Cataracts

a1249-cataract

In this we will cover the following:

1. What is a cataract?
2. What causes cataracts?
3. Can they be treated?
4. Looking after a ferret with a cataract.

What is a cataract?

Cataracts are an eye disease, where the internal lens of the eye becomes clouded with an opaque milky white film. They’re painless and often progressive over a period of time. Cataracts cause blurred vision and occur when protein builds up in the lens of the eye. That build up prevents light from passing through the lens and can cause some loss of vision. Other than blurred vision, cataracts can also cause light sensitivity especially to light glares. Distortion or double vision can also happen in the affected eye and over time the cataract can lead to total loss of vision. Cataracts are more easily seen in dark eyed ferrets compared to albino red eyed ferrets. In dark eyed ferrets, Cataracts appear as a milky dull white opaque film on their pupils while in albinos it appears as a pink film that isn’t as easily seen.

What causes cataracts?

There are a number of causes for cataracts in ferrets, including metabolic, hereditary, congenital, infections and trauma or damage to the eye. Cataracts are more likely to form after the age of 7, or in older ferrets. Other health conditions can also increase the risk of cataracts, for example Diabetes, Uveitis and Aleutians disease. Long-term use of steroid medications, exposure to certain drugs, or oxygen toxicity during anaesthesia, too, can cause cataracts to develop. Just because something ‘can’ cause cataracts to develop, doesn’t necessarily always mean that they ‘will’, it simply means that there are the possibilities of cataracts forming. Juvenile cataracts are not that rare among ferrets. They don’t happen often, but they can happen. Especially in early ages, or even since birth. Most of the time a Juvenile cataract is congenital or hereditary in origin, But damage to the eye or even a poor diet can cause cataracts or blindness. A Taurine deficiency may potentially cause Blindness in ferrets, so regardless of age it is essential for a well balanced diet.

Can they be treated?

Cataracts can be treated, only if there is swelling or redness in the affected eye. Anti-inflammatory drugs can be used to keep the eye less inflamed and to make it more comfortable for the ferret. That cannot bring any vision back to the affected eye, but it can keep the eye calm and manageable. Surgery can be done to remove the cataract, however it is a risky procedure for ferrets. Ferrets have very small eyes compared to a dog or cat which makes it more difficult to extract the lens. Surgery is also quite costly, rarely done and best avoided for the sake of the ferret.

Looking after a ferret with a cataract.

Ferrets with cataracts or blindness can live a normal. healthy and happy life just like a ferret with normal vision. Give them the same love and care, you would any other ferret and don’t look at them for their health condition or disability. Ferrets in general have poor vision and are nearsighted. They see things that are close more easily compared to things that are further away. They are highly dependent on their sense of smell and hearing so they can use those two senses to easily get themselves around their home and cage. If you need to move things around in the home, make sure to do so over time to avoid the ferret from having any accidents or becoming confused. If you can, avoid moving things around all together. Handle the ferret normally but be aware that you may need to be gentle and try to avoid startling them especially if they’re totally blind. They will also memorize their surrounding and some have been known to use a seeing eye ferret. When picking up or petting a blind or semi blind ferret, speak to them softly and clearly to make them aware of your presence, otherwise there may be a chance that they may spook and bite or nip out of fear. Cataracts will not in any way, stop the ferret from leading a normal happy and healthy life. Though they won’t visually see you, they will know you by scent and voice.

Here’s image example of a cataract in a dark eyed ferret. This is my 2 year old boy Beavis. He had no injury or trauma to his left eye, so it is suspected to be a hereditary juvenile cataract in only his left eye. He still plays normally and is enjoying life. The Cataract is no hindrance to him.It started to form on the 25th of August and by the 1st of September. Under a week it was clearly visible. Some cataracts can take a while to completely form, while some are very quick to form.

References:
Biology and Diseases of the Ferret by James G. Fox.
www.visionaustralia.org/eye-health/eye-conditions/cataracts
www.webmd.com/eye-health/cataracts/health-cataracts-eyes 
www.veterinarypracticenews.com/April-2009/Trauma-And-Disease-Threaten-Ferret-Eyes-And-Lives/
www.cypresskeep.com/Ferretfiles/Body-Eyes-FM.htm

Updated: Feb 3, 2017.

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