eyes have a bluish-gray haze, but it doesn’t significantly affect the vision because it’s transparent. Your vet can easily tell the difference. NLS always affects both eyes, whereas cataracts usually affect one eye more than the other.
“The only way to remove a cataract is with surgery,” Dr. Kimmitt says. “There are currently no medications on the market proven to be capable of removing cataracts once they start to occur. After surgery, cataracts do not significantly recur.”
With surgery, a veterinary eye specialist will remove the cloudy lens and replace it with a new artificial lens. Although the surgery is pricey (usually in the thousands), it’s something to consider if your cat has gone completely blind.
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