First-Hand Accounts From Dogs With Glaucoma: What’s it like and what can you expect?

Unfortunately, around 40% of dogs affected by glaucoma will become blind in the affected eye within the first year, regardless of treatment. Glaucoma results in a painful building of pressure in a dog’s eyes causing peripheral vision loss leading to blindness. This eye pressure causes headaches. If the condition becomes chronic or persists without being treated, it’ll permanently damage the optic nerve.

Symptoms of Glaucoma in Dogs:

  • Pupils of eyes different sizes
  • Mild to severe eye pain (rubbing eye on the floor or with paw)
  • Appearance of vessels in the white of the eye
  • Redness of the eye
  • Cloudy cornea
  • Fluttering eyelid
  • Squinting
  • Tearing
  • Appetite loss and antisocial behavior (due to pain)
  • Light avoidance
  • Weak blink response
  • No response of pupil to light
  • Vision problems (bumping into objects, difficulty finding toys, walking gingerly)
  • Bulging swollen eye

Treat the diagnosis like an emergency because the dog can go blind very quickly and if left untreated, the other previously uninfected eye may become infected. If your dog needs one or two eyes removed, you may find yourself awake at night leading up to the operation, racked with guilt and distress. But according to many who’ve been through it, the hardest part is the beginning, and though the whole process sounds horrifying, the dog rebounds quickly.

“It was a heartbreaking decision but one that I had to make,” said Deborah Sweat, member of the online group Blind Dogs - Owners and Supporters, whose dog Savannah had both eyes removed within 6 months of a glaucoma diagnosis. “The guilt I felt was paralyzing because every time I looked at her, I felt it was my fault. I did that to her. As time passed and Savannah adapted quite well, the guilt went away but I miss seeing those gorgeous big brown eyes. This is not about me, but about what a good life she has now, and she can do almost everything she did before. There is a very good life for a dog with no eyes!”

Despite rounds of medication, sometimes the eyes end up needing to be removed anyway. The sooner you do it, the faster the dog will feel no pain and be the happy dog it once was, with its old personality back. Morgan Plowman’s dog had glaucoma in both eyes, with pressures really high and not responding well to medications. The flare-up all happened so fast.

“She went outside fine and came back in and her eye didn't look right,” Morgan said. “It was really red, swollen and the iris part wasn't centered like it should be. So we took her to the vet and they said her retina had detached and she had already lost all the vision in that one eye. But the vet has a tool much like the one at your regular eye doctor. They use drops to numb the eye and then use that tool to measure the pressure. Hers was at like 75 that day, but they talked me into waiting and trying medication to relieve the pressure instead of removing the eye which I was all ready to do. For the two eye drops she was on it cost me almost $400 dollars and the surgery to have her eyes removed was $750. Which we eventually had to do anyways.”

She did research and learned signs to watch for, such as redness in the white parts of the eye, enlargement of the eye. Her dog was genetically predisposed to it because she's a basset hound. Because her dog was visibly uncomfortable, having her eyes removed was the best decision, Morgan said.

“The drops for her eyes are so expensive and weren't helping. I wish I had removed her eyes sooner to alleviate her pain. In my personal experience, I would say not to feel so bad. Everyone sees my dog and says, ‘Oh how sad, just look at her face.’ I get slightly annoyed because she's not sad, she's still just a dog enjoying life, and I think her face is beautiful.”

The pressure comes from too much fluid or not enough drainage that fills the eye starting at the base of the iris, travels through the pupil to the anterior chamber, exiting out through the drainage angle where the iris and cornea meet. Drain obstruction is caused by trauma, inflammation, tumors and luxated lenses (lens luxation happens when the lens is partially or completely dislocated from its normal position, resulting in serious complications including glaucoma, retinal detachment, and blindness.) If it’s not any of those, it’s hereditary. If it’s hereditary, the onset is slower. If its secondary (caused by an injury or unrelated disease), the onset can be quick.

Pat Fairless learned this after dog Lily had glaucoma in one eye and the pressure buildup took hours.

“She acted differently and her eye began to go the colour of red wine. I took her straight to the vet’s and he removed it within the hour. She was kept in overnight in case of a bleed out. When we picked her up I had an entirely different dog - she was like a puppy! Hindsight has taught me that they are in pain with it even if their pressure is low. She had her pressure read once month and [it] always read low teens. I would say to anyone with a dog suffering from glaucoma have it removed because what is the point of trying to save an eye that is useless and causing pain. Plus the trials of trying to administer drops and creams and the cost is such fruitless journey."

Treatment Options Beginning treatments will be oral or topical. In dogs with primary glaucoma (usually hereditary) who can still see, laser surgery is used to kill off the ciliary body behind the iris where the aqueous humor is produced, decreasing fluid production. This surgery also works as a preventative method in the “good eye” of a pet who has glaucoma and is blind in one eye. Vets also use a freezing procedure called cryosurgery to decrease fluid in the eye, it may be used in an eye that still has vision. If vision is already lost, it’s normal to remove the eye and sew the eyelid shut to eliminate pain.