My dog had cataract surgery
Devastated is the word I would use to describe how I felt when I found out my dog was completely blind in one eye, and had only 30% vision in the other. He was an ARAN rescue dog – picked up by Animal Control in the middle of nowhere, abandoned, hungry, tired and lonely. He wasn’t an easy dog to rehome, apparently no one wanted to adopt him, although I now know there was a reason for that – he was waiting for us.
About six months after we officially adopted him we sought the advice of two dog trainers as he was growling at strangers both on and off our property. Apparently this was ‘quite normal behaviour’ for a dog who had finally found his family and we came up with a plan to work through this. Little did we realise that he was actually going blind, and growling to tell us that he couldn’t see people approaching him and that he felt uncomfortable.
My daughter said a couple of times that his eyes looked like they were going milky, so when I took him for his annual vaccination I asked the vet to take a look at them. She said ‘yes, well we should monitor them and maybe we will need to send you to an eye specialist”. I didn’t wait. I knew about another ARAN rescue dog who had been in a foster home for a few weeks, then rehomed, and then he was returned during the trial period, and it wasn’t until his eyes were checked that it was discovered he only had 10% of his vision. I made an appointment with the same specialist.
It really is amazing that with both dogs, their humans didn’t really notice their rather profound blindness – testament to the fact that dogs adjust, relying on their other senses (smell and hearing) more.
I went along to the appointment and didn’t really take in much of the conversation after finding out that my baby was blind in one eye, and would certainly lose all sight in the other within weeks. I came home and cried… for about two days. Everyone said ‘try to continue as normal, he will pick up on your sadness’ but I couldn’t help it – so we were sad together. It was so unfair. He had only really just found his forever home, and now he was blind and unable to enjoy his life to the fullest.
I started researching cataracts, cataract surgery, and all the horror stories that are on the internet. Not so many good news stories, but a lot about what can go wrong. I joined the FB group called Blind Dogs and got some advice on how to help my boy cope, and read even more sad stories.
I was unsure whether to consider surgery after everything that I had read. It was a decision that was weighing heavily on my mind. And then I spoke to the sister of a good friend of mine. She’s a vet and said that her colleague had a Staffy who had gone blind from cataracts at around 12 months of age. This dog was blind for a year before he had surgery and she said that the transformation in him was amazing to watch. She was very encouraging, patient and kind – it really made such a difference to talk to someone who understood my concerns.
By now he was completely blind. I brought him a harness to use, as a collar and lead can put pressure on the optic nerve. I taught him ‘step up’ ‘step down’ ‘wait’ and ‘cat’ as a couple of times he stood on our cats, who never ever get out of the way for a mere dog, and gave himself a huge fright. He started to bang into things, which was heart-breaking, missed when trying to jump onto the bed etc. It was hard being the seeing-eye person for a blind dog. I talked to him a lot. We walked the same walk every day so that he felt secure, and I reassured him every time a vehicle passed us.
He started taking Ocu-glo, an oral supplement that has been especially formulated for canine eye health. He also had to have pred-forte twice daily to try and clear up the infection in his right eye.
My husband and I talked it over, and decided that we were going to go ahead with the surgery. In New Zealand there are only two Canine Eye Specialists – Peter Collinson in Auckland and Craig Irving in Palmerston North. Both came very highly recommended.
We had to wait for about five weeks before he could have the surgery so that the infections in his eyes could clear up. I felt sick. He is a nervous dog around strangers because of his past, and the thought of having to leave him at the surgery, scared and blind…as I said, I felt sick.
I found three people via Facebook (all in the US) whose dogs had undergone surgery and they were a wonderful support network, providing advice and practical solutions for after care etc.
The morning of surgery finally arrived. I had to leave home at 6am to get through the traffic. I took a selfie of him and I, you know, just in case. I asked God to take special care of him as I left him in a cage, shaking with fear and unable to see.
Time went so slowly. He was to be sedated as soon as I left, and then have drops in his eyes for about two hours before the operation, which would take about an hour. I watched the clock as the hands edged towards 1pm, the time I was expecting a phone call to tell me how it had gone. I cried when I heard that it had all gone according to plan.
I picked him up at 3pm, and he started to whimper when he heard my voice. He was still quite woozy but he managed to get himself smartly out of the building and into my car. On the way home I just about had a heart attack as he was in such a deep sleep I thought he had died. I had only just recovered from another heart attack moment – which was paying the bill. Cataract surgery is not cheap.
When he got home I made him up a bed next to ours with cuddly blankets and comforted him. He would have to be kept away from our other dog for a few days. His eyes looked sore and red, but he could already see! He had to have 3 different lots of eye drops several times a day and 3 different lots of oral meds as well. He ended up having to wear the cone of shame as he was trying to rub his eyes and we didn’t want him damaging the tiny stitches.
Let’s just say he didn’t last long on his lovely comfortable bed next to ours – he launched himself up onto our bed and slept between the two of us. It was an arrangement that was rather squished, especially with his cone on.
We didn’t leave him alone at all over the next 10 days. My lovely workplace agreed to him coming in a couple of times, and my parents and husband also helped to babysit him.
Day by day we saw him improve and I couldn’t help but ‘test’ his sight by dropping little toys, or pieces of paper in front of him. I didn’t care about the schedule of eye drops and meds – it was a miracle that my boy had his sight back.
About 5 days later we went back for a post op check and his eyes were ‘fabulous’. There was such relief. Now, three weeks post-surgery, the cone is off, the meds are reduced and he is clearly feeling wonderful. We have a check up this week and are hoping for another good report.
We know that there is a risk of scarring – this risk is heightened because of his age. In his case, because he’s young and clearly has something in his genetic makeup that predisposed him to cataracts, the risk of scaring is real. But we are not dwelling on that, we are enjoying the fact that he has his sight back, and can soon be back to the things he enjoys – like swimming, and doggy daycare.
I hope that by writing this blog, others might be encouraged by this story. If you can afford it, and your dog is a candidate for cataract surgery, please contact either Peter or Craig to discuss the options for your dog.