Can Dogs Live with Glaucoma?

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Introduction

Glaucoma is a nasty condition caused by increased pressure within the eye. You're probably well aware that it affects people — more than three million Americans have glaucoma — but did you know that it can also cause some very serious problems for our canine companions?

Glaucoma damages the retina and optic nerve, causing pain and potentially even blindness in affected dogs. However, though it's undoubtedly serious and a problem requiring urgent attention, it's not a death sentence. 

Dogs diagnosed with glaucoma can and do go on to live long and happy lives, but prompt treatment is the key to reducing the risk of any vision loss for your pooch.

Signs and Symptoms of Glaucoma in Dogs

Glaucoma is a serious condition that can have life-changing consequences for your pet, so it's important to be able to recognize the symptoms as soon as they develop. Not only is it painful for your pooch, but around 40 percent of cases can cause blindness in as little as one year. 

As an owner, keep your own eyes peeled for one or more of the following symptoms in your furry friend:

  • Redness of the eye
  • Cloudiness of the eye
  • Different-sized pupils between eyes
  • Blinking of the eye or reluctance to open an eye
  • Sensitivity to or avoidance of light
  • Squinting
  • Disorientation
  • Lack of vision, for example: bumping into normal objects
  • Lethargy and depression
  • Agitation and excessive barking
  • Pawing at or rubbing eyes
  • Bulging eyes

Most of the time, glaucoma appears in one eye first and will then spread to the other eye after a short period. While you won't normally notice vision loss, if your dog's sight has been dramatically affected by the condition, then you may see them start bumping into or tripping over objects they're used to navigating around.

If left untreated, glaucoma can cause pain, vision loss and even blindness for your furry friend. So if your pooch shows any of the above signs, book a trip to your vet as soon as possible.

Body Language

Your dog's body language could contain clues that they're battling glaucoma, such as:
  • Barking
  • Lack of focus
  • Whimpering
  • Averting eyes
  • Pupils dilated

Other Signs

Other signs to look for include:
  • Red or cloudy eye
  • An enlarged pupil
  • Light sensitivity
  • Signs of eye pain, such as pawing at an eye
  • Vision loss
  • Agitation

The Science of Glaucoma in Dogs

Your dog's eyes are normally filled with a fluid called aqueous humor. The amount of this fluid is regulated to maintain the level of pressure in the eye at a healthy range. However, in dogs with glaucoma, this fluid is produced faster than it can be drained out, causing increased pressure within the eye.

There are many different causes of glaucoma, but in dogs, it can be classified as one of two forms:

  • Primary glaucoma. An inherited condition caused by genetic predisposition, primary glaucoma occurs when the flow of fluid into or out of the eye is abnormal. Some breeds commonly affected include (but are not limited to) the American Cocker Spaniel, Basset Hound, Jack Russell Terrier, Siberian Husky, Golden Retriever and Welsh Springer Spaniel.
  • Secondary glaucoma. This occurs when other eye conditions slow or block the drainage of fluid, causing increased pressure. Examples of conditions that can lead to secondary glaucoma include inflammation inside the eye, cancer, cataracts, lens luxation and injury.

It's important to note that glaucoma usually begins in one eye but, if left untreated, will spread to the other eye in approximately half of all cases. Failure to access treatment will also mean the condition causes permanent damage to the optic nerve, eventually leading to blindness.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Glaucoma in Dogs

A thorough ophthalmic examination will allow your vet to study your dog's eyes and determine the cause of their discomfort. If glaucoma is in its early stages, other causes of eye redness and irritation, for example, conjunctivitis, will need to be ruled out. Your vet will also be able to measure your dog's intraocular pressure using a tonometer and may refer your pet to a veterinary ophthalmologist.

Discovering that your dog has glaucoma can be a distressing and worrying time, but it's important to know that there are treatment options available. However, the treatment chosen for your dog will depend on the cause of the glaucoma and the severity of the condition.

The main goal is to restore eye pressure to a normal level, and your vet may prescribe multiple medications to make this happen as quickly as possible and reduce the amount of vision damage. Medications given can take the form of eye drops, topical ointments, and oral drugs, designed to do everything from reduce fluid production and decrease inflammation, to delay the onset of glaucoma.

However, if glaucoma is a long-term condition that has gone undetected or has been previously misdiagnosed, the optical nerve may have sustained significant damage and surgery may be recommended as the best course of action. Once again, the surgery performed will vary according to your dog's condition and may involve draining fluid, stopping further fluid buildup, or even removing the eye.

It's a serious and daunting prospect, but the good news is that dogs can still live happy, fulfilling lives after suffering glaucoma. Of course, by knowing the warning signs and getting anything worrying checked out by an expert as soon as possible, you can greatly improve your dog's chances of seeing off the threat of glaucoma before it can cause any lasting damage.

How to Prevent Glaucoma:

  • Understand there is no guarantee. There's no surefire way to stop your dog getting glaucoma. However, there are a couple of things you can do to minimize your pet's risk.
  • Have regular check-ups. Routine eye examinations can help detect any changes in intraocular pressure before they result in full-stage glaucoma. If you notice any worrying symptoms or any eye abnormalities you're unsure about, ask your veterinarian to take a look — for your own peace of mind if nothing else.
  • Look further afield. If one of your pet's eyes has already developed glaucoma, watch the other eye closely for any signs of the disease developing. This will allow you to act quickly to prevent damage should you notice any warning signs.
  • Avoid breeding. Most experts recommend that dogs with primary-stage glaucoma should not be used in breeding programs.

We Want to Hear About Your Dog's Battle With Glaucoma!