Hyphema in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment

Image of a large brown dog receiving eye drops for hyphema from a veterinarian
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Does it look like there may be blood in your dog’s eye? The medical term for this is hyphema. There are many different causes for this and many different things that you can do to help treat this issue in your dog.

If you have suddenly noticed that there is blood in your dog’s eye, it is best to take your dog to your vet right away. The sooner that your dog starts to get treated for hyphema, the quicker and easier the recovery process can be. Some eye issues, if not treated in the first few days, can potentially cause permanent eye damage.

What is hyphema in dogs?

Hyphema in dogs is simply blood in your dog’s eye. Usually, the blood collects in the front of the eye between the cornea (the surface of the eye) and the iris (the colored part of the eye). You will normally see a red line along the bottom part of the eye. This is where the blood pools in the eye due to gravity. This can be due to many different reasons and often suddenly occurs.

Symptoms of Hyphema in Dogs

There are many different symptoms of hyphema in dogs. These are common things that you would see if your dog has hyphema.

  • Red in the eye
  • Cloudiness in front of the pupil and iris
  • Blood pooling in the bottom of the eye
  • Squinting of the eyes
  • Painful eyes
  • Keeping their eye closed
  • Unable to see

If you notice any of these signs or symptoms in your dog, it would be best for your dog to see your vet right away. Many eye issues need immediate attention to prevent them from resulting in permanent damage.

What causes hyphema in dogs?

There are many reasons that your dog may have hyphema. These include:

  • Traumatic event to the eye or head
  • Inflammation of the eye or uveitis
  • Tumor in the eye, lymphoma
  • Detached or torn retina
  • High blood pressure or hypertension
  • Clotting issues
  • A disease of your dog’s platelets such as leukemia, blood loss, or anemia
  • A congenital disease of your dog’s eyes
  • Glaucoma

How is hyphema in dogs diagnosed?

Image of a beagle dog being examined and diagnosed with hyphema

As soon as you notice that there is anything wrong with your dog’s eye, you should have your dog checked by your vet right away. Hyphema can be an indication that there is something more severe and life-threatening going on with your dog.

Hyphema is usually diagnosed with just a physical exam by your vet. Your vet may need to do different tests on your dog’s eyes to help determine why your dog has hyphemia. Most of the time, your vet will take your dog’s blood pressure, blood work, or x rays to see what is causing these issues.

These are specialized eye tests that your vet may perform:

  • Fluorescein stain test to look for abrasions on the surface of the eye
  • Tonometry to check the pressures of your dog’s eye
  • Schirmer tear test to make sure that your dog is producing enough tears
  • Eye ultrasound to check the structures of your dog’s eye and make sure the retina is still attached
  • Slit-lamp to check for uveitis or other abnormalities of your dog’s eye

Once all of these tests have been performed, your vet may be able to determine why your dog has hyphema.

If these simple eye tests do not determine the cause for hyphema in your dog, there are other tests that your vet may want to run to figure out the cause of this issue. Some diseases affect your dog’s whole body and cause the blood to form in their eye. Other tests that your vet may perform are:

  • Complete blood count (CBC): this will check for anemia or other platelet or blood disorders
  • Chemistry panel to assess overall organ functions
  • Urinalysis
  • Coagulation panel to make sure that your dog does not have a clotting issue causing blood to leak out of the blood vessels
  • Infectious disease panel: this is different depending on where you live. There are different tick-borne diseases in different areas of the country that can cause a clotting issue, which will lead to hyphema in your dog’s eye
  • Radiographs or Ultrasounds to look for tumors or other cause of hyphema
  • Check blood pressure to make sure that your dog does not have high blood pressure causing hyphema

Types of Hyphema

There are many diseases that your dog may have causing them to have hyphema. These diseases are:

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is an increase in intraocular pressure. This increase in pressure can cause blood to build up in your dog’s eye. If your dog has glaucoma, you will notice that the globe of the eye is getting bigger and is protruding forward. This can be a very painful condition in dogs without any treatment.

Hypertension

Hypertension is the medical term for increased blood pressure. If your dog has high blood pressure, the blood can leak out of the vessels. If the blood is leaked out of the vessels in the eye, it will commonly cause blood to pool in your dog’s eye.

Intraocular Neoplasia

Dogs and cats can get tumors growing in their eyes. This most common type of ocular neoplasia is lymphoma. This can cause damage to the eye and the blood vessels in the eye. This will lead to a pooling of blood in your dog’s eye. Many times, dogs with tumors in the eye will need to the whole eye removed to stop the spread of this type of cancer to other parts of their body.

Ulceration

Some dogs can have a scratch on the surface of the eye, causing an ulcer. This ulcer is usually healed by blood vessels coming to the ulcer, providing proteins to repair the surface of the eye. Sometimes these blood vessels will also leak blood into the eye, causing hyphema.

Uveitis

Uveitis is the medical term for inflammation of the inside of the eye. This inflammation may lead to hyphema in your dog’s eye.

Other Medical Causes

There are other diseases such as ingesting rat poison or retinal detachment that can cause your dog to have hyphema. Things such as clotting disorder and even some dogs have a genetic eye disease that can lead to hyphema.

If you are noticing anything wrong with your dog’s eye, it is best to schedule an appointment with your vet as soon as you are able to. Eye issues should always start treatment as soon as possible to save your dog’s eyesight if it’s at risk.

How is hyphema in dogs treated?

The treatment of hyphema is very different depending on what is causing the blood in your dog’s eye. These are some of the most common reasons and their treatment.

Traumatic Event

Many times, dogs who have had a traumatic event to their eye, giving them time and anti-inflammatory medication will help them improve. If the damage is so severe the that globe of the eye has ruptured beyond repair or cannot be fixed surgically; your dog may have to have their eye removed.

Ulcerations

If your dog has hyphema due to an ulcer on their eye, your vet will prescribe topical antibiotics and pain medication. This could consist of atropine or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Your dog should NEVER use steroids in their eye if they have an ulcer in their eye.

Uveitis

Uveitis is treated with topical steroids, NSAIDs, or atropine. These are all drops that you will put into your dog’s eye to help decrease the pain and inflammation. Some dogs will be prescribed oral medication to also help with the pain and inflammation.

Glaucoma

If your dog has glaucoma, topical medication will be prescribed to help decrease the intraocular pressures in your dog’s eye. Sometimes your dog will need to be on multiple different drops or even has surgery to help decrease the pressure. The treatment for glaucoma is life long and usually cannot be reversed with medication alone.

Common surgical options for glaucoma are laser cyclophotocoagulation, shunts in the anterior chamber of the eye, or ciliary body ablation. If your dog’s pressure cannot be regulated with medications or surgery, your vet may recommend the removal of the eye as glaucoma can be a very painful disease.

When starting treatment for your dog’s hyphema, it is best to follow your vet’s advice and recommendations. Try to stick to a schedule with their eye drops and try not to miss a dosage. In the first few days, it is very critical to not miss a dosage to help your dog fully recover.

Most vets will recommend a follow-up visit a few days or weeks later to make sure that your dog’s eye is improving. Most eyes take a long time to get better but can quickly get worse.

Recovery from Hyphema

Depending on the cause of hyphema will depend on how long it will take for your dog to recover or if they will be able to recover. Some dogs will quickly be able to recover while many have permanent damage or long-lasting eye issues that you must medicate for a long time. Some of these issues are even lifelong.

Usually, with early and aggressive treatment, most dogs can make a full recovery or at least save their vision and eye. Your vet will be able to give you the best prognosis for your dog’s specific cause of hyphema.

When to See a Veterinary Ophthalmologist for Hyphema in Dogs

Many general practice veterinarians can treat many simple eye issues. However, once a condition is more complex and needs specialized treatment, you may be referred to a veterinary ophthalmologist. These veterinarians have had many extra years of training in treating complex eye issues and eye surgeries. They would be able to treat a detached retina or other complex eye issues.

Working with your veterinarian and the veterinary ophthalmologist will help your dog quickly return to normal and save their eye and sight.

Hyphema in dogs can look very scary, and there are actually a few causes of hyphema that are not an ideal diagnosis. If you notice any redness or inflammation in your dog’s eye, it is best to see your vet right away. Eye issues can get really bad very quickly, causing you to have to make some hard decisions about your pet’s health or them even losing sight or their eye.

Working with your vet on the best treatment and staying consistent on giving your dog eye drops and other medications can help your dog quickly return to their normal life with their eye health intact.

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