A Danger to Vision

A photograph taken by a vet shows a tunnel in the tissue of Chandler Roe’s dog Wyatt’s eye. The wound is caused by a parasitic worm which if untreated can lead to blindness.

Q: My dog was just diagnosed with cataracts. I know that cataracts are a possibility as animals get older but she isn’t very old, so I’m wondering what caused this.

 A: You’re right that cataracts occur with aging but they also may be caused by other factors. A cataract is the loss of transparency (opacity) of the lens due to changes in the structure of the lens proteins. Cataracts are common in dogs, particularly in purebreds. Inherited cataracts are the most common types. These cataracts usually occur in both eyes and appear early in life. Animals with inherited cataracts should not be used for breeding.

Traumatic injury to the eye is another important cause of cataracts. This type of cataract occurs after an intra-ocular inflammation or when the lens has been dislocated.

In dogs, acquired cataracts that appear later in life are often the result of metabolic problems. Dogs with diabetes mellitus typically develop bilateral (both eyes) rapidly progressing cataracts. These cataracts appear quickly and often lead to complete blindness.

Once the cataracts form, there is no medical treatment to reverse the process. Surgery is the only available option for severe cataracts. If your veterinarian has recommended surgery then he or she may use one of two surgical techniques. The first method, Phacofragmentation, uses ultrasonic energy to disrupt and liquefy the cataract. A needle is used to emulsify and aspirate the lens material. The advantage of this technique is that it requires a smaller incision and causes less postoperative inflammation. The second type of surgery is called Lens removal with intra-ocular lens implant. This technique is becoming more popular in veterinary medicine and is similar to the technique employed in human medicine.

Injuries to the eye should be treated as medical emergencies. If treated early, many inflammatory and traumatic injuries will not result in cataracts.

Q: My cat sometimes has what the vet calls “pink eye.” What is this, exactly?

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A: Cat pink eye, or conjunctivitis, occurs when there is an active infection in the conjunctiva of the eye. The conjunctiva protects the eye by absorbing any infection in order to prevent the eye from being harmed. When the conjunctiva becomes infected, it requires treatment so that the infection does not spread throughout the eye and lead to other harmful conditions.

Pink eye is usually very easily recognized in cats. The conjunctiva will be pink to red in color and very swollen, and there will be a clear liquid-like fluid draining from the cat’s eyes; which is the infection. Depending on the severity of the condition, your cat's eyes may crust up and close and be very difficult to open.

Most cats with pink eye experience a lot of itching in the eyes, as well. When they attempt to scratch at their eyes, it can be very harmful to them because it can allow the infection to spread and cause serious damage to their eyes.

Cat pink eye is highly contagious, not only between cats, but also from cats to humans. However, it is important to remember that the infection can only be transmitted through direct contact. When treating your cat for pink eye, it is important to keep clean hygiene in mind to prevent the spread of the infection to you or your family.

Your vet has probably prescribed an antibiotic ointment to be administered directly into your cat’s eyes. Treatment will usually last between one and two weeks and there should be significant improvement in the condition during that time. If the treatment is not effective, underlying conditions will need to be explored.

Dr. Julianne Miller is a Flagstaff veterinarian. She can be reached at drmiller@canyonpet.com

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