Retinal Detachment in Dogs

Overview of Canine Retinal Detachment

Retinal detachment is the separation of the retina, the innermost tunic layer of the back of the eye, from the underlying pigmented epithelium and choroid. The choroid is the darkly colored, vascular layer that furnishes nutrition to the retina. Retinal detachment in dogs occurs most often from the accumulation of fluid under the retina, due to some pathologic process either in the eye or somewhere else in the body. Therefore, in most dogs, the presence of a retinal detachment is often a sign of a serious underlying disease. The underlying disease may be more of a threat to the health of the dog than the actual detachment.

Causes of Retinal Detachment in Dogs

Retinal detachments can occur in one or both eyes. The age of onset varies widely and depends upon the underlying cause or ocular problem.

Congenital Causes

It is uncommon for dogs to be born with retinal detachments, but sometimes detachments can develop in the first few months of life. These types of detachments are usually associated with severe, inherited birth defects of the eye, such as the following:

Circulatory Causes

Infectious Causes

Immune-mediated/inflammatory Causes

Degenerative Causes

Toxic Causes

Cancerous Causes

Traumatic Causes

What to Watch For

Diagnosis of Retinal Detachment in Dogs

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:

Treatment of Retinal Detachment in Dogs

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:

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 for Dogs with Retinal Detachment

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: