Like humans, dogs' eyes change as they age. These changes may affect the appearance of the eyes and cause concern for owners. Lenticular sclerosis is one potential change seen in the eyes as dogs get older. Fortunately, this is a harmless condition that requires no treatment. However, lenticular sclerosis can be mistaken for other conditions such as cataracts. Only a veterinarian can determine what is truly causing your dog's eye changes.
What is Nuclear Sclerosis in Dogs?
Nuclear sclerosis, also known as lenticular sclerosis, is an age-related eye condition that leads to a hazy, bluish appearance to the eyes. The lens of the eye is a transparent structure made of fibrous tissue that sits behind the iris. It assists with vision by focusing light onto the retina, helping to make images clear.
The normal lens of a dog's eye contains three parts:
- Cortex: the outer portion of the lens
- Capsule: the membrane that surrounds the lens
- Nucleus: the center of the lens
The lens changes and develops new layers regularly throughout life. To make way for new fibers, it pushes old fibers towards the nucleus of the lens because they are unable to leave the lens capsule. As a dog ages, the old fibers in the lens become compacted, creating a cloudy appearance in the eye. This density is called lenticular or nuclear sclerosis.
Lenticular sclerosis is a product of aging and usually begins to appear in middle-aged to senior dogs. The condition is painless and does not lead to blindness.
Diagnosing Lenticular Sclerosis in Dogs
Dogs with nuclear sclerosis will typically have a blue-hued, cloudy appearance to their eyes. At first glance, this cloudiness may look quite a bit like cataracts. However, a veterinarian can distinguish between lenticular sclerosis and cataracts by closely examining the eyes. During this exam, your vet may dilate the eyes with drops and use a special light and a handheld lens to visualize the inside and back of each eye.
It's important to visit your vet when you first notice changes in your dog's eyes. The cause of the changes may or may not be related to lenticular sclerosis. Other eye conditions can occur at the same time and may not be apparent to the naked eye. Many eye conditions will become worse or even irreversible if left untreated.
Lenticular sclerosis does not significantly affect vision in dogs. Over time, your dog may see images less clearly, especially from a distance. If you notice that your dog's vision is abnormal, it is most likely due to another eye issue, such as cataracts or age-related retinal changes. Your veterinarian should be able to detect the cause of vision loss during the eye exam or by performing special eye tests.
Treatment and Management of Nuclear Sclerosis in Dogs
No treatment is necessary for lenticular sclerosis because it does not cause discomfort or vision loss. In fact, there is no treatment available for lenticular sclerosis in dogs.
In humans, similar lens changes may be a contributing factor to presbyopia, a loss of near vision that typically makes reading glasses necessary. Humans with severe vision impairment may be able to have surgery to improve vision. Several types of surgery are available, one of which involves the placement of an artificial lens. In dogs, surgery to replace the lens is generally reserved for cataract treatment.
It is important that your veterinarian examines your dog's eyes once or twice a year, especially as your dog ages. Unrelated eye conditions can still occur while lenticular sclerosis is present. You may not notice other changes because the eyes are already cloudy. Be sure to contact your veterinarian right away if you notice vision loss, pain, discharge, swelling, redness, or any other signs of illness.
If your dog has other eye conditions, your veterinarian may refer you to a veterinary ophthalmologist for an expert opinion, to get advanced diagnostics, and to discuss treatment options.
If your dog is experiencing vision loss due to cataracts or another eye problem, lenticular sclerosis may have a mild impact on the vision because it is compounded with the primary problem. Fortunately, there are ways to help your blind dog live a good life. Patience and consistency are the most important factors when it comes to caring for a blind dog.