5 Signs of Glaucoma Every Dog Owner Should Know

Glaucoma in dogs is a fairly common—but serious—condition. Here's how to tell if your dog has it and what can be done to save his eyesight.

Veterinarian examine on the eyes of a dog dachshund. Cataract eyes of dog. Medical and Health care of pet concept.Ирина Мещерякова/Getty Images
As a loving dog owner, you do your best to take great care of your faithful friend. You make sure he has all his shots, is regularly groomed, eats nutritionally complete food, and gets plenty of exercise. But your dog’s eye health may get less attention. It’s important, though, to stay on top of any changes in your dog’s vision and the appearance of his eyes. Like people, dogs are susceptible to a variety of eye diseases, including glaucoma.

Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in middle-aged dogs, according to the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. And acute glaucoma, which develops suddenly, is a medical emergency, per the Veterinary Centers of America. Here’s what you need to know to protect your furry family member’s vision.

What is glaucoma?

According to the Veterinary Centers of America, glaucoma is a disease in which the pressure within the eye, called intraocular pressure (IOP), increases. This happens when the fluid in the eye doesn’t drain properly, and it’s a big problem: Increased IOP is not only painful, but it also damages the retina and optic nerve, which can rapidly lead to irreversible blindness, notes the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists. Eye issues are among the most common health problems in 14 popular dog breeds.

Which dogs get it

Glaucoma in dogs, like other diseases, occurs more frequently with age. But regardless of how old the dog is, some breeds are predisposed to it due to an inherited abnormality in the drainage angle in the eye. Some of the affected breeds include Cocker Spaniels, Basset Hounds, Malamutes, Siberian Huskies, Elkhounds, Samoyeds, Beagles, Bouviers, Bull Mastiffs, Great Danes, Chow Chows, and Dalmatians, says DJ Haeussler, a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist.

Plus, a dog that sustains an injury to the eye or has certain concurrent medical conditions—including uveitis (inflammation of the interior of the eye), retinal detachment, or retinal degeneration—is more likely to develop glaucoma, adds Dr. Haeussler. Intraocular cancer is another common concurrent condition. Speaking of which, these are the 12 warning signs of cancer in dogs that every owner should know.

The signs of glaucoma in dogs

According to Dr. Haeussler, warning signs that your dog may have glaucoma include:

  • A blue haze to the cornea, the clear, dome-shaped structure of the eye
  • Decreased vision
  • Excessive redness in the white area of the eye
  • Squinting
  • Excessive tearing

The first warning sign on the list—the blue haze—is the hallmark of this condition. Glaucoma in dogs can also cause considerable discomfort, so be on the lookout for indications of pain, like lethargy or loss of appetite, in combination with the above signs. Here’s how to tell if your dog is in pain.

What to do if you think your dog has glaucoma

“If you notice any of these signs, you should see your primary care veterinarian as soon as possible,” urges Dr. Haeussler. You may be referred to an ophthalmologist from there, but your vet should be your first stop.

Most dogs in the beginning to middle stages of glaucoma aren’t taken to the vet, though, because the early signs can be quite subtle, as Kirk N. Gelatt, VMD, explains in the Merck Veterinary Manual. That’s why it’s important for owners of high-risk dogs to request that their pet’s IOP be measured as part of their annual physical exam.

Treatment options

There are various treatments available for glaucoma in dogs, Dr. Haeussler tells Reader’s Digest. “These include eye drops with the goal of reducing intraocular pressures. As well, there are advanced surgical options offered by veterinary ophthalmologists that involve laser therapies to reduce intraocular pressure, or shunt placement to drain excess fluid.”

Unfortunately, there is no cure for glaucoma in dogs, and it can be difficult to keep from advancing. Some dogs, even if treated, will lose their vision. If your dog is diagnosed with glaucoma, he will require lifelong monitoring by a veterinary ophthalmologist. But early detection, followed by immediate treatment, will give your dog the best odds of beating this disease. Next, check out these 9 trusted tips to help your pet live longer.

Christina Vercelletto
Christina Vercelletto covers pets for Reader’s Digest and Chewy’s Pet Central channel. She has 15 years’ experience on staff at national publications, including Parenting, FamilyFun, Scholastic Parent & Child, and Woman's Day and has appeared as a guest on Today, Good Morning America, and The View. Aside from Reader's Digest, Christina regularly crafts content for EatingWell, CNN Underscored, Livestrong, The Knot, Trip Advisor, and other prominent brands. She holds a summa cum laude degree in journalism from Long Island University. Her areas of expertise are lifestyle, beauty, travel, product reviews, and pets.