Dog Eye Exam
Sadie is an 8-year-old female Cocker Spaniel who recently started bumping into furniture.

Her owner also noticed that Sadie’s right eye looked cloudy and red, and she was blinking more than usual.

Her veterinarian’s diagnosis: glaucoma.

Although it isn’t one of the most common canine conditions, glaucoma is a medical emergency because it can lead to blindness. But with an early diagnosis and proper treatment, owners do have a chance to save their dog’s vision.

Here’s a look at why it happens — and how veterinarians diagnose and treat the condition.

What Is Glaucoma?

This painful disorder occurs when there is an abnormal increase in eye pressure. It can be caused by genetic factors, but it’s more commonly tied to underlying conditions, such as inflammation, tumors, trauma or changes in the lens that can lead to fluid buildup inside the eye.

Under normal conditions, clear fluid is produced within the eye. This liquid not only helps the eye to maintain its shape, but it also delivers nutrients and removes metabolites during the circulation process.

In healthy eyes, the amount of fluid produced is balanced by a similar amount of fluid leaving the eye. But if there is an increase in the amount of fluid that’s made, or if something obstructs normal drainage, the liquid builds up, leading to increased eye pressure.

This pressure can damage the retina (the lining at the back of the eye that detects light), as well as the optic nerve, which carries impulses to the brain. If the pressure remains high for 24 to 72 hours, it can result in permanent blindness.

What Are the Symptoms?

The condition can affect one or both eyes, and the symptoms vary, depending on the amount of pressure, the underlying cause and how long the pressure has been elevated. Signs include:

  • Increased blinking
  • Clear to cloudy discharge
  • Redness and swelling of the vessels in the sclera (white portion of the eye)
  • Dilated pupil
  • Cloudiness of the cornea (clear outside layer of the eye)
  • Enlargement of the affected eye
  • Bumping into objects
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite

How Is the Condition Diagnosed in Dogs?

In addition to a thorough eye examination, veterinarians use a special instrument called a tonometer to measure the pressure inside the eyes.

While elevated pressure is a sign that glaucoma exists, additional tests are usually necessary to determine what’s causing the change in pressure. Dogs will often be referred to veterinary ophthalmologists for further testing as well.

How Do You Treat Glaucoma?

The goal is to reduce eye pressure, control pain and preserve a dog’s vision.

Depending on the underlying cause, treatment can include topical eye medications, oral medications and surgery. In severe cases, the affected eye may need to be removed.

Since many dogs with glaucoma in one eye will eventually develop the disorder in the other eye, veterinarians often prescribe additional medications to delay such onset of the condition.

Once diagnosed, dogs with glaucoma will likely need regular recheck appointments, and owners will need to watch for subtle changes in the eyes, as well as behavior.

Dogs who lose their vision can usually adapt remarkably well — and lead happy, healthy lives.

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