View All Articles

Cataracts—A Guide for Pet Owners

The lens is a normally clear structure that acts as a focusing device for the images projected on the retina in the back of the eye. Cataracts are opacities that develop in the lens, preventing image projection, which can eventually lead to vision loss. Veterinary Referral Center (VRC) is welcoming Dr. Zachary Badanes, who is reestablishing our hospital’s ophthalmology service. Since cataracts are a fairly common eye issue, knowing more about the condition can help you recognize signs in your pet.

Cataract causes in pets

The lens is composed of thin, clear, highly organized protein fibers. A cataract causes a permanent change, transforming the clear protein to a milky, white opacity. Numerous conditions can result in cataract development, including:

  • Genetics — The most common cause of cataracts in dogs is a genetic predisposition. Hereditary cataracts have been identified in several dog breeds, including the Afghan hound, bichon frise, Boston terrier, Chesapeake Bay retriever, German shepherd, golden retriever, Labrador retriever, and cocker spaniel.
  • Diabetes — About 75 percent of diabetic dogs develop cataracts. When the dog’s blood sugar rises, the sugar level in the eye fluids also increases. The lens absorbs this excess sugar, which ultimately results in cataract formation. Early referral to a veterinary ophthalmologist is the best way to manage these dogs.
  • Geriatric — As pets age, the proteins and fibers in the lens begin to break down, resulting in cataract formation.
  • Inflammation — Cataracts can occur when inflammation breaks down the proteins and fibers in the lens.
  • Trauma — If the capsule that encloses the lens is disrupted, the immune system recognizes the lens proteins as foreign, and attacks, resulting in inflammation and potential cataract formation.
  • Congenital — Some pets are born with cataracts.
  • Dietary deficiencies — Amino acid deficiencies, including histidine, tryptophan, phenylalanine, and arginine, have been linked to cataracts.
  • Toxins — Certain toxins, including ketoconazole and disophenol, have been linked to cataracts.
  • Electric shock — The exact cause is unknown, but receiving an electric shock can cause cataracts.

Cataract signs and diagnosis in pets

A cataract causes the lens in the center of your pet’s eye to appear white, gray, or cloudy. Cataracts can affect only part of the lens, or the entire structure. The opaque area impedes normal image formation, and causes vision loss. Pets are exceptionally good at adapting to vision loss, especially if the loss is gradual. This means you may not realize your pet has developed a cataract until you see the changes in their eyes, at which point the cataract may be advanced. Advanced cataracts often incite more inflammation inside the eye, which can decrease your pet’s eligibility for cataract surgery. 

Having a veterinary professional regularly monitor your pet’s eyes is the best way to detect cataracts early, when they can best be managed. If your pet has developed a cataract that causes vision loss, our ophthalmology department will assess whether they are a good candidate for cataract surgery. Diagnostics include:

  • Blood work — Screening blood work will be performed, to ensure your pet is healthy enough to undergo general anesthesia.
  • Ultrasound — An ocular ultrasound will be performed to assess the back of your pet’s eye, since an advanced cataract makes visualization difficult.
  • Electroretinogram (ERG) — An ERG measures the retina’s electrical activity in response to a light stimulus, assessing your pet’s retina health. Pets who have retinal degeneration or retinal detachment are not typically good surgery candidates, as cataract removal is unlikely to restore their vision.
  • Tonometry — Your pet’s eye pressure will be evaluated, to determine if they are affected by glaucoma. Pets who have glaucoma may not be good candidates for cataract surgery.

cataracts in pets

Cataract medical management in pets

The primary goal when medically managing a cataract is to maintain the pet’s comfort, and manage inflammation to prevent secondary complications, such as lens luxation and glaucoma. Medical management cannot restore vision, but for pets who are not surgery candidates, this approach is the best way to keep their eyes pain-free. Regular monitoring by a veterinary professional is important to evaluate for secondary complications. Potential long-term management protocols can include topical lubricants to maintain corneal health, and possibly nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories to manage inflammation. Other medications will be needed if your pet develops glaucoma.

Cataract surgery in pets

Surgery is the only vision-restoring option to manage cataracts, and involves a process called phacoemulsification, in which special surgical equipment uses sound waves to break apart the lens. The pieces are then removed from the lens capsule, and an artificial lens is implanted. Cataract surgery is approximately 90 percent successful, and pets who have early stage cataracts typically experience fewer complications and have better outcomes. After surgery, pets usually stay one night in the hospital, and they will wear an Elizabethan collar to prevent them from rubbing their eyes. You will need to administer three to four topical eye medications to your pet for several weeks. Initially, the drops should be given four times a day, with the frequency decreasing over time.

Dr. Badanes will need to reevaluate your pet at one week, three weeks, six weeks, three months, and six months after surgery, and potentially more frequently, if complications occur. Possible complications include:

  • Retinal detachment — The retina lies along the back of the eye, and is important for normal vision. Retinal detachment occurs when the retinal layer separates from the back of the eye. This can cause permanent vision loss, but this complication is not common after cataract surgery.
  • Glaucoma — Glaucoma occurs when inadequate fluid drainage causes increased pressure inside the eye. Topical medications can control ocular pressure.
  • Chronic inflammation — Some inflammation is expected after cataract surgery, but persistent inflammation requires long-term management.

Cataracts can significantly affect a pet’s vision, but when caught early and managed appropriately, their vision can be salvaged. If you think your pet may have cataracts, contact our VRC team, so Dr. Badanes can evaluate your pet and determine whether they are a good cataract surgery candidate.

What Pet Owners Need To Know When Choosing A Pet Insurance Plan

Veterinary medicine has made monumental strides in treatment methods for our pets. From advanced, minimally invasive surgical procedures, to targeting specific cancer sites for radiation treatment, pets are living longer, healthier lives.

These advancements in methods and equipment come at a cost. While veterinary care is still significantly less expensive than human medicine, costs can still add up quickly in an emergency or when more specialized care is needed. That’s where pet insurance comes in handy.

So what is pet insurance anyway?

A pet insurance plan allows you to make decisions on your pet’s veterinary care based on the quality of medicine, not the cost of treatment. Since pet insurance is considered property and casualty insurance, it operates similarly to your car insurance rather than human health insurance. There is a deductible you are responsible for, after which you are reimbursed a portion of your out of pocket costs. Unlike human healthcare, there is no “in-network”, so it can be utilized at any veterinarian in the US.

What does it cover?

Most companies offer accident and illness coverage, which is utilized for the unpredictable occurrences that your pet will inevitably experience. These include anything from an ear infection or broken toenail, all the way up to complex fractures and even cancer treatments. Most companies will allow for whatever method of treatment is deemed necessary by your veterinarian, but you should verify this prior to signing up. Some companies also offer wellness coverage for assistance with things like vaccines, well visits, and preventatives.

How much will I get reimbursed?

The amount of reimbursement, deductible amount, and total amount covered for the policy year all vary based on the company policies as well as the plan options you select. Most companies reimburse a percentage of the veterinary bill, which you elect when signing up. Some will reimburse based on a benefit schedule, which means you will only receive a refund of what the company deems to be an appropriate amount for the services rendered.

What isn’t covered?

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that pet insurance does not cover conditions which are deemed “pre-existing”. What is considered a pre-existing condition does vary from one company to another, but typically it means any clinical signs or symptoms being shown prior to taking out the policy or during the waiting periods. Because of this, it is important to sign up for your policy as early as possible.

How do I find out more?

There are many companies out there with a variety of coverage options, so make sure you do your research to find the company that best fits your needs and provides you with peace of mind. If you have questions about which pet insurance company may be right for you, ask your veterinarian. Additionally, NAPHIA (North American Pet Health Insurance Association) has a ton of information about pet insurance and how it works. Click here for an overview.

What are my other payment options?

At VRC, we are happy to assist you with any pet insurance claims or documentation you may need. In addition, we offer other payment assistance options such as CareCredit and Scratchpay. To learn more about VRC’s payment options, click here. 


The Night Before Christmas—Holiday Pet Hazards Version

’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a—wait a minute, is that Jake and Fluffy, the Jones family’s golden retriever and cat creeping around the house late at night? What could they be up to?

It looks like Jake and Fluffy are quietly sneaking around so they don’t wake their sleeping family and ruin their big night. You see, Jake and Fluffy have been on their best behavior all through the holiday season, and now that it’s Christmas Eve and the big guy is on his way with their presents, they plan to enjoy themselves. Let’s see what they have in mind.

Christmas Tree Catastrophes

Fluffy heads for the Christmas tree that her family so carefully decorated. She has been eyeing the low-hanging bulbs for weeks, and now she plans to play to her heart’s desire. She knocks several onto the wood floor. One shatters. As she jumps away, Fluffy feels a sharp pain in her foot. She licks at the blood that seeps from her cut, and watches Jake head toward the tree stand. The water tastes kind of funny, but he happily laps it up, since his family was busy hosting a Christmas Eve party and forgot to fill his empty bowl. The Christmas tree water may contain dangerous bacteria, mold, or chemicals, but thirsty Jake isn’t too discriminating. 

Next, Fluffy pulls some glittery tinsel off the tree. She doesn’t understand why, but the long strands are irresistible, and she eats several. They may cause severe intestinal problems tomorrow, but she can’t help herself now. She moves on to the twinkling Christmas tree lights, and begins chewing on the cord. Her family has left the tree plugged in, since it is Christmas Eve night, and she can’t wait to gnaw through the long strand. Fortunately, as she is about to bite down, she hears Jake rummaging around in the kitchen and goes to investigate.

Holiday Food Fiascos

Jake had to smell the delicious dinner cooking all day long, and was disappointed that his family didn’t share any, but he is thrilled to discover that all the best leftovers are waiting in the trash. His family was too tired to take the garbage out before bedtime, which means that he can feast on turkey skin, bones, gravy, and mashed potatoes. He wolfs down as much as he can find, and licks up the evidence. Poor Jake will probably have a nasty stomach ache tomorrow. Let’s hope he doesn’t develop life-threatening pancreatitis after eating all that fatty food, or an intestinal obstruction, or perforation from the bones. 

After his decadent meal, Jake heads straight for the plate of sweets his family has left for Santa. He gobbles them down, and particularly enjoys the chocolate chip cookies and homemade chocolates. He rarely gets to taste chocolate, since his family normally makes such an effort to keep it away from him, telling him it’s “toxic to pets”—whatever that means.

Lastly, Jake sniffs out the treats left in the stockings hanging on the mantle. He pulls one down and finds more chocolate and several packs of chewing gum, which he devours. Hopefully, the gum doesn’t contain the artificial sweetener xylitol, which can cause life-threatening hypoglycemia or liver failure. 

Houseguest Hazards

Fluffy eats a few turkey scraps with Jake, and then wanders down the hallway into the guest room where Grandma and Grandpa are sleeping. She hopes to find the bottles of little round tablets she spotted earlier that looked like fun. She easily locates the pill bottles in the open suitcase, grabs one in her mouth, and runs down the hallway, where she chews the cap off, and eats a few of the small round pills before deciding they are too bitter. 

Fluffy leaves the pills on the floor, and heads to the back door, which one of the kids has left cracked open to ensure Santa can get into the house. She slips her paw into the crack and is able to open the door wide enough to fit through. Jake hears her, and noses the door open wider so he can also slip through, and they head out into the night. They wander down the street, but head back when they see the first morning light so they can rest up before tomorrow’s festivities. Thankfully they didn’t get lost or, worse, hit by a car. 

Jake and Fluffy had quite a night, and they may end up in the emergency room tomorrow, which will surely scare their owners and interrupt their holiday fun. If their owners would prevent these holiday dangers, they would have a safe, healthy holiday together.

To prevent a holiday pet emergency, follow these tips:

  •  Pet-proof the Christmas tree — Hang breakable decorations on higher branches, tuck all cords out of reach, and keep the tree stand covered so your pet cannot drink tainted water. Cats love to eat tinsel, so skip this nostalgic decoration if you have a feline friend in your home.
  • Ensure pets cannot get into dangerous or toxic foods — Fatty leftovers from your holiday dinner can cause a severe case of gastritis or pancreatitis, which may require hospitalization. Toxic foods, such as chocolate, raisins, macadamia nuts, and xylitol, can cause life-threatening complications if your pet eats them, so stick to pet food and pet-safe treats, and don’t leave human food put where your pet can eat it.
  • Alert guests to your pet-safety house rules — Ask guests to keep all personal belongings, including prescription and over-the-counter medications, safely out of your pet’s reach. Let them know not to feed your pet any human food, and that you will take care of your pet’s potty breaks, so they don’t accidentally let her out into an unfenced area where she can get loose.

If your pet takes a page from Jake and Fluffy’s story and gets herself into holiday trouble, our emergency department is open over the holidays when your family veterinarian may be unavailable. You can contact us 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for your pet’s emergency care.

Common Exotic Pet Emergencies

Pets don’t fall ill on a nine-to-five schedule, and they often require after-hours care. Emergency treatment can be easily found at night or on weekends for dogs and cats, but what about exotic pets? Reptiles, birds, and small mammals are excellent at hiding signs of illness and may not show any visible symptoms until they require urgent care. We are excited to announce that we now offer night and weekend emergency care for scaled, furry, and feathery pets. If your family exotic pet veterinarian is not open, we are here.

How to tell if your exotic pet requires emergency care

Exotic pets require routine veterinary care just like dogs and cats, and often need an emergency veterinarian’s services as well. A pet may appear healthy when you leave in the morning but show signs of illness by the time you return home. It’s difficult to know whether your exotic pet requires immediate treatment or can wait until your family exotic veterinarian is open, so we’ve put together a list of signs that your exotic pet needs emergency veterinary care.

  • Birds require emergency care if you see:
    • Weakness
    • Bleeding
    • Straining to defecate
    • Struggling to lay an egg
    • Refusing to eat or drink
    • Staying in the bottom of the cage
    • Fluffed or ruffled feathers
    • Pronounced keel bone
    • Loose stool
    • Labored breathing
    • Discharge from the eyes, ears, or beak
    • Continuous squinting or closing of eyes


  • Ferrets require emergency care if they exhibit:
    • Diarrhea
    • Vomiting
    • Tense abdomen
    • Decreased urination
    • Pawing at the mouth, which may indicate nausea due to low blood sugar
    • Depression
    • Lack of appetite


  • Guinea pigs and rabbits who show these signs require emergency care:
    • Diarrhea
    • Decreased stool production
    • Lack of appetite
    • Head tilt
    • Pain
    • Rolling or flipping
    • Depression or lethargy


Guinea pigs and rabbits may have serious gastrointestinal issues if they are not eating. The gastrointestinal tract can go into stasis, which may require hospitalization and treatment, or even surgery, to correct. We recommend syringe-feeding ground pellets or Oxbow Critical Care mixed with water to provide enough fiber to stimulate the gastrointestinal system until you can get your pet to a veterinary hospital.

  • Reptiles require emergency care in these situations:
    • Cold body temperature
    • Weakness
    • Prolapse of body tissue through the vent or rear
    • Paralysis


In general, if your exotic pet appears weak or lethargic, is not eating or drinking, or has a decreased stool or urine output, she likely requires emergency care. Don’t hesitate—if your exotic pet is not eating, even for less than a day, that is an emergency.

Exotic pets, especially reptiles, are adept at appearing healthy, and it may be late at night or during the weekend when you realize she has a problem. Exotic pets often require specialized care, so be sure to have emergency exotic pet care in place in addition to your regular veterinarian. We strive to be there for your pet when your family veterinarian is unavailable, and we will stabilize her and transfer her back to their care. Together, we provide round-the-clock care for your pet in all situations.

Is your family exotic veterinarian closed and you think your pet may need urgent care? Don’t worry about the late hour or holiday season—give us a call to see if your feathered, scaled, or furry friend requires immediate treatment.