So we were left here with five orphan babies. We could not find a nursing bitch so we had to bottle feed them, first we used a milk replacer (Royal Canin) but then we switched to goat milk based on my vet’s suggestion. My whole family was in charge, every two-three hours we bottle fed the babies, slept an hour or max two and start it again. On the second day a little miracle happened, our sweet female Vannabe adopted the puppies although she had never had pups before. She did all what she could, she warmed them, she cleaned them, she had taken a big work from our shoulder.

The babies were developing well. They had good digestion, they were satisfied and they all turned out so beautiful. All pups were sold to breeders and we also kept a female pup to have a little Phoebe around us. In February 2010 it turned out that a boy has cataract. We did not understand how it can happen. We were shocked by the young age and anyway... how could it be? Of course both parents were healthy and the bitch had two litters before, all ten pups are free. We bought back the puppy and took him home. We arranged examination to find out whether there is any reason. The same time we asked the other owners to test their dogs also, by today all of them are diagnosed with cataract. We were so shocked by these that we started to investigate how it could be. And we found out about nutritional cataract which is effecting orphan babies raised on milk replacer or goat milk and it is deriving from the lack of arginin.

As we found out the location and the shape of their cataract already suggest that it is something different. Secondly all pups show the signs at so young age. Thirdly the fact that they were hand raised. Unfortunately these babies had not had a drop of their mom’s milk, they were fed with goat milk as we were told this is the best for them. Unfortunately here the eye specialists do not have any experience with such case. Some of them heard it or read about it but without personal experience or further knowledge. As we discussed with vets, the problem is that there are very-very few cases like ours and on the other hand it is very rare that pups from such orphan litters get to eye tests at all. I think it is not necessary to tell how devastated we are. I think it was our ever best litter; we did everything what we could but not knowing the danger of this nutritional cataract we caused a total disaster. We travelled through Europe for this mating, we lost our beautiful bitch, we put all our efforts to raise the pups the best we can and we failed. Someone up in the sky was not on our side.

Please use it for your own and for others benefits. I do not wish to anybody to go through the same tragedy of losing a bitch after birth but if it happens it is better to be prepared. When you hear about a breeder who must hand raise puppies WARN him/her. She/he might not know ...

Some basic information about nutritional cataract: By Dr. Lisa Meek, Member ACVOA

Nutritional cataract is caused by either a deficiency or excess of a nutrient resulting in a loss of transparency of the lens. Nutritional cataracts have been identified in various species, including rats, pigs, wolves, fish and guinea pigs as well as dogs and cats. In dogs and cats the most common cause of nutritional cataracts is being hand raised on milk replacer. It is usually possible to differentiate nutritional cataracts from inherited cataracts. The location of the cataract within the lens is fairly unique compared to other cataracts. The cataract is present within a few weeks of starting milk replacer. When combined with a history of being hand raised, the diagnosis is usually straight-forward. Also, inherited cataracts rarely occur at such early ages (with a few exceptions).Nutritional cataracts usually do not progress to interfere significantly with vision. Some will improve with age, as the young lens has some ability to repair itself. The younger the pup is when switched from bitch to hand raising, the more likely it is to develop nutritional cataracts.

Also, the sooner it is started on solid food, the sooner the lens can stabilize and improve. Numerous studies have been performed to try to identify specific causes of nutritional cataracts. Most studies have implicated abnormal amino acid levels, with the specific amino acid implicated varying from species to species. Arginine deficiency has been implicated as the most likely cause of nutritional cataracts in dogs. Most of the commercial milk replacers do not contain added arginine. One exception is Nurturall by VPL. All of the commonly available milk replacers (Esbilac, Havolac, Unilact, Veta-lac, and Nurturall) have lower protein levels than bitches milk. Bitches milk has approximately 10.7% protein, cows and goats milk 3.5% protein, and the above mentioned supplements range from 4.5% protein to 7.5% protein.There have been no studies evaluating home made diets, but it is known that meat is a good source of arginine. Therefore, one of the most common recommendations has been to add beef or liver baby food to the milk replacers. Since no studies have been performed evaluating this combination, there are not specific recommendations as to how much baby food should be added.

The specific recommendations that I can make are the following:

  • If pups cannot be raised on the bitch, then try to find a wet nurse for them.
  • The longer the pups are on bitches' milk, the less likely they are to develop nutritional cataracts.
  • If they cannot be raised on bitches' milk, add as much beef or liver baby food to the milk replacer as you can without causing GI upset and still keep it liquid enough to drink.
  • Add puppy diet as soon as possible.
  • Consider using Nurturall since it has the highest protein level of the available milk replacers and has added arginine, if bitches' milk is not available.
(Ed. Note: Recent ads in the AKC Gazette also show "Just Born" milk replacer as having the arginine added and the protein content of this product is also 7.5%. Nurturall is available from Veterinary Products Lab in Phoenix, Arizona (800) 548-2828 and Just Born is by Farnam, also in Phoenix (800) 234-2269).Today (14.03.2011)

I received some additional information from an ACVO specialist:

Nutritional (or milk replacer) cataracts usually form a ring of opacity around the nucleus of the lens (the inner portion that puppies are born with), separating it from the healthier cortex. This can form if the puppies only get milk replacer this first week of life. During this time the developing lens proteins form abnormally. Since the lens is added on to throughout life, the size of the ring relative to the size of the lens diminishes, but never goes away. Most of the time, these cataracts do not progress or cause significant vision deficits. Most veterinary ophthalmologists should be able to distinguish between inherited cataracts and nutritional cataracts. At least in the US, with “CERF”, these cataracts would be labeled nuclear cataracts, significance unknown, and the dog would be eligible for breeding. I don’t know what the breed club in your country/Europe will say.I hope I have answered your questions.

Nancy M. Bromberg, VMD, MS, DACV