You love those puppy eyes, and your dog knows it (recent studies prove it). But like humans those big eyes can be susceptible to eye disease that can damage their sight. One of those is a condition called glaucoma.
What is glaucoma?
Also found in humans and other animals, glaucoma is a condition that results from abnormal internal pressure on the eye. This pressure prevents the eye from draining fluid properly. Over time, this will damage the eye, leading to decreased vision and even blindness. Unfortunately, even with prompt treatment, up to 40% of the pups diagnosed with glaucoma will lose their eyesight to it.
What causes glaucoma?
Glaucoma develops when an imbalance develops between the amount of liquid in the eye and the amount naturally drained from it. This leads to the pressure that damages the optic disk - the point where the optic nerve enters the eye - and sometimes to the retina itself as well.
It is estimated that glaucoma only affects around 1.7% of all the dogs in North America but within certain breed gene lines it is the most common hereditary condition they are susceptible to.
Did you know in Japan 30% of Shibas suffer from glaucoma?
Those breeds include:
All of these breeds are statistically more likely to develop glaucoma in their lifetime versus other breeds. This does not mean that they will, but it does mean that their pet parents should be aware of the risk and informed about what to look for in terms of symptoms and warning signs.
Are there different types of glaucoma?
There are two main types of glaucoma commonly diagnosed in dogs: primary and secondary.
Primary glaucoma occurs as a direct result of increased pressure in the eye due to a failure of its internal drainage system.
Secondary glaucoma occurs as the result of another, unrelated eye infection. Secondary glaucoma is diagnosed more often than primary, and that fact highlights the need to be vigilant about a dog's general eye health.
What are the symptoms of glaucoma in dogs?
The symptoms your pup might display if developing glaucoma will vary according to the type.
In the case of primary glaucoma they may display any of the following:
- Excessive blinking
- Redness or apparent broken blood vessels in the eye
- A cloudy patch visible on the front of the eye
- An obvious decrease in visual ability
- A dilated pupil - ie: a pupil that does not respond properly to light
If the disease progresses you may also notice:
- A receding of the eyeball
- An enlarging of the eyeball
- Additional vision loss.
If the dog is developing secondary glaucoma their symptoms will differ somewhat and include any of the above-mentioned symptoms as well as:
- Visible debris at the front of the eye
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of energy
Some symptoms of both types of glaucoma in dogs can apply to other diseases and health conditions as well, so it is important that you visit the pup's vet as soon as possible to obtain a definitive diagnosis.
How is glaucoma in dogs diagnosed?
To get a definitive diagnosis of glaucoma your dog will need both a thorough ocular examination and a number of tests. Initially a veterinary ophthalmologist will test the amount of intra-ocular pressure in the dog's eye using an instrument called a tonometer.
The test is painless and easy to perform.
If the pressure in an affected eye is elevated, it can be very painful, so the most important thing, from a medical standpoint, is for the pressure to be reduced as quickly as possible. This will both relieve the pup's pain and reduce any long term damage to the eye.
Uncontrolled glaucoma is painful and blinding.
What are the treatment options for glaucoma in dogs?
Treatment is available for glaucoma and can be grouped into medical and surgical.
The treatment to reduce the pressure in the eye may initially only involve a course of drugs, or, in more acute cases the dog may need to undergo a procedure called cyclocryotherapy. This makes use of freezing temperatures to kill some of the cells that produce intraocular fluid, thus reducing the amount in the eye and reliving the damaging pressure.
If the disease is caught early, this, along with regular checkups and sometimes precautionary drugs, can be enough to halt the progression of glaucoma. In other cases the eye cannot be saved and must be surgically removed.
The surgical removal of the eye is distressing for the pet parent, but it is a procedure that may be necessary to save their pup from a great deal of pain. If only a single eye is affected the healthy eye will be monitored closely going forward.
Glaucoma surgery involves the use of an intraocular laser to reduce the production of intraocular fluid by the eye.
Surgical options are performed under general anesthesia include an intrascleral prosthesis (or artificial eye), or sometimes complete enucleation (or removal) is mandated.
Typical enucleation (eye removal) surgery costs anywhere between $1,950-$2,200.
Recovery and Prevention
It should be noted that once diagnosed the treatment for glaucoma is almost always a long term commitment, even if the affected eye(s) are saved.
It may surprise you to learn that most dogs will take the loss of an eye in their stride rather well.
They have often already been losing their vision slowly and have begun to adapt. The eye socket can either be sutured closed or filled with an orb and, with careful monitoring the pup can live a relatively normal life.
Those whose pups come from one of the dog breeds prone to glaucoma often want to know if there is anything that can be done to prevent its onset. There is no magic bullet to offer here, and medical experts are still working on research to better prevent and treat glaucoma, but a focus on eye health in general can be helpful.
This can include ensuring that your pup gets the 'eye healthy' nutrients he needs in sufficient amounts. These include Vitamins A and C, beta-carotene and lutein. It's also important to monitor your pups eye health and be aware of the fact that less serious eye problems - like conjunctivitis or a scratch to the eye - can lead to secondary glaucoma so should be treated immediately.
Finally, don't make use of coats that are too tight, as this can lead to an increase in intraocular pressure without you realizing it.
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If you are concerned about your pet, visit or call your veterinarian – he/she is your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your dog. This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet.