Several years ago, we were presented with what appeared to be a sad and heart-wrenching case. An entire family of nine appeared at the clinic looking gloomy at the prospect of bringing their old cocker, Pal, to what they thought was his last trip to the veterinary clinic. The dog had been with them for his entire 22 years and he had - except for recently - always been in excellent health. They were sure their old dog had cancer and humanely did not want him to suffer.
Our examination quickly revealed a large, discolored mass that was, in fact, his left eyeball. It was swollen to perhaps three times its normal size, having grown in little over a week! To the owners, an enlargement meant a tumor, and tumors in old dogs meant euthanasia.
There was no question the animal was in a great amount of pain and discomfort. For days before the condition became noticeable he had been constantly rubbing his eye and sometimes as he did this he would cry out in pain. The eye's surface was dry and covered with several abrasions. It would obviously never function again as an organ of sight - the damage and changes were too great for it to return to normal.
At first, it was difficult for us to disagree with the family's tentative diagnosis but further tests revealed that the animal probably did not have cancer but in fact was suffering from glaucoma.
Glaucoma is a group of diseases manifested by an increased pressure of fluid within the eyeball. The globe of our eyes and those of most animals are filled with two reservoirs of fluid. These help to maintain the round shape of the eye, yet are translucent enough to allow light to pass through to the lens, giving us vision. This fluid is constantly being produced within the eye, flows through various structures and then exits where the cornea (the clear outer surface of the eyeball) meets the iris (the colored structure with the pupil in the center). Anything that causes too much fluid to be produced, restricts the movement of fluid through the eye, or prevents fluid from draining out of the eye will elevate the pressure within the eyeball, causing glaucoma.
There are various treatments for glaucoma. Some involve medications while others utilize surgical procedures. The goal is to either decrease the amount of fluid being produced or make it easier for the fluid to drain from the eye. In Pal's case, however, the damage to the eyeball itself had been so severe that none of these methods would have provided any benefit. And, Pal was 22 years old - geriatric in anyone's book. Ophthalmic (eye) surgery would be expensive and his eye would never function again, so we felt the best case scenario would be enucleation: the total removal of the eyeball and the suturing closed of the exposed socket. Done correctly, enucleation's after-effects are virtually indiscernible.
When we explained our recommendation to Pal's owners we were surprised how quickly they agreed. Even though he was old they wanted to give him every chance. Pal went home the following day with less pain and happy to be with his family again.
Early recognition of the signs of glaucoma can save your pet's vision, eye, and a lot of pain. The outward signs associated with this condition are very consistent:
- Eye irritation
- Pet will rub his eye everywhere he can.
- Some pets may paw at the eye with their foot.
- In almost every case, the pupil of the affected eye will be larger than the pupil of the other eye.
If you see these signs, take your animal to your veterinarian immediately. Do not wait until morning, as that may be too late. Glaucoma is a true emergency needing immediate care.