Is it Cataracts or Lenticular Sclerosis?

As a veterinarian, I frequently encounter concerned owners who suspect their aging dogs have developed cataracts. Often, these worries stem from noticing a new grey coloration in their furry friend’s pupils. While cataracts can indeed occur, more commonly, the culprit is lenticular (or nuclear) sclerosis. So, let’s delve into this prevalent condition and understand its implications for our beloved canines.

The Lens and Its Role

To comprehend lenticular sclerosis, we must first grasp the lens’s function. This vital component of the eye focuses light onto the retina. Usually transparent, the lens remains invisible to the human eye as it resides behind the pupil, the dark “hole” encircled by the colored iris. The lens maintains its clarity because of the precise arrangement of its tissue fibers.

Encountering Lenticular Sclerosis

As dogs grow older, additional fibers accumulate on the outer layers of their lenses. Unfortunately, the lens is encased within a capsule, leaving limited room for expansion. Consequently, these new fibers exert pressure on the older, inner fibers, altering their orientation and diminishing their clarity. This natural process gives rise to lenticular sclerosis, causing a cloudy, blue-grey-white appearance in the pupil.

Age and Progression

Lenticular sclerosis typically begins to manifest in dogs between the ages of 6 and 8. However, many owners only notice the change when their pets are older and the condition has advanced. Thankfully, lenticular sclerosis is not painful, does not significantly impair a dog’s vision, and requires no treatment. I often reassure my clients that, while their dogs might struggle with reading fine print on a bank statement, they are perfectly fine living their furry lives. Although it is likely that very old dogs with advanced lenticular sclerosis may experience more significant vision impairments, our focus primarily rests on managing other age-related health concerns by that stage.

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Determining the Diagnosis

To differentiate lenticular sclerosis from more serious eye conditions such as cataracts, veterinarians employ ophthalmologic exams. Firstly, they examine the corneas, the outer layer of the eye, often employing a slit-lamp. If the cloudiness resides on or just behind the cornea, lenticular sclerosis is not the issue at hand. Subsequently, veterinarians utilize an ophthalmoscope to gain deeper insights into the eye. In certain cases, medicated eye drops are administered to prevent the pupils from constricting. With lenticular sclerosis, the ophthalmoscope provides a partial view of the retina, albeit slightly fuzzy. On the contrary, a cataract obstructs the view of the retina, either partially or entirely, depending on its size. If the veterinarian cannot see through the lens, neither can your beloved canine.

A Clear Diagnosis

Therefore, if you notice your middle-aged or older dog’s eyes becoming slightly cloudy, yet everything else appears normal, rest assured that there is usually no cause for concern. During your next clinic visit, simply request an eye exam from your trusted veterinarian to confirm the likely diagnosis of lenticular sclerosis.

Dr. Jennifer Coates