About cataract surgery
Cataract surgery is an elective procedure, so it is important
that your pet is in good health. If your pet has diabetes, it
will improve the surgical outcome if the diabetes is well
controlled with medication. We require that a “glucose curve”
be performed prior to surgery to demonstrate that the diabetes is
well controlled. This involves measuring your pet’s blood
glucose prior to the first insulin dose in the morning and then
every few hours throughout the day for 8 to 12 hours.
If inflammation inside the eye is seen on your pet’s eye exam,
we will need to treat your pet with anti-inflammatory medication
prior to surgery. Performing surgery on your pet with
inflammation inside the eye can increase the rate of complications
that can occur after cataract surgery. In some instances, the
inflammation may be too severe and your pet may not be a good
candidate for surgery. We will also discuss other
abnormalities that are noted that may prevent your pet from having
surgery or increase the risk of complications after surgery.
Examples of these include poor tear production and glaucoma.
The retina, tissue that lines the back part of the eye, is
responsible for collecting the images that your pet sees and must
be tested prior to surgery. If the retina is not functioning,
removing the cataract will not improve your pet’s vision. The
two tests routinely performed include an ultrasound and an
electroretinogram (ERG). The ultrasound allows us to tell if
the retina is in the right place and not detached (separated from
the underlying support tissue). The ERG is somewhat similar
to an EKG for your heart. It allows us to measure electrical
potentials from the retina when a light is flashed into your pet’s
eye – in other words, how well the retina responds to light.
These tests are not painful and can be done on most dogs without
sedation. However, it does require that your pet stay with us
for a few hours so we can complete the tests.
How is cataract surgery performed?
The procedure to remove your pet’s cataracts is very similar to
the procedure used in people. Under a general anesthetic, a
small incision is made into the eye. A special ultrasonic
unit the size of the lead of a pencil is used to break the cataract
into small pieces and aspirate it out of the eye.
Placement of an artificial intraocular lens (IOL) restores the
focusing power of the eye and provides the best vision possible
after surgery. Not every patient, however, is a good
candidate to receive an IOL. These patients will be
“farsighted” but still function well.
In most cases your pet will stay at the hospital for two nights.
This includes the night prior to surgery and the night of
surgery. If complications should occur, a slightly longer
stay may be required.
What is the follow up care involved?
Immediate follow-up care involves treatment with eye drops and
possibly oral medications. The medications prescribed are
generally anti-inflammatories and antibiotics. The first
week, the frequency of treatment with eye drops is between four to
six times a day. On average, we require a visit one week
after surgery, three weeks after surgery, then every 3-6 weeks for
a couple of months, then every three to four months for the first
year. The frequency of visits depends on how well your pet is
doing and if there are any post-operative complications that need
to be monitored more closely. At each of these visits, if
your pet is doing well, we decrease the frequency and number of
medications. We will need to see your pet every 6 months to
every year for the rest of your pet’s life as many pets will need
to be on life-long medication. These medications and recheck
exams are important to ensure the long-term success of the
What are the potential complications?
Complications associated with surgery for the eye include
chronic severe inflammation, glaucoma, retinal detachments,
regrowth of cataract, and infection. Any of these
complications could result in the loss of vision. In rare
cases such as severe inflammation or glaucoma, it may also result
in a loss of the pet’s eye. The rate of any one of these
complications is around 10%. Some breeds and animals have
preexisting conditions that increase the risk of complications in
the long term. These will be discussed with your at the time
of your examination. These complications can occur throughout
your pet’s lifetime, so long-term recheck visits will help us
identify these problems early, when they are most easily
What is the postoperative prognosis?
The post-operative prognosis for vision is generally very good
for most patients. Following the recommendations we provide
for care after surgery will help you achieve the best possible
Modified with permission from the UW Veterinary Care Center
at the University of Wisconsin-Madison