What Happens When a Dog Gets Glaucoma?

What is Glaucoma in Dogs?

Glaucoma is a painful eye disease and glaucoma occurs when there is a buildup of fluid and pressure inside a dog’s eye. Eye pressure happens when too much fluid (also known as aqueous humor fluid) is produced and unable to drain on its own. The increase in intraocular pressures causes damage or degenerative changes in the retina and optic nerve, ultimately leading to blindness.

Caring for a blind dog

40% of dogs with glaucoma will end be blind in the affected eye within the first year. Glaucoma doesn’t happen evenly in both eyes; it can be years before the second eye is affected by the condition. A typical diagnosis happens when most dogs are diagnosed between 3-7 years old.

There are two types of glaucoma; the first is Primary Glaucoma which is typically an inherited condition. Although any dog can be diagnosed with glaucoma, specific breeds are genetically predisposed to the disease. These breeds include Cocker Spaniel, Chow Chow, Samoyed, Bassett Hound, Siberian Husky, Jack Russel Terrier, and Shiba Inu, to name a few. Female dogs are more likely to develop glaucoma than males.

Secondary Glaucoma develops when an obstruction occurs within the interocular drain, usually caused by another medical condition or past accident. The obstruction may have arisen from a past trauma, retinal detachment, or even a tumor.

Glaucoma Symptoms in Dogs

The signs of glaucoma will vary from pet to pet and may appear to occur very suddenly. Rarely does glaucoma happen in both eyes simultaneously with the same level of pressure in both eyes. Although, it’s likely the glaucoma will have been developing over a long period before your dog began to show visual signs of discomfort.

Eye Pain

Glaucoma eye pain is more severe in dogs than in humans. Indicators of canine eye pain include:

  • Rubbing their eyes with their paw or on nearby surfaces
  • A partially closed eye or squinting.
  • Avoiding contact, most commonly the dog may either turn their head away when you pet them or only allow the side of their head to be touched

Visual Changes to the Eye

A dog with glaucoma may see noticeable changes in its eye. Their eyes may become swollen and look enlarged, red, or bulged. A common symptom includes a cloudy or blue retina. A dog with glaucoma may also have a watery discharge from its eye.

Other symptoms may include:

Blind dog on a walk
  • Fluttering eyelids or a change in blink response
  • Avoidance of light
  • Pupils may vary in size
  • Vision problems or sudden blindness
  • Lethargy and sleeping more often
  • Loss of appetite

Time is of the essence. A pet professional must immediately see any dog showing signs of the disease. If left untreated, glaucoma will cause irreparable damage to the optic nerve and lead to eventual blindness. Simple changes can help your dog adapt to sudden blindness and make it easier to adjust to a life with limited vision.

How to Diagnose and Treat Glaucoma in Dogs

Although there is no known cure for canine glaucoma, there are ways to treat it and medically manage the condition. Several tests can be performed to check for glaucoma, vision loss, and eye exams. Your Vet will test the intraocular pressure by using a tonometer; your Vet will measure your dog’s eye pressure for abnormalities.

Treatment for glaucoma will vary on a case by case basis depending on the severity of the condition as well as the dog’s medical needs.  Here are a few treatment options:

Glaucoma Medication

Medication can treat glaucoma by lowering the pressure buildup and help get it back into a normal range as fast as possible. Most glaucoma medications are topical ointments and may need to be administered multiple times a day. They can help lessen pain and discomfort, helping to preserve a dog’s vision.

Oral and injectable medicines are available as well. Medical injections can be used to help lower eye pressure quickly, but these injections can only be done by a Veterinarian while a dog is hospitalized.


Cyclocryotherapy is a cold therapy technique that kills the cells that produce intraocular fluids. This allows the fluid to be drained and stop the pressure buildup. If caught early enough, cyclocryotherapy can slow down or even stop glaucoma progression.

Canine Glaucoma Surgery

In many cases, glaucoma surgery is the only option to eliminate the eye pressure and the pain it causes. This is especially true if glaucoma has advanced undetected and the optical nerve has been damaged. A standard surgical option involves removing the eye and sewing the eyelid shut. Some pet parents may choose to use a prosthetic eye instead, although less common. Other possible eye surgeries may include shunt placement to drain fluid and even laser therapy.

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