As your dog or cat starts to age, it can be hard to watch them start living life at a slower pace. That includes the way they see. For older pets cataracts are sometimes an inevitability as the years start to stack up.

If you love or dog or cat, get ready for some sticker shock: cataract surgery can be incredibly expensive. Luckily, many pet insurance plans will cover cataracts, either partially or fully. That said, it’s important to check with your insurance provider to learn exactly what their policies on cataracts are. And if you’re in the market for some a new pet insurance plan for your puppy or kitten, make sure you hammer out the details of any cataract coverage before you commit.

It’s important to read your insurance contract carefully here, because it may come with certain caveats. For example, one of the biggest is that many pet insurance companies won’t cover cataracts as a pre-existing condition. If your dog or cat has cataracts at the time that you sign a new insurance contract, you may be out of luck. If you think your pet could be genetically predisposed to developing cataracts later in life, the best bet is to simply sign up for pet insurance early on, before it becomes a serious problem.

In addition, some companies may have specific policies for juvenile cataracts in dogs or cats. If your dog becomes diabetic at a young age, for example, it could dramatically increase their chance of developing cataracts — 80% of dogs  who become diabetic develop cataracts or blindness within the next year, according to The Veterinary Eye Institute. Regardless, before you sign your name on a shiny new contract, make sure that any edge cases you have in mind will be covered by your insurance company.

Before we move on, a quick definition: Just like in humans, pet cataracts are a disease where the lens of a dog or cat’s eye becomes cloudy. This means that their vision deteriorates and as the cataract grows larger, it gets harder and harder for your pet to see. In some cases, cataracts could be no bigger than a pinpoint and your pet’s vision could remain largely unaffected. In other cases, cataracts could mature and your pet could eventually suffer from glaucoma, retinal detachment or total blindness if the condition is left untreated. Keep reading for a little more information on symptoms, treatment options, the approximate cost of dealing with cataracts and what you can do right now to prevent them from occurring.

Symptoms for Cats and Dogs

Larger cataracts are fairly easy to spot because they’re not an internal condition. You can simply look into your cat or dog’s eyes. There are two main ways to tell if your pet might have cataracts: your pet’s eyes and your pet’s behavior.

The primary symptom is cloudiness or a white color in your dog or cat’s pupils. If you notice such symptoms but you’re not sure, make sure you keep a close eye on it. As long as your pet isn’t diabetic, cataracts will probably take a while to form, so look out for any changes. Is the clouded area changing shapes or getting larger with time? If so, it may be time for a trip to the vet.

The other thing to look out for is a marked difference in any vision-related behavior. Is your pet bumping into things? Do they seem to be sniffing for food more than actually looking around for it when you throw them treats? Has your dog or cat gotten a lot worse at any of the games you used to play, like fetch or hide-and-seek?

If you notice a couple of these symptoms coming together, it might be time to call a medical professional. To sum it up, if you’re worried about cataracts, keep an eye on your pet for:

  • Any changes in the color of their eye(s), especially a milky, cloudy or white color in the pupil.
  • An increase in times they stumble or bump into furniture around your house.
  • A newfound reliance on using their nose or their ears more than their vision.
  • A lot more trouble than usual when playing games like fetch or running around.
  • A harder time locating or eating food than usual.

Treatment Options and Symptom Relief

Unfortunately, cataracts aren’t a condition you can just forget about while hoping it’ll get better. Once a cataract starts to build up on your dog or cat’s eye, it won’t go away on its own. You may be able to prevent or slow cataract formation through diet or medications that help your pet see better, like cataract eyedrops. But for fully-matured cataracts there’s only one real solution: surgery. The good news is, such surgery is readily available. Finding a clinic won’t be hard.

Even though cataract surgery is delicate, it’s not life-threatening. Your dog or cat’s surgeon will put your pet under general anaesthesia and then operate. During this operation, the surgeon will make one or two small incisions and emulsify the clouded lens and cataract, removing it from the lens capsule. Then the surgeon will replace the clouded lens with a clear one and close any incisions made during the process. It’s a relatively short surgery and it can likely be performed on an outpatient basis, meaning your cat or dog will come home with you right afterwards. Your pet may also need some eyedrops or medication for a few days after the surgery.

Cataract surgery may not bring your pet’s vision back to 100% — after surgery, their eyes may still have some slight scarring, and no artificial lens can completely replace the original. That said, the result will still be a great improvement over cataract-impaired vision. If left untreated, cataracts can lead to other complications like glaucoma, retinal detachment and total blindness. So if your veterinarian recommends surgery, it’s probably not a good idea to ignore such advice.

Cost of Treatment

Unfortunately, you’ll have to get ready for some bad news: cataract surgery can be fairly expensive. It can depend on where you’re located as well as the costs of whatever clinic you choose, but you should be prepared to shell out a few thousand dollars for cataract surgery.

If only one of your pet’s eyes is affected, you might pay around $2,000 to $3,000. If both eyes are affected, you’ll likely pay something higher, in the $3,500 to $4,500 range. On the top end, costs could go up to $5000 or higher.

Keep in mind that you also may need to pay for any eye examinations or diagnostics before surgery actually occurs, as well as any medication or supplements necessary for your pet’s recovery.

Prevention

Cataract formation is largely dependent on your dog or cat’s genes. It’s a hereditary condition, so there isn’t necessarily a lot you can do to prevent cataracts before they occur. However, you can do a couple things to lessen the chance of or delay the onset of cataracts.

As mentioned above, canine diabetes is a huge risk factor for cataracts. If you have a dog, making sure they have a healthy, well-rounded diet and giving them regular exercise is important. A diet that’s high in protein but low in carbs and processed foods will work the best. If they become obese or don’t get enough exercise, they’re at a much higher risk for canine diabetes and, as a result, eye cataracts. (Diabetes isn’t nearly as linked to cataracts in cats.)

If you’re worried, or if you think cataracts might run in your pet’s family, you can also feed them supplements designed for healthy vision. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil and algae, are an easily accessible eye booster for your pup or kitten. Carotenoids like lutein and astaxanthin (found in greens like spinach and bell peppers) are also a good to focus on. Ask your veterinarian for an eye supplement recommendation that’ll fit in with your dog’s current nutrition plan.

Susceptible Breeds

Some of the dog breeds most likely to get cataracts are:

  • Smooth Fox Terrier
  • Havanese
  • Bichon Frise
  • Boston Terrier
  • Miniature Poodle
  • Silky Terrier
  • American Cocker Spaniel
  • Bedlington Terrier
  • English Cocker Spaniel
  • Lakeland Terrier

Some cat breeds that are predisposed to cataracts are:

  • Persians
  • Birmans
  • Himalayans
  • Domestic Shorthairs