What you need to know about cloudy eyes in pets

Cloudy eyes may not be cataracts

As pets age, it is not uncommon to see the development of cloudy appearing eyes. The most common cause of this in geriatric animals is a condition known as nuclear sclerosis. This is a mild aging degenerative change in the lens protein of pets, and will often appear as a cloudy appearance to the eyes, especially in direct light. Fortunately, most animals who develop nuclear sclerosis do not develop any significant visual changes, and thus treatment is not usually needed.

This is in contrast to the development of cataracts of the lens, which may develop primarily on its own, or secondary to some other metabolic disease, such as diabetes mellitus in the dog. A full veterinary eye exam is recommended to distinguish between nuclear sclerosis and cataracts. Most pets who develop cataracts will still do fine in their home or familiar environments, as pets will compensate with their other acute senses in navigating their surroundings.

In spite of many over-the-counter products, there have been no scientifically proven topical medical therapies to reverse developed cataracts. That leaves surgery as the only option, if treatment is elected. It is also important to address any underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes, which is why a full medical blood and urine workup is recommended in pets with cloudy eyes.

If cloudy eyes develop acutely or suddenly in a pet, that may indicate an injury or scratch to the cornea, which is the protective covering of the eye. Not only may they eye appear cloudy, but also there may be varying degrees of swelling and redness, discharge and light sensitivity. This is known as a corneal ulcer, and is a medical emergency in these acute situations, and thus a veterinary evaluation is recommended ASAP.

As with humans, pets may also develop other diseases of the eyes, which may lead to the appearance of cloudy eyes, such as glaucoma, and inflammation of the inner parts of the eyes known as uveitis. Pets may also develop problems in the back of the eye with various diseases of the retina. Because of the many possible causes of cloudy eyes in aging animal companions, it is critical to have a prompt and full veterinary eye and physical exam to address these many potential underlying causes of a cloudy eye, as well as guide specific treatment options for the best possible outcome.

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