By Dr. Becker
Nuclear sclerosis, which is also called lenticular sclerosis, is a condition that causes the pupils of the eyes to take on a cloudy bluish-gray appearance. Many owners of older pets assume the problem is cataracts. And while cataracts are a relatively common symptom in aging dogs and cats, nuclear sclerosis is even more prevalent. The condition is also seen in humans and horses.
Nuclear Sclerosis Is a Normal Change in Aging Eyes
Nuclear sclerosis is considered a normal change to the lenses of the eyes. It usually develops in both eyes simultaneously and is often seen in animals over the age of six. The condition isn’t painful. It comes on gradually, and pets are able to adapt very well to the minor changes in vision that occur.
In younger animals, the lens of the eye is clear because it is composed of tissue fibers that are perfectly organized. But as a pet grows older, more and more fibers are deposited to the outer rings of the lens. Since the lens resides inside a capsule and can’t expand to accommodate the additional fibers, the new fibers push the older fibers close together and toward the center of the lens. This compression causes the lens to harden and cloud over.
Nuclear Sclerosis or Cataracts?
The only clinical symptom of nuclear sclerosis is a cloudy appearance of the lens of the eye. Occasionally, a pet will develop mild problems judging distance and range.
Most veterinarians can quickly tell the difference between nuclear sclerosis and a more serious problem, like cataracts, with an ophthalmologic exam. The corneas are typically checked first, often using a device called a slit lamp. If there’s cloudiness on or just behind the cornea, the problem is not nuclear sclerosis.
When your vet (or a veterinary ophthalmologist) looks deeper into the eye with an ophthalmoscope, which may require the use of medicated drops in your pet’s eyes, he or she will be able to see all the way through to the retina if nuclear sclerosis is present. If the problem is a cataract, it will partially or completely block the view of the retina. If your vet can’t see through the lens, neither can your pet.
Unlike cataracts, nuclear sclerosis doesn’t seriously affect vision and no treatment is necessary. And if your pet has nuclear sclerosis, it doesn’t mean she will automatically also develop cataracts. However, if you notice your pet’s eyes taking on a different color, it’s very important that your vet make sure it’s nuclear sclerosis and not another more serious eye condition.
Slowing Down Age-Related Changes in Your Pet
The most important thing you can do for a pet with nuclear sclerosis is slow down age-related changes.
- Keep your pet in good physical condition and at a healthy weight.
- Don’t allow your pet to be over-vaccinated or given unnecessary medications such as pest preventives or other drugs. Try to keep your pet in a “green” environment by eliminating toxic household cleaners and chemical-laden shampoos.
- Feed your pet a diet rich in antioxidants, preferably through a living, raw, whole fresh food diet. Antioxidants, specifically vitamins C and E, scavenge free radicals and can slow down the degenerative changes in your pet’s eyes.
- Add bilberries in pill or raw food form to your pet’s food. Bilberries are an excellent source of flavonoids and have antioxidant properties as well. Combined with vitamin E, they are known to protect the eye tissue in humans and halt lens clouding.
- Talk with your holistic vet about other supplements that can benefit your pet’s ocular health, including beta-carotene, lutein, astaxanthin, glutathione, SOD (super oxide dismutase), and alpha lipoic acid. Also talk with your vet about nutraceutical eye drops and Chinese herbs that have been proven effective in slowing lens degeneration.
Most importantly, if you see changes occurring in your pet’s eyes, have your dog or cat evaluated by your veterinarian to make sure you’re doing all you can to prevent further degeneration.