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Natural remedies for dogs with cataracts

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Question

 Jake, our 10-year-old American Cocker Spaniel, has developed cataracts. Can you suggest any alternatives to surgery or ways to stop them getting worse?

P.L., via email

Answer

Cataracts are when cloudiness develops in the lens of the eye, which is usually clear. They’re not the same as nuclear sclerosis, which is a normal age-related condition resulting in a hazy appearance to the eyes and seen in most old animals. 

The eyes of pets with cataracts look cloudy to milky, and in most cases, the lens looks solid white even to the naked eye. This is a result of biochemical changes occurring in the proteins that are present in the lens structure. Free radicals have been known to cause damage to the eye tissues causing cataracts.

Cataract is a common inherited condition in dogs and is also seen in cats. Certain dog breeds, such as the Afghan Hound, American Cocker Spaniel, Australian Shepherd, Bichon Frise, Boston Terrier, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd, West Highland White Terrier, Welsh Springer Spaniel, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Siberian Husky and Havanese, are predisposed to cataract formation even at a young age. 

Diabetes is the second most important cause of cataracts in dogs and cats. Poor diet, radiation exposure, trauma and inflammation, especially an inflammation of the middle layer of the eye called anterior uveitis, are other reasons for developing cataracts. 

It’s important to remember that, unlike in humans, vision is not that vital for dogs and cats as they rely on smell. However, they do struggle to find their way and can bump into objects as they develop cataracts, so they need extra care.

Diagnosis and treatment

A veterinary ophthalmologist will use eye examination techniques such as ophthalmoscopy or slit-lamp biomicroscopy to diagnose cataracts and rule out other conditions like nuclear sclerosis.

Cataracts are classed as incipient, immature, mature or hypermature depending on how much of the lens is affected, so treatment depends on the type of cataract your dog has.

For mature cataracts, where the entire lens is affected, surgical removal of the lens is the only definitive therapy. However, if during surgery the lens-capsule barrier is damaged, the immune system attacks this lens as foreign material, resulting in severe lens-induced uveitis (inflammation) postoperatively, which is quite dramatic and needs long-term monitoring. 

This is not the case in humans, which makes cataract surgery in humans a lot simpler comparatively. 

Incomplete or immature cataracts, on the other hand, can be treated with the drug atropine applied as a topical ointment three times a week.

Top tip – Doggy eye massage

Gently massaging the area around your dog’s eyes with your fingers in a circular motion, starting from the nose and going under the eyelid, over and back again three to five times, can stimulate circulation to the eyes.

Holistic alternatives

Diet

Feed your dog fresh food with plenty of yellow and green vegetables like kale, carrots and spinach, as these are rich in free-radical fighting antioxidants—vital for eye health.

Vitamins

Supplementing with antioxidants like vitamins E, C and A is also important and may be useful for slowing down the progression of cataracts. 

If you can afford it, intravenous vitamin C therapy given weekly is a better option. But it has to be administered slowly over two hours. A holistic vet may be able to offer this.

Vitamin A also protects ocular tissue and the lens. Cod liver oil is a good option and can be added to food. Giving your dog beta-carotene, which is converted into vitamin A, is another option, although not for cats, as they can’t make this conversion. 

Suggested dosages: Vitamin E, 50 IU per 10 lb (4.5 kg) of body weight once daily; vitamin C, 100 mg per 10 lb of body weight twice daily; cod liver oil, ¼ tsp daily for pets under 15 lb (7 kg), ½ tsp daily for pets 15–50 lbs (7–23 kg) and 1 tsp daily for pets over 50 lb (23 kg)

Flavonoids

Plant compounds called flavonoids, especially those found in bilberries or European blueberries, are beneficial for eye health and can help protect the lens. 

Suggested dosage: For a medium-sized dog, add 50 mg of bilberry (1 capsule) to food

Homeopathy

It’s best to see a homeopathic vet, but the following remedies can be effective.

Calcarea 30C, Phosphorus 30C or Silica 30c can improve lens health. Your homeopathic vet can help guide you in picking the correct one. 

Suggested dosage: 3 pellets daily for a week

Conium maculatum 6X can be used if cataracts are trauma-induced. You can add the pellets crushed into milk or place them directly onto your dog’s tongue.

Suggested dosage: 2 pellets daily for five days

Cataract Crystalline Lens eye drops by Natural Ophthalmic is a homeopathic product featuring homeopathic Cineraria (Cineraria maritima), a powerful herb capable of healing cataracts. It also contains other homeopathic ingredients like Euphrasia, Silicea and Sepia.

Suggested dosage: 1 drop three times per day

Commercial products

Other commercial products that can be helpful include:

Ethos Bright Eyes Eye Drops for Cataracts, which contain the antioxidants N-acetyl-carnosine (NAC) and vitamins A and E (popular in the UK).

LumenPro Pet Cataracts Eye Drops, which contain NAC and lanosterol, a biomolecule effective for cataracts (popular in the US).

Vital Eye by Earth Animal, an organic herbal remedy containing eyebright, chamomile, ginkgo, Lycium and bayberry given orally to support healthy eye function. 

Suggested dosages: Follow the label instructions

Acupressure

This traditional Chinese technique may be helpful for cataracts. See my book You Can Heal Your Pet for a detailed guide on how to give acupressure to your pet, but here are the basics.

Apply gentle pressure on the following acupressure points for one to three minutes up to five times daily.

GB 1. Located at the outside corner of the eye

GB 41. Located on the hind foot just below the ankle

ST 2. Located in the middle of the bony orbit just under the lower eyelid of the eye.

 

Interested in natural pet health? Visit the Get Well show…CLICK HERE


 

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Article Topics: Dog breed, Eye, lens, Ophthalmology
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