What is Vitrectomy?

Vitrectomy is a surgical procedure which involves removing the vitreous. This gel-like substance – which consists of proteins, salts, sugars, collagen, and water – shapes and protects the eye. As animals grow older, the vitreous shrinks. The shrinking vitreous can pull at the fibers attached to the retina, which may result in retinal detachment.

Vitrectomy is done to treat complete retinal detachment as well as severe retinal tears. These are often caused by congenital disease and traumatic injury. It is often not the first line of treatment for retinal detachment. Conservative treatments, including medications and eye drops, are usually attempted first. If these do not improve the condition within 72 hours, surgery will then be considered.

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Vitrectomy Procedure in Dogs

  1. Preoperative diagnostic testing and blood work are conducted to confirm the diagnosis and visualize the tear or detachment.
  2. The dog is prepared for surgery.
  3. The veterinary surgeon will use a laser to make three holes in the back of the eye. These facilitate fluid drainage, surgical instrument insertion, and visualization of the operative area.
  4. The vitreous is completely removed. It will be replaced by a heavy fluid which flattens the retina.
  5. Holes and tears in the eye are sealed using the laser.
  6. The heavy fluid is removed.
  7. Silicone oil will replace the removed vitreous.
  8. The eyelids are often stitched partially closed with temporary sutures. These will be removed within five days of surgery.

Efficacy of Vitrectomy in Dogs

Vitrectomy is very effective, and has a success rate of 85% for repairing retinal tears and reattaching the retina. However, it may not fully restore vision to the affected eye. This will depend on how long the dog has been diagnosed with condition, how long it remained untreated, and whether or not retinal scar tissue has formed. A dog’s vision may not start to improve until six or more weeks after surgery. However, most dogs tend to regain some degree of vision. This vision is usually functional, although some dogs do regain full, normal vision.

Vitrectomy Recovery in Dogs

Dogs will be allowed to go home the same day as surgery. Oral anti-inflammatory medications and eye drops are prescribed for the first few weeks to prevent infection and manage pain and discomfort. Dogs will need to wear an Elizabethan collar for up to three weeks. This collar must remain in place at all times to prevent further injury. A follow-up appointment will be scheduled for three to five days after surgery to remove the stitches and monitor healing. 

Cost of Vitrectomy in Dogs

The cost of vitrectomy will vary based on standards of living and additional treatment costs incurred. The price of vitrectomy ranges from $1,000 to $2,000, with an average price of $1,600.

Dog Vitrectomy Considerations

Complications can occur with any surgical procedure. Postoperative complications associated with vitrectomy include:

  • Severe intraocular hemorrhage
  • Infection
  • Glaucoma
  • Formation of cataracts
  • Recurrence of the condition
  • Leakage of oil into other tissues

The most common complication is severe hemorrhage, which is usually corrected during surgery. This typically occurs during fluid transfer. Other complications can be corrected with a second surgery or with medications. Severe postoperative complications may warrant removal of the eye.

Vitrectomy will not usually restore full vision to the eye. Instead, the restored vision is functional. Dogs treated with vitrectomy will not be able to see things close up as well as things far away. Their night vision will also suffer to some degree. However, they will still be able to navigate their surroundings with ease. Some dogs will never regain vision in the operated eye, although this is uncommon.

Vitrectomy Prevention in Dogs

Retinal detachment caused by congenital defects and genetic factors are impossible to prevent. Owners should never allow their dogs to participate in activities that may cause severe traumatic injury to the eyes. All chemicals, poisons, and toxins should be kept out of reach of pets. Dogs diagnosed with retinal detachment linked to genetics should not be bred.