Friday, 6 April 2018
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Senior Dog Love - Oli Update - Cataract Surgery Experience

Close up of Dalmatian dog's eyes after cataract surgery

April is here, and this month is all about our beautiful old boy Oli who has his 12th barkday coming in a few weeks!  We are also passing the milestone of six months post cataract surgery and with any further visual improvements from here likely to be slow and minimal at best, it's time we shared a summary of our cataract surgery experience for those of you who have taken Oli into your hearts over the past few years of our blogging or those who may be facing similar uncertainties with their own beloved pets.

Note: This our personal experience with post cataract surgery care and recovery, and not medical advice in any form. I can't stress enough how important it is to have trusted vets and work with them on what's right for you and your pet. Oli's medical professionals helped us understand whether surgery would be suitable for his case, probable outcomes, risks and implications, and have guided us all along the path to, through, and post recovery. 

Knowing he was in good hands before, during, and after helped immensely. The veterinary ophthalmologist was excellent, as is Oli's local vet. With the exception of his surgery and key follow-ups, his care was local. This was immensely helpful and saved Oli a huge amount of stress.  He would normally relish a lengthy car ride, but travelling hundreds of kilometres for check ups while drugged, blind/blurry, and very scared is nobody's idea of fun. Vision aside (more on that below) he had two big issues post surgery: a stubborn glob of in-eye gunk which I was able to clear at home with helpful advice from the ophthalmologist and eye irritation as his meds stepped back which was addressed by his local vet in remote consultation with the ophthalmologist. Isn't technology great?

From advice and pre-surgery reading, we expected Oli to have a degree of vision post surgery with a gradual return of functional sight as swelling/inflammation went down, medication effects were phased out (especially the paralysis of the iris and pupil dilation), and he adapted to his post-surgery eyes. In our case, Oli was temporarily blind after the surgery. We were expecting it to be hard, but we were not mentally or logistically prepared for functional blindness. Unlike many canine cataract patients, Oli still had a degree of vision left before his surgery which was temporarily lost pending recovery. It was projected to be very short term (surgery went well) and indeed it was, but those were  very difficult and anxious days indeed, for Oli and for us!

When hubby called post-surgery about to head home with blind Oli asking me to go out and find a pet sling (we have steps at both entrances, so no matter what, potty time would require assistance), I knew that there was zero chance of finding one in our small city nor time for a special order. Oli is a big boy and lifting is no easy task. So I quickly made an emergency dog sling with materials on hand (will share details in a future post) while they were on the drive home.

I was going to be at home for the duration of Oli's recovery, which I know is a luxury many owners may not have. If I had my time back, we would have tried to make sure that hubby was around as well (was travelling for work immediately after Oli's surgery) so that Oli wasn't left alone in those first scary few days while Humphrey was taken out for exercise. Company automatically lowered Oli's anxiety and I was his guide human, navigating him through the maze of hallways, doorways, and objects. It also meant that we could time his various drops and medications to whatever was best practice and keep a constant eye/ear out for any attempts to rub at his eyes or scratch/roll on to rub his face on his Elizabethan collar.  Humphrey learned surprisingly quickly that Oli's face and collar were no-go zones. We did our best to try and keep Humphrey as tired and happy as possible with exercise, toys, and play so that Oli could have some peace.

I became ruthlessly efficient at giving eye drops. Oli wasn't a fan...but he eventfully acquiesced and we built it into our daily routine. The hardest was immediately post surgery when I was soooo  cautious about touching his poor sore little face and his eyes were swollen into little slits.  Plain make-up remover cotton pads wetted with sterile eye wash solution were my go-to for delicately wiping goobery mucus trails from poor Oli's face. Tip: If you aren't confident with drops, start beforehand with a non-medicated drop (your vet will have suggestions). Getting you and your dog used to things can help you be more confident - especially when things are sore and swollen. The medications are expensive, some sting, some taste terrible if you miss the yes and get any near the nose/mouth.  Even after the medications were phased out, the drop skills proved handy.  As Oli's healing progressed and we returned to spending some slow and gentle time outdoors, we noticed he would have irritated eyes afterwards.  When we told the ophthalmologist that Oli seemed to have dry eyes on/post walkies and our concerns about dust/pollen heading into spring and summer, he recommended we switch from standard non-medicated drops to lubricating drops instead (Hylo-Forte in Oli's case - human drop, which we could buy at some local pharmacies). They were awesome and made such a difference.  Talk with your ophthalmologist about what is right for your dog and your situation if your dog is showing issues or you have concerns. Never be afraid to ask questions! Our vets have been awesome throughout!

Oli seemed to have go-to safe spaces around the house where he would prefer to stay, so positioning a folded dog blanket in these places (on the floor or a low bed) helped him navigate and rest comfortably. They were also easy to switch and wash, as it was important to try and keep his world as clean as possible in the early stages of healing. Eating and drinking were very messy business, with guidance and assistance required in early days, but using bathmats under dog bowls for a washable non-slip surface (and a sensory landing pad for navigation) helped immensely.  We've phased out paper towels and disposable cloths at our place with the exception of the messiest pet messes, but for cleaning Oli's face (eye goobers, gunk, slobber...) I made an exception and switched to water-only baby wipes. They were a clean and gentle option that I was more comfortable using around his eyes on my usual wipe migration of eyes, face, mouth/chin, and around the plastic shielding of his collar.

I found myself baking a LOT of treats those days, with a happy Oli resting nearby on a safe blanket listening to the familiar sounds of me rustling around the kitchen and smelling familiar smells. It seemed to make him happy, so I went a little overboard and had a very full freezer! Random blind sniffing slowly became a treat tracking target lock - very helpful for taking his weekly progress photos for emailing to the ophthalmologist. This is one of his final progress photos. Look at those beautiful big brown functional peepers!

Dalmatian dog in a cone begging for a dog treat

When Oli's vision started to return he was sooooooo excited!  Bumping and bumbling with an enormous grin! Dog proofing is essential, and a little touch up paint as well, dang that Elizabethan collar. :)  Resuming slow gentle walkies (even at his age, he was NOT happy to be confined for rest) to safe spaces required careful consideration. At first, it was slow and bumpy hand-on-harness at all times and in safe familiar places only. Even still, navigating was difficult - especially in bright conditions. As he started to regain functional eyesight and grow more steady/confident, the hand turned to a lead and eventually off leash again in safe areas, although we still had some missteps along the way.  We spent a very very LONG time in the Elizabethan collar. What started out as a means to prevent Oli from rubbing at his healing eyes became a safety barrier for Mr. Bumpy. Slowly, as days became weeks became months things got better and better.  Little milestones, like the first time down the back patio steps, were cause for celebration. Small observations, like effortlessly navigating the change in elevation at a curb or stepping around a sneaky sidewalk obstacle, showed how far he had come on the road to vision recovery.  

Dalmatian dog wearing a cone and harness sitting on a forest trail

Six months on and his vision isn't perfect, but it's better than it was and way better than it would have been as he'd likely be fully blind by this stage if not for the surgery. It's functional, but not clear - I often describe it to people as being sort of like a person who really needs their glasses but isn't wearing them. He gets confused sometimes, especially when there is a lot of visual distraction, and is often a little fuzzy up close (mouth flailing to the's around here somewhere!).  Residual corneal edema may continue to fade further overtime for sightly more improvements still. We've also learned a lot in the intervening months about the differences in how dogs see vs. humans (more on that in a future post) and have been making changes to things like walkies clothing to help him in difficult conditions. It was expensive, it was harder than we expected, but no regrets - just lessons learned.

Things that we found helpful post surgery, as noted in the text above:
  • Pet Sling (navigating steps immediately post-surgery)
  • Harness with Handle at Back (guiding around the house and later on walkies)
  • Short Leash (progressing to closely assisted walkies - I used the traffic loop on our zero-shock lead)
  • Basic Washable Elizabethan Collar (not classy, but essential to keep things as clean as possible)
  • Water-Only Baby Wipes (cleaning face, wiping collar)
  • Non-Medicated Eye Drops (ophthalmologist recommended for cleaning and dry/dusty eyes post walkies)
  • Cotton Make-Up Pads and Cotton Buds (cleaning gunky eyes)
  • Bathmats Under Bowls (non-slip and easy to wash after very messy blurry eating/drinking)
  • Lots of Dog Blankets (safe spaces and easy cleaning)
  • Treats! Of course...


  1. Thank you for sharing this. Our girl is developing cataracts and I've been reading other peoples experiences.

    1. I'm sorry to here that you and your dog are going through this. Our vets were fantastic about information, options, and support throughout. Definitely find one you trust, if you haven't already. Good luck to you and pats to your sweet girl.


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