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Glaucoma in Dogs

By: Dr. Jennifer Welser

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Glaucoma is abnormally high pressure in the eye. Inside the normal eye there is constant production and drainage of a watery fluid called aqueous humor. When there is a problem with the drainage of the fluid, the pressure within the eye can increase. High pressure causes damage to the optic nerve, which, in turn, causes vision loss. Causes of glaucoma can be primary or secondary.

Primary Glaucoma. Primary glaucoma indicates a problem in the area where fluid leaves the eye. The problem can be structural or one that involves the function of the drainage area of the eye. This form of glaucoma has a tendency to be inherited and is very common in the dog. The age of onset can vary among dog breeds.

Secondary Glaucoma. Secondary glaucoma develops as a side effect of some other disorder within the eye. Many different eye diseases can interrupt the usual flow of aqueous humor within the eye or disrupt the drainage of this fluid from the eye.

Causes of Glaucoma

The exact precipitating cause of primary glaucoma is unknown. The disease appears to occur spontaneously, often without any warning. Even though the drainage area of the eye may be abnormal since birth, it is not understood why acute glaucoma appears at a particular time, later in life.

Secondary glaucoma is also an important form of glaucoma in the dog and has numerous causes, including the following:

  • Inflammation – Severe inflammation in the eye produces protein and debris that circulate with aqueous humor. This material can clog up the drainage area and block the outflow of fluid. Fluid flow may also be blocked at the pupil if an inflamed iris sticks to the lens, which sits immediately behind it. Chronic inflammation of the iris is a common cause of glaucoma in the dog.

  • Lens luxation – If the lens becomes dislocated (luxated) and falls into the front chamber of the eye, it can block the flow and drainage of aqueous humor. Primary lens luxation is an inherited condition in certain breeds of dogs, including the terrier breeds, Border collie, and Australian blue heeler. In these dogs, there is premature breakdown of the fibers that hold the lens in place and the lens can start to move around within the eye. Lens luxation can also occur secondary to other changes in the eye, such as cataract formation and tumor growth.

  • Tumors – Tumors inside the eye can invade the drainage area and prevent fluid from leaving the eye.
  • Trauma – If the eye somehow gets injured, it can fill with blood, which may block the drainage pathway.

    What to Watch For

  • Red eye
  • Very squinty and painful eye
  • Tearing
  • Dilated pupil that doesn't react to light
  • Cloudy (whitish/blue) cornea (front surface of the eye)
  • Enlarged size of the eye (known as buphthalmos)
  • Vision loss

    Glaucoma generally only affects one eye initially. Depending on the underlying cause, the other eye may be at risk for developing glaucoma in the future.

    Diagnosis

    Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize glaucoma and exclude other diseases. Tests may include:

  • A complete medical history and general physical examination of your pet. The need for blood work and other general health tests varies.

  • A complete exam of the eye to confirm the presence of glaucoma and to determine if the glaucoma is primary or secondary. The eye is also assessed for the amount of damage that has been done to the optic nerve and retina. Your veterinarian may refer your dog to a veterinary ophthalmologist for a comprehensive examination of the eye, which would include:

  • Frequent measurements of the pressure inside of the eye (called tonometry)

  • Gonioscopy to evaluate the drainage pathway with specialized instrumentation

  • Ultrasonography of the eye if the eye is too cloudy to be examined in depth. It can help identify lenses that are out of place, tumors, and damage to the optic nerve.

    Treatment

    The primary goals of the treatment of glaucoma are to treat or correct any underlying causes, to decrease the pressure within the eye, and to save vision if possible. Treatment of glaucoma in dogs may be medical or surgical.

    Medical Therapy

  • Medical therapy attempts to decrease the production of fluid within the eye, to improve the flow of fluid out of the eye and to control any inflammation within the eye. Both topical medications (drops placed directly on the eye) and systemic medications (pills or injections) are available for treating glaucoma.

    Surgical Therapy

  • Surgical therapy is used for treating primary glaucoma in the dog. Such surgical therapy involves killing the area within the eye that produces aqueous humor. This may be done with either cryotherapy (freezing) or laser therapy. Another option involves bypassing the drainage area by inserting tubing with a valve into the eye. All of these procedures are performed more often in dogs that still have some potential for vision. They are not popular remedies for dogs with blind eyes, although they can be tried in blind dogs.

  • Surgical therapy for lens luxation involves opening the eye and removing the dislocated lens manually.

  • When a tumor is present in the eye and causing glaucoma, surgery to remove the eye (enucleation) is indicated.

  • When glaucoma does not respond to medications or surgery and the pressure within the eye remains elevated, when the animal is persistently painful, or when the eye is blind and glaucoma therapy is too expensive to continue, then surgical removal of the eye may be considered.

    Home Care

    Glaucoma is a very difficult problem to treat. Medications must be administered at consistent times and must often be continued indefinitely. It is important to administer glaucoma medications exactly as your veterinarian prescribes them. Medications should not be stopped just because the appearance of the eye has improved. In the event that vision cannot be saved, understand that such vision loss is not life threatening and the vast majority of dogs adjust very well to impaired vision or blindness in one or both eyes.

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