If the eyes are the windows to the soul, the lenses are the window panes. That is not as poetic, but it is true.
Where Exactly is the Lens?
If you look into your dog’s eyes, you are looking first through his cornea, the clear, firm, protective covering of the eye, then through the pupil. Right behind the pupil is the lens.
What is the Lens?
The lens is larger than the pupil and shaped like those flat round glass beads made for aquariums. It is the consistency of gummy candy. Its job is to focus for near and far vision. In health, the lens is completely clear.
Lenticular Nuclear Sclerosis
lenticular – of the lens
nuclear – middle
sclerosis – hardening
As dogs age, the lenses of their eyes age as well. As the lens fibers becomed compressed, the lens takes on a grayish or bluish hue from the outside looking in. The strange and very cool thing is, from the inside looking out, the view is still clear. Your dog does not know his eyes are aging! This condition, which can be a precursor to cataracts or an entirely different situation, is called lenticular nuclear sclerosis.
Lenticular nuclear sclerosis is often mistaken for cataracts. Your veterinarian can examine your dog’s eyes and tell you which condition your pet has. If your dog has lenticular nuclear sclerosis, take heart in knowing that though it makes your friend appear older, the condition does not interfere with vision and does not hurt a bit.
The most common causes of cataracts are aging (with a probable genetic predisposition) and diabetes. There is a juvenile form of cataracts, and cataracts can be secondary to uveitis (inflammation of the front part of the eye) or secondary to trauma. Cataracts, especially in the earliest stages, look very similar to lenticular nuclear sclerosis, and as mentioned, the two are often confused.
If your dog is diagnosed with cataracts, your veterinarian may recommend one or many next steps…
- Diabetes Screen – Because diabetes is one of the most common causes of cataracts, have your pet screened (complete physical exam, urine testing and blood work).
- Breeding Plan Revisions – Dogs with cataracts should not be bred, because many forms of cataracts are probably at least partially heritable.
- Do not Despair – Canine cataracts are often surgically treatable. If surgery is not an option, dogs with cataracts still tend to do very well, and adapt well to the partial or complete loss of vision.
- Schedule a Consult with a Veterinary Ophthalmologist – In many cases, cataracts are surgically correctable by a veterinary ophthalmologist. It would be worth a consult to explore this option.
- Do Not Rearrange the Furniture – Cataracts are partially vision-impairing, and at the later stages can cause complete blindness. Dogs tend to do GREAT with vision limitations. Keep them safely enclosed and away from danger – stairs, pools, unrestricted outdoor areas, and help them relearn to navigate their surroundings. Keeping their home as near to normal as is possible will help them greatly.
Learning to Age Gracefully by Spending Time with Our Dogs
Watching our canine friends grow older can be a bittersweet process. Graying muzzles and clouding eyes are the two changes that are often the most disheartening. Take heart in knowing that the grey only makes your dog more gorgeous, and the lens changes, whether they be sclerosis or cataracts, carry a very good prognosis.