Do Dogs and Cats Really Get Glaucoma?

Yoko Artinian

Definitely!   This very serious and painful eye disease is one the leading causes of blindness in our pets today.    The earlier this condition is diagnosed and treated, the greater potential for restoring and saving vision.

What exactly IS glaucoma?

The size and shape of the normal eye is maintained by the amount of fluid within the eyeball.   A structure inside the eye (ciliary body) produces the fluid, which provides nutrients and oxygen for the eye.  The excess fluid is constantly drained in a specific area (drainage angle), which creates a balance inside the eye.  The presence of fluid creates pressure inside the front (anterior chamber) of the eye, which is referred to as intraocular pressure (IOP).  Glaucoma is defined as an increase in IOP.

What causes glaucoma and is my breed at risk?

There are two types of glaucoma:  primary and secondary.

Primary glaucoma develops from increased IOP in a healthy eye.  Many breeds are genetically predisposed due to congenital or conformational abnormalities:

  • Siberian husky, malamute, akita, Samoyed, Cocker spaniel, basset hound, chow chow, Shar pei, Beagle, Dalmatian, Dachsund, English springer spaniel, poodle, Maltese and shih tzu

Secondary glaucoma develops from increased IOP due to disease or injury to the eye.  This is the most common cause of glaucoma in dogs and cats.   Conditions such as uveitis (inflammation inside the eye), dislocation of the lens, tumors and intraocular bleeding can cause secondary glaucoma.   At-risk breeds would include:

  • Boston terrier, cairn terrier, dandie dinmont, Scottish terrier, West Highland white terrier and fox terrier

What are the signs of glaucoma?

All of these signs can occur very suddenly with acute glaucoma, or develop slowly in chronic glaucoma.    The most common clinical signs noted are:

  • Eye pain (rubbing the eye, tender when having head or face touched)
  • Sensitive to light
  • Watery discharge from the eye
  • Swelling or bulging of the eyeball
  • Redness to the “sclera” (white of the eye)
  • Cloudy eye, may even appear “bluish” to owner
  • Squinting
  • Dilated pupils
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite

If these signs are noted, please bring your pet to your veterinarian at Blum Animal Hospital immediately.

How is glaucoma diagnosed?

As your veterinarian, we will first perform an eye exam to look for the clinical signs mentioned above.  However, the most essential diagnostic test is measurement of intraocular pressure (IOP), which is termed tonometry.   The eye is numbed with a topical eye drop and a Tonopen, a pen-like instrument, is touched to the surface of the eye to measure IOP.   Normal measurements are 12-24; anything over 24 is considered glaucoma.

How is glaucoma treated?

Glaucoma that happens very quickly is an emergency.   Treatment involves reducing the IOP as quickly as possible to reduce the risk of irreversible damage and blindness.   It is also important to treat any underlying disease that might have caused the secondary glaucoma.   There are numerous medical and surgical options, including removal of the eye if a painful blindness has developed.   Unfortunately, primary glaucoma affects both eyes; 50% of patients develop glaucoma in the other eye within 8 months without therapy.   This very reason is why all glaucoma patients have both eyes treated, even if they are only showing signs in one eye.

What can I do to help prevent glaucoma in my pet?

HAVE YOUR PET SCREENED FOR GLAUCOMA, especially if on the at-risk breed list.

Also, if your pet begins to demonstrate any of the above clinical signs, please schedule an appointment with one of our veterinarians to examine your pet immediately.   In most cases, the earlier glaucoma is diagnosed, the more options available for treatment.

At Blum Animal Hospital, we know how much your pet means to you and our goal is to keep your dog and cat healthy and happy!  If you have any questions or concerns about the health of your pet, always feel free to give us a call and our incredible team of veterinarians, technicians and trained team members will do everything possible to help you and your furry family member.

Written by Kimberly Cerny for Blum Animal Hospital