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Tiny Mixed-Breed Dog Beats Cataracts to Regain Sight

By Christy True
published: October 20, 2023 • 3 min. read
Riley, a shih tzu/Chihuahua mix

Diagnosis: Cataracts
Cost: $7,483 | Healthy Paws reimbursed: $6,161
Coverage options:  80 percent reimbursement | $250 deductible

Riley is a 9-year-old shih tzu/Chihuahua mix and weighs in at a wee 7.6 pounds.

His pet parent, Nellie, said Riley is her “baby boy,” and he loves to give her hugs and kisses. He’s also smart and playful.

“He loves to run and play fetch with his favorite toy ‘Fishy.’ He rolls over, crawls and gives a high five,” she said. 

Riley had been a healthy pup except for a bladder infection a couple of years ago and elevated liver enzymes earlier this year.

Riley gets spots in his eyes

Late last year, Nellie had noticed the lens in Riley’s left eye had a tiny white spot. She shared this with his veterinarian, who said it was probably a small cataract and recommended watching it for now.

Riley, a shih tzu/Chihuahua mix
Riley, with cataracts in his eyes, pre-surgery.

A few months later, Nellie noticed a faint spot in his right eye. In an unrelated event, Riley had elevated liver enzymes, and she took him to an emergency clinic for a liver ultrasound.

The results from the liver scan were normal, but the vet noticed the spots in his eyes and recommended he see an ophthalmology vet. The cataract had grown significantly in a few weeks.

The wait time to see an eye specialist was long, with the first appointment available two months later. Finally, the doctor examined Riley, and the vet confirmed a cataract diagnosis, but the first available surgery date was nearly four months later. Nellie didn’t want to wait, so she found another vet ophthalmologist who could schedule Riley for surgery within two months. Riley needed the surgery to repair both eyes, as the cataract in the left eye now covered the entire lens and the one in the right eye covered half. Riley had become almost entirely blind.

“Riley was bumping into furniture and seemed afraid to walk without me beside him, even at home. Riley still wanted to play but he couldn’t find his toys when I tossed them for him. It broke my heart to watch him struggle because he couldn’t see. I was determined to restore his vision,” Nellie said.

The bilateral surgery was successful, and Riley came home the same day to continue recovery. Nellie had to administer multiple eyedrops and medications for several days. They had one minor setback when Riley’s left eye looked dark red and bigger than the right side. Upon examination, the eye had experienced significant bleeding, which could cause problems with healing and sometimes cause vision loss. With an increase in the medications, the eye soon healed.

“I was with Riley constantly. I checked his eyes frequently for any changes or problems as recommended,” she said.

Riley, a shih tzu/Chihuahua mix
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How Riley is doing today

It’s been seven weeks since Riley had cataract surgery, and his vision improves daily.

“He’s running around with his toys and not bumping into furniture anymore,” Nellie said. “His eyes look clear and beautiful; the cloudiness is gone! Riley’s himself again. He’s happy again!”

How pet insurance helped

Nellie purchased pet insurance for Riley five years ago on a recommendation from her daughter, who had a French bulldog covered by Healthy Paws.

Nellie appreciated the reimbursement for most of the costs for diagnosis, surgery, and follow-up care of cataracts, but she also felt the customer service agents provided a lot of moral support and kindness.

“Beginning with Riley’s eye exams, evaluation, treatment, and finishing with cataract surgery, Healthy Paws has been there for us. Not only did Healthy Paws provide the peace of mind with reimbursement benefits, but I also received caring messages of hope for a quick, full recovery for Riley,” Nellie said.

The claim scenarios described here are intended to show the types of situations that may result in claims. These scenarios should not be compared to any other claim. Whether or to what extent a particular loss is covered depends on the facts and circumstances of the loss, the terms and conditions of the policy as issued, and applicable law.

Insured persons providing testimonials in this report have not received compensation for their statements.

Christy True and Tomas
By Christy True

Christy has been writing about pets for Healthy Paws for 28 dog years. She also coordinates media requests and manages the Healthy Paws Foundation. A background in journalism may be why she enjoys writing about offbeat animal studies and the latest viral pet trends. She has been owned by several dogs, and she volunteers with a local dog rescue. Outside of work, she can usually be found sliding down a mountain near her home in Bend, Ore.

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