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5 Common Eye Problems in Purebred Dogs

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By Leslie Ingraham

Published: 11/24/2021, edited: 11/24/2021

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If you've shared your life with a dog, then you know that moment when they make eye contact and you feel like you’re looking into the depths of their soul. So you may be the first to notice when something isn’t right. What you may see varies with the condition, but a number of problems can be visible to the naked eye, or may come with other telltale signs that something is wrong.

While any pooch can develop eye issues, many purebreds are predisposed to certain eye conditions due to genetics as some of the most common problems in dogs’ eyes are hereditary. They can also be progressive if not treated and may even lead to blindness.  


What are 5 of the most common eye problems and what breeds do they most commonly afflict? Read on for the answers.

black and brown adult dog is looking at their pet parent

#1. Retinal Dysplasia

In older dogs, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is a degenerative disease that affects the photoreceptors inside the retina that help the eye to see, causing a deterioration over time that can ultimately lead to blindness. 

Early-onset PRA, or retinal dysplasia, is an inherited form of the disease that appears in puppies around 2 to 3 months of age. There are several breeds that are commonly affected by it, including Bedlington TerriersCavalier King Charles SpanielsLabrador, and Golden RetrieversRottweilersAmerican Cocker SpanielsEnglish Springer SpanielsOld English MastiffsBullmastiffs, male Siberian Huskies, and male Samoyeds.  

Symptoms

  • Difficulty seeing in dim light
  • Dilated pupils 
  • Clumsiness
  • Inability to find toys or food bowls
  • Reluctance to jump down off furniture 
  • Reluctance to maneuver the stairs 
  • Hesitancy in walking into dark rooms or hallways 
  • Difficulty in recognizing people or objects 
  • Color changes within the eye 
  • Behavioral changes 

Causes 


Early-onset inherited retinal dysplasia occurs in an embryo with a defective recessive gene that is contributed by both parents. The condition stops the cells in the eyes from forming properly, which can cause early blindness in puppies. Night vision can often be affected first. 

Diagnosis

A diagnosis of retinal dysplasia is made via a Certified Eye Exam by a veterinary ophthalmologist along with genetic testing. An ophthalmic exam will demonstrate the pupil’s sluggish response to light, a visible reflective spot on the retina, and changes in the optic nerve and the retinal blood vessels. 

Treatment

There’s no effective treatment for retinal dysplasia. Administering antioxidant drops and vitamin supplements may slow the development of secondary cataracts and reduce stress on the lens, but they won’t improve dysplasia. Dogs with retinal dysplasia should not be used for breeding as they may pass along the recessive gene.

The average cost of treatment: $250 - $500 


#2. Cataracts

Cataracts in dogs are formed by a degenerative process due to aging, injury, or diabetes that causes a whitish, cloudy appearance in the lens. As the lens becomes more opaque, less light can enter the eye, and vision decreases. However, cataracts can also be caused by inherited disease, and appear in dog breeds such as American Cocker Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, French PoodlesBoston Terriers, and Welsh Springer Spaniels.

Symptoms

  • Cloudy appearance to eyes
  • Eye color changes
  • Increased reflection of light from the eye
  • Signs of visual impairment such as hesitancy, walking into objects, and an inability to recognize people they know

Causes

There are several causes of cataracts:

  • Inherited disease
  • Injury
  • Diabetes
  • Aging

Diagnosis

A diagnosis is made by a thorough examination of the eye, using an ophthalmoscope. Characteristic cloudiness in the lens is seen. If only a third of the lens is affected, there will be mild vision loss. Total cloudiness likely means total blindness.

Treatment

Surgery to remove the diseased cataract and replace it with a clear artificial lens is an effective treatment.

The average cost of treatment: $150 - $3,000.


#3. Glaucoma

When the liquid inside the eye doesn’t drain sufficiently, the resulting condition is glaucoma. The breeds most affected by glaucoma include Basset HoundsDandie Dinmont Terriers, Japanese Shiba InusLeonbergers, Retrievers, Siberian Huskies, American Cocker Spaniels, English Springer Spaniels, Welsh Springer Spaniels, and Spanish Water Dogs.

Symptoms

  • Pain
  • Eye congestion and tearing
  • Inflammation
  • Pawing at the eye
  • Blinking
  • Uneven pupil size
  • Eye swelling
  • Redness of the sclera (white part of the eye)
  • Prominent blood vessels in the sclera
  • Recession of the eyeball into the orbital socket

Causes

The types of glaucoma are closed-angle and open-angle. In addition, glaucoma is divided into primary and secondary diseases. Primary glaucoma involves no previous eye disease. Secondary glaucoma is associated with an earlier eye condition such as:

  • Uveitis (inflammation of the inside of the eye)
  • Trauma 
  • Tumor

Diagnosis

A complete physical examination to detect glaucoma will include:

  • Tonometry, a test that measures the pressure inside the eyeball
  • A full medical history 
  • Breed identity
  • Recent trauma 
  • Evidence of a tumor 

Treatment

Treatment consists of the administration of pain medications and beta-adrenergic blockers. In severe cases, surgery may help by opening up the drainage system to allow the vitreous liquid to escape. Frequent follow-up visits with the veterinarian are necessary to monitor the pressure in the eye.

Average cost for treatment of glaucoma:  $500 - $3,500


#4. Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA)

Collie eye anomaly, which is also called “collie eye defect,” is a hereditary disease that results in defects in the layers of the eye. It’s considered a developmental disease. Breeds that are predisposed to Collie Eye Anomaly include ColliesShetland SheepdogsAustralian ShepherdsBorder Collies, and Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers.

Symptoms

  • The most common symptom is blindness. The amount of vision loss varies with the severity of the defects.
  • Enophthalmia, a condition where the eyeballs are receded deeply into the eye sockets. 

Causes

CEA is caused by a mutation in a gene that controls the eye’s development.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of CEA is often not confirmed until the dog’s vision has been affected, although some breeders have their puppies screened for it at around 6 to 8 weeks of age. Evidence of the condition can be seen during an examination of the retina through a microscope.  Veterinarians often refer an affected dog to an ophthalmology vet. Thinning or actual holes (coloboma) can often be observed in the layers of the eye, which may lead to a detached retina.

Treatment

Treatment cannot reverse CEA. Laser surgery may be successful in reattaching the retina if it detaches. The only prevention is to test breeding stock for the defective gene and not breed them if it appears. 

Average cost of treatment: $150 - $2,500


#5. Primary lens luxation

Another inheritable disease of the eyes is primary lens luxation, in which the lens of the eye is dislocated from its normal position because of a weakness in the structures that suspend it in place. This genetic disease affects many Terrier breeds, along with Australian Cattle Dogs, Border Collies, Brittany Spaniels, German Shepherds, Shar-Peis and Welsh Corgis.  The dislocation typically occurs in dogs 3 to 6 years old. Both eyes are affected, though sometimes only one at a time. Lens luxation may lead to other eye problems, such as secondary glaucoma and uveitis. 

Symptoms

  • Red, teary eyes that look hazy 
  • Pain keeping eyes closed or while squinting
  • Eyes may look as if they are turning white
  • Increased tear production
  • Eventual blindness with secondary conditions
  • Depression

Causes

Primary lens luxation is genetic, and causes degeneration of the suspensory or zonular fibers that hold the lens in place. When this occurs, the lens becomes detached and shifts from its normal position or detaches. This type mostly affects Terrier breeds.

Secondary lens luxation is caused by other eye problems, such as 

  • Glaucoma
  • Trauma 
  • Cataracts 
  • Uveitis 
  • Cancer 

Diagnosis

Genetic testing for primary lens luxation is recommended for all affected breeds, and is diagnosed with a physical examination that includes using an ophthalmoscope to see into the eye. 

Treatment

Treatment for lens luxation is primarily surgically removing the lens. In some severe cases, the eye itself may be removed. If uveitis and/or glaucoma are present, they must be treated first to reduce eye pressure and prevent permanent blindness. This may consist of drops and oral medications. 

Average cost of treatment: $1,000 - $3,000


Be prepared for anything

Eye problems can be expensive to treat. If you suspect your dog is at risk of developing eye problems, start searching for pet insurance today. Wag!’s pet insurance comparison tool lets you compare plans from leading companies like PetPlan and Embrace. Find the “pawfect” plan for your pet in just a few clicks!

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