Blindness Beckons: How to Decide When to Put Your Dog Down with Glaucoma

🦴 Updated on July 4th, 2023

senior chihuahua dog with cataract glaucoma

Imagine waking up one day to find your furry friend in excruciating pain and unable to see. This is the reality for dogs suffering from glaucoma, a serious eye condition that can lead to irreversible blindness if left untreated. 

As a pet owner, deciding when to put your dog down with glaucoma is a gut-wrenching decision to make. But, understanding the disease and its progression can help you make the best choice for your beloved pet. 

In the earlier stages of the disease, dogs may try to overcome it themselves, while you observe the gradual worsening of the condition. 

In this article, we’ll explore the symptoms, risk factors, and treatments available to manage glaucoma in dogs. So, grab a cup of coffee and join us on this journey to learn more about this painful condition and how to help your furry friend.

Key Takeaways

  • Glaucoma in dogs is a serious eye condition that can lead to blindness if untreated
  • Early detection and treatment are crucial to prevent vision loss and manage the disease
  • Euthanasia may be considered as a humane option in advanced stages of glaucoma, depending on the individual pet’s condition and well-being.

Understanding Glaucoma in Dogs

Glaucoma is a disease in dogs that can cause severe pain, vision loss, and even blindness. It is caused by an increase in intraocular pressure (IOP) within the eye, which can damage the optic nerve and lead to vision loss. 

There are two main types of glaucoma in dogs: primary glaucoma and secondary glaucoma.

Primary Glaucoma

Primary glaucoma is an inherited condition in dogs and typically affects both eyes. The disease occurs when the aqueous humor, a clear fluid that helps maintain eye shape and provides nutrients to eye structures, cannot drain adequately. 

This build-up of fluid causes an increase in IOP, which can lead to damage in the optic nerve and eventual vision loss. Certain dog breeds are more prone to primary glaucoma, and early diagnosis and treatment are crucial to maintaining a dog’s quality of life.

Secondary Glaucoma

Secondary glaucoma occurs due to an underlying condition or trauma, such as uveitis (inflammation of the uvea), that impedes the drainage of aqueous humor. This type of glaucoma can also result from blood or debris blocking the drainage system within the eye.

Like primary glaucoma, secondary glaucoma can lead to an increase in IOP and subsequent damage to the optic nerve. Treatment for secondary glaucoma in dogs is typically aimed at addressing the underlying cause and managing the increased IOP.

In both primary and secondary glaucoma in dogs, prompt diagnosis and treatment are essential to preserve vision and reduce the risk of blindness. Managing this disease involves monitoring IOP regularly and implementing therapeutic strategies to alleviate pain and preserve vision quality.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Recognizing Symptoms

Glaucoma in dogs is a serious eye condition characterized by increased pressure within the eye, which can lead to pain, inflammation, and eventually blindness if left untreated.

Symptoms of glaucoma in dogs can vary depending on the severity and progression of the disease, but some common signs to look out for include redness, squinting, and swelling in the affected eye. 

In some cases, dogs may experience more severe symptoms such as bulging of the eye, lens luxation, or dilated pupils. It’s important to also keep in mind that signs of pain can manifest as your dog rubbing their eye or displaying lethargy.

Another factor to consider is that untreated glaucoma can cause complications like cataracts, retinal detachment, and bleeding within the eye. Tumors and trauma to the eye may also contribute to the development of glaucoma, which further highlights the importance of early detection and intervention.

Diagnosing Glaucoma

To accurately diagnose glaucoma in your dog, it is essential to consult with a veterinarian who will perform a thorough examination of your pet’s eyes. The most common diagnostic tool used is a tonometer, which measures the eye pressure to determine if it is abnormally high. 

High pressure in the eye is a strong indicator of glaucoma, and prompt action should be taken to avoid any further damage.

Another diagnostic tool is the evaluation of the drainage angle within the eye, a condition called goniodysgenesis. This test is done to assess whether the eye’s natural drainage system is functioning properly or if it has been compromised. 

Other diagnostic methods may include tests for inflammation, lens luxation, or retinal detachment.

In emergency cases, it is crucial to seek immediate veterinary care for your dog, especially if they are displaying signs of severe discomfort or eye pain. Early diagnosis and appropriate medical intervention can prevent or at least delay blindness as well as reduce further pain and discomfort for your dog.

Remember that glaucoma can be a progressive disease, with symptoms often starting subtle and gradually worsening over time. Therefore, regular check-ups with your veterinarian and keeping an eye on your dog’s overall wellbeing can help in early detection and treatment of this condition.

Treatment Options

Medical Management

When it comes to treating glaucoma in dogs, there are several medical management options available. One common method involves the use of eye drops containing medication that helps to reduce the production of fluid or increase the drainage of fluid in the eye. 

This helps to lower the increased pressure and alleviate pain. Examples of these medications include latanoprost, beta-adrenergic blocking agents, and carbonic anhydrase inhibitors. 

In some cases, oral medications or injectable drugs like mannitol can be used to reduce fluid production and pressure in the eye.

It’s crucial to consult with your veterinarian or a veterinary ophthalmologist to determine the best course of action for your dog’s specific situation. They will evaluate your dog’s overall health, the stage of glaucoma, and the chances of preserving vision. 

It’s essential to monitor your dog’s response to treatment and adjust medications accordingly to ensure the best possible outcome.

Surgical Management

In cases where medical management is insufficient or the glaucoma has progressed to a more advanced stage, surgical intervention may be necessary. Surgical options for treating dog glaucoma typically aim to relieve pain, preserve vision, and maintain the function of your dog’s eye. 

Some of the different surgical options provided by a veterinary ophthalmologist include cyclophotocoagulation, cataract surgery, and enucleation.

Cyclophotocoagulation involves using a laser to destroy a part of the ciliary body, which is responsible for producing fluid in the eye. This procedure reduces fluid production and, as a result, lowers the pressure in the eye. 

Cataract surgery is another option for dogs with glaucoma, but it’s typically only recommended for dogs with lens dislocation as a result of glaucoma. 

Enucleation is a procedure in which the affected eye is removed to provide ultimate pain relief for the dog, especially in cases where vision loss is permanent and the dog is experiencing severe eye pain.

It’s crucial to discuss all potential surgical options with a veterinary ophthalmologist, as they can provide you with an understanding of the risks and benefits for each procedure. 

They can also help determine the best course of action to help give your dog the best possible quality of life while managing their glaucoma.

Risk Factors and Prevention

At-Risk Breeds

Certain dog breeds are more susceptible to developing glaucoma due to genetic predispositions. Some of the breeds that have a higher risk for developing glaucoma include:

  • Basset Hounds
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Poodles
  • Beagles
  • Terriers
  • Siberian Huskies

Age can also play a role in the development of glaucoma in dogs. Older dogs may have a higher risk of developing the condition due to underlying health issues and the natural aging process.

Preventive Measures

While it isn’t always possible to prevent glaucoma in dogs, there are several steps owners can take to minimize the risk for their pets:

  1. Regular eye examinations: Regular check-ups with a veterinarian can help detect early signs of glaucoma or other eye issues that may lead to the disease. Early detection and treatment can help to manage the condition more effectively.
  2. Diagnosing and treating underlying health conditions: Some underlying health conditions, such as cancer, can contribute to the development of canine glaucoma. Identifying and treating these conditions may help to prevent glaucoma from manifesting.
  3. Genetic testing: For breeds predisposed to glaucoma, genetic testing can help to identify individuals with a higher risk for the condition. This enables owners to take proactive measures to monitor and manage their dog’s eye health.
  4. Managing stress and general health: Maintaining overall health can help to prevent the onset of glaucoma. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and managing stress and anxiety in dogs can contribute to a healthier overall lifestyle, potentially reducing the risk of developing canine glaucoma.
  5. Seek professional advice: If a dog is showing signs of eye discomfort or depression due to vision loss, consult a veterinarian or a veterinary ophthalmologist for a thorough evaluation and guidance on the best course of action to preserve the dog’s vision and overall well-being.

When to Put a Dog Down with Glaucoma

Determining Quality of Life

Glaucoma in dogs is a progressive eye disease that often causes increased pressure within the eye, leading to pain, vision loss, and eventually blindness. To determine if it is time to consider euthanasia, pet parents should closely assess their dog’s quality of life. 

This includes monitoring for signs of pain, such as excessive squinting, tearing, sensitivity to light, and changes in behavior, like refusing to do activities they previously enjoyed.

It’s important to consult with a veterinarian about the severity of the glaucoma and potential treatment options. Even if a dog becomes blind, it is still possible to maintain a high quality of life with proper management and emotional support.

Making the Decision

Making the decision to put down a dog with glaucoma is never easy. Pet parents should consider the following factors:

  • Severity of glaucoma: In advanced stages, the pain may become unmanageable and severely impact the dog’s quality of life.
  • Response to treatment: Some dogs may respond well to treatment options such as medications, surgery, or even enucleation (removing the affected eye). However, if the dog isn’t responding well or is unable to undergo surgery, euthanasia may be the most compassionate option.
  • Overall health and age: Older dogs or those with other health issues may have a harder time recovering from treatments and could experience a reduced quality of life.

It is crucial to have an open conversation with a veterinarian about the dog’s prognosis, potential treatment options, and the most appropriate course of action. 

Ultimately, the decision to euthanize a dog with glaucoma should be based on the best interests of the pet, prioritizing their physical comfort and emotional well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the symptoms of end-stage glaucoma in dogs?

End-stage glaucoma in dogs presents symptoms such as severe eye pain, a red or cloudy eye, bulging or enlarged eyes, and vision loss or blindness. The dog may also show signs of discomfort, pawing at its eyes, and behavioral changes due to pain.

How can I recognize sudden onset glaucoma in my dog?

Sudden onset glaucoma in dogs can present symptoms like a red or cloudy eye, sudden and severe eye pain, enlarged or bulging eyes, and increased discharge from the eye. Your dog may also display signs like squinting, rubbing or pawing at its eye, and an unwillingness to open the affected eye. Consult your veterinarian immediately if you notice these symptoms.

Which eye drops are best for treating glaucoma in dogs?

Your veterinarian is the best person to recommend appropriate eye drops for treating glaucoma in dogs. Various types of eye drops are available, including those that decrease fluid production in the eye and encourage trapped fluid drainage. Some also provide pain relief for your dog. Always consult with a veterinarian before administering medication.

Can glaucoma be fatal for my dog?

Glaucoma in itself is not directly fatal to dogs. However, it can result in permanent vision loss or blindness if not treated promptly. In some cases, the pain and discomfort associated with advanced glaucoma may lead a pet owner to consider euthanasia to relieve their dog’s suffering.

Is it possible for a dog to live comfortably with glaucoma?

Yes, it is possible for a dog to live comfortably with glaucoma if the condition is well-managed with proper medical care and attention. Early intervention, regular veterinarian check-ups, and appropriate treatments can contribute to a dog’s quality of life even with the presence of glaucoma.

How can I identify early signs of glaucoma in my dog?

Early signs of glaucoma in dogs may include subtle changes in your dog’s eyes, such as mild redness, cloudiness, or a slight discharge. Your dog might also display sensitivity to light or discomfort, sometimes pawing at its eye or squinting. Monitoring your dog’s eye health and scheduling regular check-ups with your veterinarian can help detect glaucoma in its early stages.

Sarah Alward | Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
Sarah Alward | Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
Our resident DVM helps review every article to ensure we always provide scientifically accurate, up-to-date information. She’s proud to help provide pet parents everywhere with the info they need to keep their pets safe, healthy, and comfortable.