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Retinal Detachment in Dogs

By: Dr. Bari Spielman

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  • A complete history and physical examination are important to document the onset and progression of any eye signs and systemic abnormalities.

  • A thorough ophthalmic examination is indicated. Some retinal detachments are easily identified, while others can be difficult to see. Your veterinarian may refer your dog to a veterinary ophthalmologist for further evaluation using specialized instrumentation.

    Once a retinal detachment is diagnosed in your dog, then an extensive search is required to identify any underlying diseases. Tests to be considered include the following:

  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Biochemical profile
  • Urinalysis
  • Fecal flotation
  • Measure of arterial blood pressure
  • Thyroid hormone assays
  • Blood clotting tests
  • X-rays of the chest and abdomen
  • Blood tests for infectious diseases
  • Serum protein assays, especially separating and characterizing proteins (electrophoresis)
  • Ocular ultrasound. Possibly a heart and/or abdominal ultrasound
  • Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) tap
  • Possibly collection of fluid from the vitreous chamber in blind eyes suspected to be infected


    Therapy must be instituted as early in the disease process as possible, or the detached retina will deteriorate and the dog will be permanently blind. Treatment is usually directed at the underlying cause of the retinal detachment. The detachment itself is very difficult to treat. Depending on the physical condition of the patient, treatment options may include outpatient care or may necessitate hospitalization.
    If the detachment is due to high blood pressure, then medications are instituted to lower the blood pressure. As the blood pressure is being controlled, systemic anti-inflammatory medications may be used to try to decrease the damage done to the retina.

    Specific therapy for the underlying condition can include the following, depending upon the underlying cause:

  • Antibiotic and anti-fungal therapy for certain infections
  • Systemic corticosteroids for immune diseases
  • Chemotherapy for leukemias and other cancers
  • Vitamin K therapy and blood transfusions for clotting problems
  • Intravenous fluids for hyperviscosity and other circulatory disorders
  • Administration of antidotes for antifreeze toxicity
  • Surgical removal of severely injured eyes or eyes with tumors

    Some types of retinal detachments are not treatable. Examples include the congenital detachments and detachments associated with degeneration of the retina.

    Surgery or laser therapy may be tried for partial detachments that arise after intraocular surgery, or for retinal tears that occur in shih tzus and other dogs.

    Home Care

    Pets with recent onset of blindness should be evaluated by your veterinarian as soon as possible. Minimize stress and injury by confining your pet to a safe area until the cause of the problem is determined.

    Administer all medication and return for follow-up examinations as directed by your veterinarian. Prognosis for return of vision is poor to guarded. Although some retinas reattach once therapy has been started, return of vision is uncertain. Because the detachment may also signify the presence of a serious illness in the dog, the prognosis for the dog's overall health may also be poor to guarded.

    In general, high blood pressure is a very treatable disease and dogs may remain in reasonably good health. They may be blind, however. 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 their blindness.

    Some of the immune diseases also respond favorably to therapy and the retinas may reattach. In these cases, therapy must often be continued for long periods of time to control the disease. Other diseases may not respond to therapy as well, and the life of the dog may be shortened.

    Retinal detachments caused by fungal infections may not respond well to treatment because the drugs may not get into the eye effectively. Although the drugs may cure the disease elsewhere in the body, the eye may be lost.

    Supervision of irreversibly blind dogs is important:

  • They should only be allowed outside on a leash, or in a confined area under direct supervision. Place barriers across stair, over hot tubs and around pools.

  • Restrict activity on balconies so that small dogs cannot fall through the space between the guardrails and large dogs cannot unwittingly jump off the balcony. Fence open decks so that the dog cannot fall off.

  • Establish a known location for the food and water bowls and guide your pet to them if necessary.

  • Avoid changing the location of the furniture and leaving chairs or other objects out of place in the house. Your dog will memorize a familiar (stable) environment in a relatively short time.

  • Purchase toys and balls that contain bells or other noisemakers to encourage and help dogs to play.

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