One change that is common in older dogs is age-related cataracts. In this, the lenses in the eyes gradually become somewhat cloudy instead of transparent, as seen in the young dog. We can see this as a slightly bluish haze in our dog’s eyes, especially if the light catches the pupils at a certain angle.

The terminology here can be a bit confusing. There are two types of cataracts, generally known as green and gray cataracts.  In gray cataracts, we see a similar process in dogs as in humans: the lens gradually becomes less transparent. On the other hand, with green cataract, there is an increased pressure inside the eye. In contrast to the far more common age-related cataracts, green cataract is medically urgent. If increased eye pressure is present too long, it can quickly lead to blindness. Therefore, medical attention from a veterinarian is needed relatively urgently to preserve eyesight. The heightened intra-ocular pressure is also very painful. This means most dogs will show discomfort, often squinting or keeping the affected eye closed. The eye may even bulge a bit. These are symptoms we do not see in age-related cataracts.  If you have any questions about what is going on with your dog, please see your vet as soon as possible.

And although we generally don’t like to see our dog’s eyes become a little opaque (it’s also a reminder that the dog is getting older), the dog itself usually doesn’t seem to care much. Because it happens gradually, the world slowly gets a little blurrier, and the dog adjusts accordingly. We as humans are very focused on our sight, but for the dog, the nose is a more important sense than sight.

What we notice is more minor details aren’t seen as well. For example, a cookie we throw is not caught easily or not at all. It lands on the ground, and then the nose is used to find it.

Also, the amount of light can make a big difference: the dog often sees less well at dusk or in other low-light conditions. For example, a child’s bicycle standing on the sidewalk can then suddenly be viewed suspiciously from a distance, as if an unknown monster were standing there. It is then best to reassure the dog and explain that it is not dangerous, possibly walking towards it yourself while the dog watches you from a distance, showing him it’s not dangerous. Or, if possible, walk by at a distance acceptable to the dog. Please take your dog’s feelings seriously: for him, this is a scary thing.

Movement at a distance is often still seen well, so the cat shooting off into the distance will still be noticed. If that same cat sits still on a wall, the dog can walk right past it without noticing (unless he catches the scent).

At home, we often don’t notice much difference, and often, no special measures need to be taken. However, here, too, the amount of light can be an issue. A dark stairwell, for example, can cause the dog to be hesitant about using stairs because depth perception is compromised. Going up the stairs is often less of an issue, but going down can be more challenging because of difficulty seeing the depth. Providing good light on the staircase can be very helpful. This also helps differentiate the cause of the reluctance in stair walking: if it is a mobility problem, good lighting will not help.

For most dogs, the gradual development of age-related cataracts is not a big problem, especially with some adjustments around the house.  For most dogs, a certain degree of vision also remains. Occasionally this may be different, though, and the loss of vision does pose a problem. These dogs can become very insecure and may lash out or bite at unexpected movements around them (think of small children, who often make random movements).

In these cases, it is good to know that surgery is possible: as in humans, the cloudy lens is replaced by an artificial lens. This is a specialist operation, though, with a lot of aftercare, and an extensive examination at a specialty clinic precedes it. So it’s not for every dog and not to be taken lightly. Nevertheless, it can be a solution in some situations. If you have any doubts about your dog’s situation, please discuss it with your veterinarian.

And unfortunately, there are no reading glasses for dogs on the market (yet) 😎