Cataract Surgery for Dogs: Cost, Procedure, and What to Expect

Cataracts are fairly common in dogs, which means many pet parents will find themselves deciding between cataract management and cataract surgery for dogs. Cataracts in dogs look similar to cataracts in people — a cloudy lens that quickly becomes more opaque, causing blindness. 

Once cataracts have started, they generally can’t be stopped. Apart from blindness, cataracts can also cause other problems in the eye, including glaucoma and lens luxation, which are both painful. While medications can make these side effects of cataracts less likely, they won’t be able to prevent them entirely. 

Cataract surgery is another option for treating your dog’s cataracts. While it’s more expensive in the short term, it does save your dog’s sight — and considerably reduces the risk of these side effects from happening.

Let’s take a look at cataract surgery for dogs, what it is, and what to expect if your vet recommends your dog has their cataracts operated on.

What Is Cataract Surgery for Dogs?

Cataract surgery is a type of eye operation that removes your dog’s cataracts. We’ll delve more into what it involves in a moment. For now, let’s just say that your dog’s eyeball is opened, and the cloudy lens is removed. Some dogs will have an artificial lens inserted instead, but even without this step, their vision is improved. 

Cataract surgery restores your dog’s vision, although they may still have some visual deficits, such as long-sightedness. 

Vets usually recommend cataract surgery in dogs who are young, with a long life expectancy. Cataracts need to be recent to have the lowest chance of side effects — hyper-mature cataracts aren’t good candidates for surgery. 

Dogs need to have a reasonable temperament for cataract surgery too, thanks to an extended stay in hospital and the need to have eye drops multiple times a day for several weeks after their operation.

Alternatives to Cataract Surgery for Dogs

As mentioned earlier, cataracts can be managed, rather than treated with surgery. In canine cataract management, the eyes are monitored with regular appointments. One study showed that nearly half of canine cataracts had complications, such as uveitis or glaucoma (1). Medication is usually prescribed to treat any side effects of cataracts. 

This is a common way of dealing with canine cataracts, but it won’t treat the problem, and your dog will eventually lose their sight. Dogs can adapt really well to being blind, so this is still a commonly chosen option, especially if dogs are elderly, their diabetes isn’t stable, or they have other illnesses that mean cataract surgery is too risky. 

What Does Cataract Surgery for Dogs Involve?

The first thing to do is to make sure your dog is a candidate for cataract surgery. Your veterinarian will do a series of tests for general health and on the eyes.

Once your dog is given the go-ahead, they’ll be booked for the cataract surgery procedure. This will involve a general anesthetic, so you won’t be able to stay with them. Instead, you’ll usually drop them off in the morning, often without having had breakfast (but let your vet guide you on this, especially in diabetic patients).

Once your dog is fully asleep under the anesthetic, the eye area will be carefully cleaned to reduce the chance of infection. Your vet will then make small cuts in the cornea (the outer layer of the eye) over the lens. The lens is then broken up using high-frequency vibrations (a process called phacoemulsification) and the mushy lens is removed using suction. If your dog is receiving an artificial lens, this will be inserted next. Lastly, the cornea is sewn back together again.

Pros and Cons of Cataract Surgery for Dogs

Cataract surgery can be life-changing, especially in congenital or hereditary cataracts, since these dogs often get cataracts at a young age while otherwise healthy. Their vision will be improved, and if an artificial lens is placed, it can be almost normal, allowing them to live a normal life. 

Compared to medications, dogs who have cataract surgery are also less likely to have complications and painful secondary conditions. One study suggests medicating cataracts is four times more likely to result in failure (e.g., painful secondary diseases or euthanasia) than doing surgery (2). 

However, cataract surgery is expensive (more on this next), and not all dogs are good candidates. It’s also a specialist procedure, meaning you may have to travel to find a vet who can perform the operation. A 90 percent success rate may sound good, but it still means 1 in 10 dogs will have complications, which may mean the loss of their sight anyway. Complications can happen months or years down the road, which means your dog will need ongoing monitoring for their eyes (although this is also the case in dogs who have their cataracts managed rather than treated). Recovery from cataract surgery is also long, with dogs needing their activity restricted for four weeks, having to wear a hard plastic cone, and requiring regular medication, including eye drops multiple times a day.

Cataract Surgery for Dogs Cost

Cataract surgery is a specialist procedure, requiring highly trained vets and expensive equipment that isn’t available in all hospitals. This, coupled with the several days in hospital post-op, with trained staff applying medications several times a day, means the costs of cataract surgery in dogs are quite high. 

Pet parents can expect to spend $2,000-$5,000 for cataract surgery, with the cost varying depending on location, post-op care, follow-ups, and any complications. In some cases, both eyes can be operated on at once, reducing overall cost (compared to doing both separately) but still costing more due to increased surgical time and aftercare.

Cataract Surgery for Dogs Recovery Time

Different vets do things differently, but most will hospitalize your dog for a few days post-surgery. This allows them to carefully monitor your dog as well as give them intravenous pain relief drugs to keep them comfortable. At this point, your dog will be on a cocktail of topical eye drops, each of which will need to be applied 4-6 times a day and never at the same time as the others. By hospitalizing their patients, the vet can ensure your pup gets the right drug at the right time, and make any changes to the regimen depending on how your dog responds.

Once your dog is considered stable, it’s time to bring them home. Dogs will be discharged with careful instructions you should follow, but here’s the general gist. 

Eye drops: 2-3 medications given every 4-6 hours, usually for at least a month

Pain relief: Oral pain relief, usually given once daily

E-collar: A hard plastic collar, bigger than usual, that prevents them from walking into anything and damaging their eye as it heals

Activity restriction: For four weeks, dogs shouldn’t exercise off-leash or be allowed to jump onto the sofa, etc. 

Harness: Your dog will need a harness rather than a collar or leash that attaches to their neck. This is to avoid increased ocular pressure from neck compressions

Follow-up visits: At a minimum, your dog will need to re-visit the vet a week or so after going home, then a few weeks later. You’ll also need to visit a couple more times over the next year to check for slow-to-develop complications.

For at least a year after the operation, you’ll need to monitor your dog’s eyes for signs of complications. Redness, appearing sore, and loss of vision should all be reported to your vet immediately.

Before the surgery, it’s a good idea to put some work into training your dog with cues to help them post-op (such as “steps!” to let them know there are steps coming). You can also get them used to having their face held and eyes touched, giving them treats whenever they let you do what you need to do.


Cataract surgery for dogs can make a huge difference to their quality of life. However, not all dogs are suitable candidates for the surgery. As a specialist procedure, it is expensive and potentially inaccessible for many. 

If your dog develops cataracts and you’re interested in cataract surgery, talk to your vet and they can guide you.


  1. Fischer, M C, and A Meyer-Lindenberg. “Progression and complications of canine cataracts for different stages of development and aetiologies.” The Journal of small animal practice, 10.1111/jsap.12910. 22 Aug. 2018, doi:10.1111/jsap.12910
  2. Lim, Christine C et al. “Cataracts in 44 dogs (77 eyes): A comparison of outcomes for no treatment, topical medical management, or phacoemulsification with intraocular lens implantation.” The Canadian veterinary journal = La revue veterinaire canadienne vol. 52,3 (2011): 283-8.

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