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When to See a Dog Opthamologist

A dog opthamologist is a specialist who works exclusively with dogs (or other companion animals) on diseases of the eyes. Dogs, especially those in the senior years, are prone to just as many eye diseases as we are.

Deciding when to consider a dog opthamologist over a licensed veterinarian depends on a few things including your financial situation and the severity of the disease.

The cost of a dog opthamologist is higher than that of a general licensed veterinarian. In some cases it’s worth the extra cost, especially if there’s a risk to your dog’s vision. Other times, a licensed veterinarian can fix the problem.

Diseases that could affect your dog’s vision include sudden acquired retinal degenerative syndrome (SARDS), complications from diabetes, cataracts, corneal ulcers, dry eye, glaucoma, blepharitis, conjunctivitis, infections, uveitis, retinal detachment, cherry eye, and cysts.

This post will help you decide whether a licensed veterinarian is the way to go, or whether you should invest in the services of an opthamology service.

Ultimately, the decision you make will be based on financial considerations, the severity of your dog’s eye disease, where you live, and your overall expectations.

According to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons…

A veterinary opthamologist will have access to high-tech equipment and cutting-edge technology. Veterinary surgeons who specialize in ophthalmology will have a better understanding of your dog’s vision problems. Specialty equipment.

Here’s the thing, if you have access to a dog opthamologist and you do not require a referral, you might be better off to start there.

It’s a tricky decision because there’s a chance your dog doesn’t need a specialist at all. However, if that’s the case, the specialist will simply refer you back to your primary veterinarian.

Cataract Surgery for Dogs

Cataracts are the result of aging eyes, diseases like diabetes, trauma, or genetics. Normally, the lens of the eye is clear. However, over time, the lens can become cloudy and that cloudiness makes it really hard to see.

You likely won’t notice it in the very early stages. Later, as the cataracts progress, you’ll notice a cloudy film over your dog’s eyes. Your dog might start bumping into things or startle easily.

Is a Dog Opthamologist Needed for Cataract Surgery?

In most cases, no. However, if the veterinarian is worried about complications caused by cataracts or glaucoma (for example, a detached retina), they may suggest a dog opthamologist.

Licensed veterinarians and dog ophthalmologists perform the same set of diagnostic tests which include the following:

High Resolution Digital Ocular Imaging

A dog opthamologist has access to a number of different techniques used to get a good look at your dog’s eyes.

One of these is called high resolution digital ocular imaging. It means they are able to take a targeted and highly focused digital photo. This technology is specifically designed to take pictures of the entire eyeball, not just the outer lens.

Fluorescein Angiography

This procedure involves the injection of fluorescent dye into your dog’s bloodstream. The dye highlights blood vessels in the eyes so that they images can be taken.

This test helps detect macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy in dogs.


This procedure involves precise measurement of your dog’s pupil size relative to how they change in size when exposed to light.

Watch this next video for a short lesson in natural remedies for dog eye infections.

A Board Certified Veterinary Opthamologist Can Perform…

Ocular Ultrasound

Your dog opthamologist might need to do an ocular ultrasound if your dog’s eyes are severely inflamed, or if there is intraocular hemorrhage (bleeding in the eye).

To do this, the veterinary specialist will sedate your dog. Acoustic gel (called so because it helps transmit information) is applied to the dog’s eye and a wand is used to capture images.

-Computed Tomography (CT)

Computed Tomography (CT Scan) involves light sedation and strapping your dog to a gurney. That gurney then pulls your dog gently into a dome-shaped space. A technician in another room is then able to take a look at your dog’s internal body parts.

This technology makes it possible for a dog opthamologist to take “slices” of an image and later reconstruct it as a 3-D image.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

If a dog opthamologist decides that an MRI is necessary, your dog will need to go under general anesthesia. The test can take over an hour and involves positioning the dog inside an enclosed magnet.

If you are taking your dog for cataract surgery, glaucoma, or one of the other common dog eye diseases, the specialist probably won’t order an MRI. This test is used after a diagnosis has been made (as in the case of a brain tumor, for example) to get a good picture of what’s happening in there.


This particular test is also used in humans to detect certain diseases of the eye including diabetic retinopathy or retinal trauma including vitreous hemorrhage.

Highest Quality Medical Treatment

In choosing a veterinary specialist, your dog will get the highest quality medical treatment available. Yes, that does come at a cost. In fact, people have spent upwards of $7000 or more for a series of tests, procedures, and surgeries.

When you bring your dog to a veterinary eye care specialist, you know that the doctor is highly skilled in that particular area.

You Might Not be Referred to a Dog Opthamologist if…

You live in a rural area with no immediate access to veterinary specialists. The closest clinic could be hundreds of miles away and the cost of travel (overnight stay, gas, meals, etc.) in addition to the cost of advanced diagnostics might just break the bank.

Rural veterinarians are skilled at treating a variety of ailments including eye problems. However, there are times when the veterinarian would rather your dog see a specialist. If your dog’s quality of life is being compromised, you’ll want the highest level of eye care.

You might be interested in reading Mast Cell Tumor Dog Life Expectancy

A Dog opthamologist is Skilled In:

Eyelid Repair

Eyelid repair in dogs is a delicate procedure. Entropion is one condition where eyelid repair is necessary. For this, the dog opthamologist must remove a section of skin in the eyelid to stop it from rolling inward. After the first “major” surgery is performed, the opthamologist may need to follow-up later with minor corrective surgery.

Retinal Repair

In dogs with a detached retina, surgical repair may be necessary. In this case, you’ll want someone with a high degree of skill to perform the surgery.

Holes or tears in the retina can result from recent cataract surgery, lens displacement, or problems with the clear gel (vitreous gel) that fills the space around the lens and retina of the eye. Surgery to repair a detached retina requires the services of a specialist.

Glaucoma Treatment

Glaucoma refers to disease that affects the optic nerve. Depending on your veterinarian’s level of confidence, your dog could be referred to a dog opthamologist for treatment of primary, secondary, or inherited glaucoma.

Get Glaucoma in Dogs – Your Complete E-Guide.

How Much Does a Dog Opthamologist Cost?

Getting top-notch vision care for your dog is not going to come cheap, nor do you want it to. Your dog’s vision is vital to his or her quality of life. Like veterinarian services, the cost of a dog opthamologist varies depending on the services required and the clinic/animal hospital.

To give you an idea on costs, you can expect to pay as much as $3500 or more for common cataract surgery. Prices go up depending on the technical skill required and type of tests required (ultrasounds, MRI, etc.).

TIP: When inquiring about costs, make sure to find out whether the total includes post-operative follow-up appointments and medication.

Is There Financial Help for Dog Vision Care?

More than 200,000 healthcare providers offer CareCredit in the United States. People swear by CareCredit because it gives you the ability to pay for the total cost of your dog’s health care upfront. It’s kind of like using a credit card but without harsh penalties.  Depending on the promotional offer, you could get 6, 12, 18 or 24 months with no interest on purchases of $200 or more. All you have to do is make the minimum monthly payments.

To Sum It Up…

Financial concerns are first and foremost in people’s minds when it comes to specialized healthcare for dogs. It’s not necessarily an easy decision. Unless your dog requires immediately surgical care (in an emergency situation), take a deep breath and consider the options.

Ask your veterinarian about the pros and cons of a dog opthamologist. Don’t be afraid to call around to get the best price and make sure to ask about CareCredit. Some clinics or hospitals might also offer other incentives.

At the end of the day, you have to consider what’s best for your dog, and what you can reasonably afford. It’s always in your dog’s best interest to have vision problems taken care of both for their quality of life and overall health.

The fact is, you probably won’t know there is anything wrong until your dog’s vision is significantly impacted.

If your local veterinarian can offer similar services and is confident of a good outcome, there’s no need to seek out a dog opthamologist. However, there may be situations or conditions that require more specialized care. In that case, the veterinarian will offer his or her suggestions.

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