Dog Glaucoma: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

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Dogs and humans are a lot alike, but unfortunately, that means that, like humans, dogs can get various diseases and illnesses. Dog glaucoma is a condition that causes pressure inside the eyeball and can lead to permanent eye damage and blindness. Glaucoma in dogs is relatively common and can sometimes be prevented. Additionally, there are several breeds prone to glaucoma that increase their risk of developing later in life. 

About 1.7% of dogs in North America get this eye disease.1 But what is glaucoma in dogs, its causes, and available treatment options? Keep reading to learn more about dog glaucoma and how to protect your dog’s vision. 

What Is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma in dogs occurs due to an imbalance in the production and drainage of fluid in the eye, which causes build-up and pressure.1 This increased pressure can destroy the retina and optic disk—where the nerve enters the eye. There are two types of glaucoma in dogs: open-angle and closed-angle. 

With open-angle glaucoma in dogs, the progression of pressure and loss of vision occurs gradually and is painless. However, closed-angle occurs when there’s a sudden increase in pressure resulting in pain, eye redness, and loss of vision.1 

Symptoms of glaucoma

Symptoms Of Glaucoma

Symptoms of glaucoma in dogs vary depending on the type of glaucoma. Most dogs with early glaucoma aren’t taken to the vet because the signs are too subtle for the owner to notice. Early signs of glaucoma include:

  • Sluggish or slightly dilated pupils
  • Mild vein congestion in the conjunctiva
  • Early enlargement of the eye1

The symptoms of glaucoma in dogs progress alongside the disease. The clinical signs of glaucoma include:

  • Squinting
  • White haze or cloudy eyes
  • Tearing
  • Loss of vision
  • Eye redness and bulging
  • Dilated pupils
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of appetite
  • Dilated or slow-moving pupil
  • Pain2

These signs can occur in one eye or both. However, one usually progresses faster than the other because the pressure isn’t equal. Therefore, the second eye can take much longer to begin showing signs of glaucoma. 

If you notice these symptoms, you should have your dog examined by a vet as soon as possible since glaucoma can lead to blindness. Acting fast could help save your dog’s vision. 

Causes of glaucoma in dogs

What Causes Glaucoma?

As we’ve mentioned, glaucoma occurs due to fluid build-up in the eye that creates pressure. However, there are two classifications of glaucoma: primary and secondary. 

Primary glaucoma is hereditary, meaning some breeds are predisposed to it, including Cocker Spaniels, some Terriers, Poodles, Beagles, Chow Chows, and Basset Hounds.3 Primary glaucoma is usually due to a malformation of the angle where the cornea meets the iris, which can lead to less drainage and pressure within the eye.2 

List of breeds predisposed to glaucoma

Secondary glaucoma is usually the result of trauma or disease.2 Potential causes of secondary glaucoma in dogs include:

Secondary glaucoma in dogs is the most common type and can also be caused by injury or infection.

Treating Glaucoma In Dogs

Eye pressure in dogs can damage the retina and optic nerve, causing blindness. If you believe your dog is developing glaucoma, the best thing you can do for them is to take them to the vet immediately. Your vet will diagnose your dog by measuring the pressure within the eye using an instrument called a tonometer.2

Once your vet confirms glaucoma, they’ll immediately treat them, aiming to preserve their vision. In most cases, they’ll refer you to a veterinary ophthalmologist to take care of the treatment, involving medical or surgical options.1

Of course, the best treatment will depend on the type of glaucoma your dog has. The main goal will be to decrease the pressure and minimize the damage. Your vet may use drugs to drain fluid from the eye or decrease fluid production. 

End-stage glaucoma in dogs usually requires surgery to relieve pain and pressure. However, it cannot reverse blindness.1

If your dog has already gone blind in one eye due to glaucoma, your vet will work to prevent it in the second eye by suggesting the best treatment options for your dog based on their needs.

Glaucoma in dogs is a progressive condition, so vision loss may be inevitable.2 Once your dog is diagnosed with glaucoma, they’ll need long-term management to reduce pain and discomfort and prevent it from worsening.1

There are several types of surgery for dog glaucoma treatment that may be used to preserve their vision. However, if your dog has lost their vision, they can’t regain it. Instead, there are surgical options that can relieve the pressure in the eye to make your dog more comfortable. 

In some cases, dogs may need to have their affected eye(s) removed and the lids sewn shut to prevent further pain and discomfort. This type of surgery, called enucleation, may be necessary after your dog has lost their vision and can give them immediate pain relief from the pressure build-up. In addition, some dogs may have a prosthetic within the cornea to give them an eye that appears normal without pressure. Complications with this type of surgery are rare, and most dogs fully recover. 

Detecting glaucoma early is crucial. There’s no cure, but there are ways to treat it, especially in the early stages, to save your dog’s vision. If detected early, your vet will require multiple follow-up appointments as part of your dog’s treatment plan to ensure all treatments and medications work. If you have a dog predisposed to glaucoma, you should visit the vet more frequently to promote early detection.

While there’s no cure, secondary glaucoma can be prevented by helping your dog avoid injuries, illnesses, and accidents affecting their eye health. Unfortunately, primary glaucoma is hereditary and can’t be prevented, but several treatment methods can slow the progression of the disease.

Your dog’s outcome will depend on several factors, such as how quickly they were treated and the effectiveness of the medications. However, they’ll need ongoing treatment to reduce pressure in their eyes. If your dog is treated too late, they can lose their vision. However, dogs can continue to live happy, healthy lives even with vision loss. 

The underlying cause of your dog’s glaucoma may need to be treated. For example, cancer can cause glaucoma in dogs, and your dog’s prognosis will depend on the results of cancer treatment. In all cases, dogs with early treatment have a better prognosis than those with late-stage glaucoma. 

FAQs

Can a dog live with glaucoma?

Glaucoma can cause blindness, but it’s not a life-threatening condition. However, getting your dog treatment as soon as possible is best because the pressure in the eye can cause severe pain. Glaucoma is a progressive eye disease, but several treatment options allow dogs to live happy, healthy lives even if they lose their vision. 

Early diagnosis is crucial for preventing it from getting that far. To save your dog’s vision, you should check their eyes to ensure they’re healthy. You should also continue to take them to their annual wellness exams, where your vet will look into their eyes to monitor for early signs of glaucoma. If you wait too long to treat your dog, they can lose their vision and may require surgery to remove the eye to prevent discomfort. 

During end-stage glaucoma in dogs, they can be fully blind in one eye, but the second eye will compensate, allowing them to easily get around the house and continue to enjoy their walks. 

Another consideration is the cause of a dog’s glaucoma. For example, eye cancer and tumors can shorten a dog’s lifespan, as glaucoma is a secondary condition. In these cases, a vet must treat both glaucoma and the underlying condition to save a dog’s life. 

Is glaucoma painful?

Glaucoma can be a severely painful condition in dogs because it causes increased pressure in the eyes. Unfortunately, dogs are good at hiding their pain and can’t always tell you how they feel. Therefore, you should pay close attention to your dog’s behavior. For example, you may see them rubbing their eyes against the floor or furniture or pawing at it when they’re in pain. 

Luckily, several treatment options are available to reduce the pressure and alleviate the pain. For example, vets may use analgesics to control the pain associated with the condition or medications that decrease fluid and promote drainage to treat the pressure. 

Your vet will choose the best treatment option for your pet based on the type of glaucoma and the progression of the disease. 

How much does dog glaucoma treatment cost?

Treatment for dogs with glaucoma is expensive and can cost thousands of dollars, especially if surgery is required. The type of surgery can also affect how expensive the treatment is. The total cost of dog glaucoma treatment depends on the vet and the severity of the condition. In addition, a dog diagnosed with glaucoma will have to have ongoing treatment, which means following up with the vet on a set schedule so they can monitor the disease and prevent it from progressing and causing blindness. 

In any case, treating glaucoma is more expensive as the condition progresses. Early detection is crucial to help save your dog’s vision, but it can also reduce the costs of treating glaucoma. If you can avoid a pricey surgery, you may only have to pay for various medications and follow-up visits with the vet. Therefore, you should continue visiting your vet for your dog’s annual wellness examinations and contact your vet if you notice any changes in your dog’s eyes or vision. 

Small dog getting eye drops put in his eyes

Final Notes

Glaucoma is a painful progressive eye disease that can cause blindness in dogs and require surgical removal of the eye. Secondary glaucoma can be prevented, but primary glaucoma can’t, which is why it’s so important to see your vet regularly. Unfortunately, the signs of early glaucoma in dogs can be too subtle for you to notice, but your vet will examine your dog’s eyes during their wellness visit and allow them to detect any issues early. 

If you notice any changes in your dog’s eyes, the best thing you can do is consult a vet. Dutch vets can help diagnose and treat glaucoma in dogs to help them live happy, healthy lives. Try Dutch telemedicine for pets today.
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References

  1. Gelatt, Kirk N. “Glaucoma in Dogs - Dog Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, 23 Feb. 2023, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/eye-disorders-of-dogs/glaucoma-in-dogs.

  2. “Glaucoma.” MU Veterinary Health Center, 18 Oct. 2015, https://vhc.missouri.edu/ophthalmology/glaucoma/

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