GLAUCOMA: A Painful, and often, Shocking Condition
As you may know, at Tiny Paws Sanctuary, we specialize with animals with special needs. This may include physical or emotional problems caused by abuse or neglect, senior animals with serious and costly medical needs, and dogs with behavioral problems also caused by abuse.
Glaucoma is a disease we are very familiar with. In the last few years, we've had three animals that suffered from glaucoma.
Glaucoma is caused by severe inflammation that creates protein and other debris that blocks the tear duct. When this occurs, fluid continues to build up causing increased pressure of the eye That pressure can cause permanent damage to the optic nerve, and can result in blindness.
There are two types of glaucoma, primary and secondary. Primary glaucoma is usually genetic and occurs more often in particular breeds of both dogs and cats. It can also be caused by physical traits such as narrow angles and small pores that usually allow fluid to drain. Predisposed canine breeds include Cocker Spaniel, Poodle, Samoyed, Chow, and Siberian. Burmese and Siamese are among feline breeds prone to primary glaucoma. Goldie. our cocker spaniel is pictured above before surgery, and below, you will see her post-surgery.
Symptoms for sudden primary glaucoma can include frequent blinking of the eye, redness of blood vessels in the whites of the eye, cloudy appearance of the eye, a dilated pupil, or a pupil that does not respond to light, and the eyeball might roll to the back of the head. Long term, there will be a swelling of the eyeball and obvious vision loss.
Glaucoma can also be caused by an eye infection. This is called secondary glaucoma. It has much of the same symptoms including cloudy and red appearance, and debris may be seen in front of the eye. Head pressing may relieve headaches caused by the condition. The pet may have a behavioral change, such as avoiding play, and may not eat.
Your vet can test the pressure in the eye by using a tonometer. Normal pressure in dogs, cats is 10-20 mmHg. Increased intraocular pressure of 30 mmHg or higher are common in dogs and cats with glaucoma. It is not that unusual for them to have a pressure as high as 50 mmHg. In contrast, humans with glaucoma have pressures of 20-28 mmHg.
That is why we see such painful and shocking appearances in dogs and cats with glaucoma. Medication in the form of liquid drops can help slow the progression, but as Thomas Kern, DVM, associate professor of ophthalmology at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, says "Once the condition occur, it is not reversible, and by the time the clinical signs of glaucoma are noticed, substantial vision loss will already have occurred.”
Chico, our beagle/chihuahua mix came to the sanctuary with one eye removed. Unfortunately, his parents passed away before they could have the second eye removed. Here is a progression of his disease: (Thanks to the family for the "before glaucoma" picture)
Since Chico's eye was left untreated for a time, the pressure continue to grow, and much like a balloon, the eye ball expanded. We had his eye removal, a procedure called an eye enucleation, as soon as we could get him a surgery appointment.
As repulsive as eye removal sounds, the dog or cat wakes up feeling so much better. The pressure to the eye not only caused a painful eye, but a constant headache. An eye enucleation relieves that pain. Chico experienced an increase in activity, a better appetite, and all around improvement because he was no longer in pain.
While people's first reaction is to pity Chico, they quickly realize that his other senses more than make up for his blindness.
Sarah, our third dog with glaucoma, was never treated. The doctor had recommended it repeatedly. Over time, her eyes expanded, just like a balloon with too much pressure,, her eyeballs popped and collapsed. When her pet parent passed away, the son brought her to the vet to be put to sleep. Since she was no longer in any pain now that the eyes had collapsed, and suffered no other illness, the vet refused euthanasia and called our sanctuary instead. At that point, there was no treatment, but Sarah lived a high quality of life. She was a joy to care for.
An eye enucleation is scary and not inexpensive. However, when you consider how much pain will be relieved, you realize its worth every penny. If you're having difficulty affording the procedure, try signing up for Care Credit, talking to your vet about the possibility of making payments, or do an internet search for financial help for pet parents. Start a crowdfunding fundraiser. If all else fails, you may have to give your animal up to someone who will be able to pay for the surgery. The best interest of the animal should always be the priority.