Oli’s Senior Dog Cataract Surgery

Senior dog's eyes close up after cataract surgery recovery

This post shares our personal experience with bilateral dog cataract surgery, including Oli’s after care, recovery, issues, and things we found helpful along the way. Our beautiful boy is now passing the milestone of six months post cataract surgery. Any further visual improvements from here likely to be slow and minimal at best. Here’s 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.

This our personal experience with dog cataract surgery, and post cataract surgery care and recovery. It is 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. 

Life with an Ageing Dog

Oli is a happy-go-lucky fellow. He’s a genetic giant for his breed and, unfortunately, the bigger the dog the harder the years. Not surprisingly, now that he’s a senior spotty, he’s started slowing down. Oli retired from jogging last winter and although he still enjoys (demands) his daily walk, it has slowed to a stroll. This shift in activity necessitated major changes in how we exercise our two dogs to try and give them both the different activities they need. Tricky, but expected.

The unexpected development has been his declining eyesight. As we’ve shared on Facebook and our other social networks, Oli started suffering from age-related vision loss. His lower situational awareness made his mobility and stability extra difficult, and this has affected his confidence. He may be slower and less certain of his environment these days, but Oli is still a very happy dog and living a great life. We’ll do what we can to keep him that way and help him enjoy his golden years to the max. That path brought us to senior dog cataract surgery and the recovery detailed in this post.

Weaving a spiral dog toy with high visibility colours for dogs

Trusted Veterinary Care and Expertise

Knowing he was in good hands before, during, and after helped immensely. The veterinary ophthalmologist was excellent, as is Oli’s local vet. I had full confidence in the veterinary ophthalmologist and team, but was very anxious about the prospect of putting our beloved old Oli through the stress of anaesthetic and surgery, as well as the post-op medications and healing process.
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, and very scared is nobody’s idea of fun. Vision aside (more on that below), he had two big issues post surgery. One was a stubborn glob of in-eye gunk that I was able to safely clear at home with helpful advice from the ophthalmologist. The other was eye irritation as his meds stepped back that was addressed by his local vet in remote consultation with the ophthalmologist. Isn’t technology great?

Understanding and Preparing for Possible Outcomes

From veterinary advice and pre-surgery reading about dog cataract surgery, we expected Oli to have some degree of reduced vision post surgery. From there, we expected a gradual return of functional sight as swelling and 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, however, Oli was temporarily blind after the surgery. We weren’t prepared for that level of reduced vision.
We were expecting the initial recovery period to be hard, but not mentally or logistically prepared for functional blindness. Unlike many canine cataract patients, Oli still had a degree of vision before his surgery. This was temporarily lost pending recovery. The unexpected blindness was expected to be short term since surgery went well, and indeed it was, but those were very difficult and anxious days indeed, for Oli and for us. Oli has retained a fear of the scent of veterinary practices ever since. 
When hubby called post-surgery, he asked me to go out and buy a pet sling. We have steps at both entrances at home. Potty time would require special assistance. I knew that there was zero chance of finding a sling in our small city, nor time for a special order. Oli is a big boy and lifting is no easy task. I got to work and quickly made an emergency dog sling with materials on hand while they travelled home.

The (Sometimes Rocky) Road to Recovery

Security, Support, and Supervision

I was able 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 home at the start so that Oli wasn’t left alone at all in those first scary days.  He was travelling for work immediately after the cataract surgery, so I needed to leave Oli on his own while Humphrey was exercised.

My company automatically lowered blind Oli’s anxiety. 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 to rub his face on his Elizabethan collar.  Young Humphrey learned surprisingly quickly that Oli’s face and collar were no-go zones. We also did our best to keep Humphrey as tired and happy as possible with exercise, toys, and play so that Oli could stay relaxed and quiet.

Medication and Care

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. I was so cautious about touching his poor sore face and his eyes were swollen into little slits.  Plain make-up remover cotton pads with sterile eye wash solution were my go-to for delicately wiping goobery mucus trails from his face.

Even after the medications were phased out, the drop skills proved handy.  As Oli’s healing progressed and we returned to spending slow and gentle time outdoors, we noticed he had irritated eyes afterwards. The ophthalmologist recommended we switch from using standard non-medicated drops to lubricating drops. He recommended Hylo-Forte for Oli’s case. It’s a human drop that we could buy at some local pharmacies. They were awesome and made such a difference. Talk with your ophthalmologist if your dog is showing issues or you have concerns. Never be afraid to ask questions. Our vets have been awesome throughout.

If you aren’t confident with drops, start beforehand with a non-medicated drop. Your vet will have suggestions on what to safely use. Getting you and your dog used to things can help you be more confident. This will be especially helpful when things are sore and swollen. The medications are expensive, some sting, some taste terrible if you accidently miss the eyes and get any near the nose or mouth.  

Creating a Sense of Safety and Comfort

Oli seemed to have go-to safe spaces around the house where he would prefer to stay. Positioning a dog blanket in these places on the floor for a low bed helped him navigate by smell/feel and rest comfortably. They were also easy to switch and wash. It was important to try and keep his world as clean as possible, especially in the early stages of healing. Eating and drinking were very messy business, with guidance and assistance required in early days. Using bathmats under dog bowls for a washable non-slip surface (and a sensory landing pad for navigation) helped immensely. See our post on keeping a (mostly) tidy home with dogs for more tips.

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. I used water-only baby wipes. They were a clean and gentle option that I was comfortable using around his eyes on my frequent wipe migration of eyes, face, mouth, chin, and the plastic shielding of his collar.

I found myself baking a lot of treats, 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. 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 to email to the ophthalmologist. This is one of his final progress photos. Look at those beautiful big brown functioning peepers!

Dog wearing cone looking at a treat post cataract surgery recovery

The Slow Return of Vision

When Oli’s vision started to return, he was sooooooo excited!  Bumping and bumbling with an enormous grin!  For the recovery period, extra dog proofing is essential. And you might need a little touch up paint as well.  Dang Elizabethan collar.  We were super excited, too of course. Hubby was away on the evening that Oli first regained a small semblance of vision. I left a very excited voicemail followed by a hilarious iPhone video message of Oli bumping ecstatically about the house.

Resuming Activity and Exercise

Resuming slow gentle walkies in safe spaces required careful consideration. Even at his age, Oli was very unhappy to be confined for rest and recovery. 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 more of his functional eyesight and grow more steady and confident, the hand turned to a short lead, then a longer lead, and eventually he was allowed off leash in safe areas, although we had some missteps along the way. Be extra careful, furfriends.

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 after cataract surgery

Reaching a New Steady State of Vision After Dog Cataract Surgery

Six months on and his vision isn’t perfect, but it’s better than it was and way better than it would have been now. The ophthalmologist indicated that he’d likely be fully blind by this stage if not for the cataract surgery. It’s currently functional, but not clear. I often describe it to people as being like a person who really needs their glasses but isn’t wearing them.
Oli still gets confused sometimes, especially when there is a lot of visual distraction. He is often a little fuzzy up close. Mouth flailing to the treat (it’s around here somewhere!) is the new norm. Residual corneal edema may continue to fade further overtime for slightly more improvements still. We’ve also learned a lot in the intervening months about the differences in how dogs see vs. humans. That’s helping us make changes to help him see us better in difficult conditions. And to have more dog-friendly fun in general. 

Dog cataract surgery was expensive and Oli’s recovery was harder than we expected, but no regrets. Just lessons learned and lots of love for our beautiful old boy. We’re fortunate to have been able to give him the opportunity to enjoy the world with some degree of vision, even if things might be a little fuzzy, for his final years of love and adventure.
Dalmatian dog walking on beach with large shadow

Helpful Supplies During Oli's Dog Cataract Surgery Recovery

As noted in the detailed text above, we were not as prepared as perhaps we should have been for Oli’s recovery. Here is a summary of the supplies and materials that we found helpful post surgery:
  • Pet sling (navigating steps immediately post-surgery)
  • Harness with handle at back (guiding around the house and later on early walkies)
  • Short leash (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)
  • Cotton make-up pads and cotton buds (cleaning gunky eyes)
  • Bathmats under bowls (non-slip and easy to wash after very messy blurry eating and drinking)
  • Lots of dog blankets (safe spaces and easy cleaning)
  • Treats! Of course…
Our senior dog's experience with bilateral cataract surgery and recovery

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