Understanding Hyphema in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Understanding Hyphema in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Hyphema in Dogs: Hyphema is the medical term for blood in the anterior chamber of the eye. It occurs when there is bleeding from the iris, ciliary body, or other anterior segment structures, allowing blood cells to enter the aqueous humor. Hyphema can lead to increased intraocular pressure, glaucoma, corneal blood staining, and vision loss if left untreated.

Understanding Hyphema in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Causes of Hyphema in Dogs

1. Trauma to the Eye

The most common cause of hyphema in dogs is trauma to the eye, such as a blunt force impact or injury. This can rupture blood vessels in the anterior chamber of the eye, causing bleeding. Trauma can be the result of injuries suffered during play with other dogs, scratches from cats or wildlife, or physical abuse. Car accidents or falls can also lead to eye trauma and subsequent hyphema.

2. Increased Blood Pressure

Elevated blood pressure, or hypertension, puts strain on the blood vessels in the eye and can lead to vessel rupture and hyphema. Certain breeds like Cocker Spaniels are prone to high blood pressure and subsequent eye problems. Kidney disease or other medical issues may also contribute to increased blood pressure in dogs.

3. Infections

In rare cases, infections such as anterior uveitis can lead to inflammation of the eye, damaging blood vessels and causing minor bleeding. Bacterial, viral or fungal infections may be responsible. An eye infection requires immediate veterinary diagnosis and treatment to prevent vision loss or other complications.

4. Blood Clotting Disorders

Certain blood clotting disorders may make dogs more prone to hyphema, as their blood does not clot properly to prevent or limit bleeding. Von Willebrand disease, a common blood clotting disorder in dogs, can increase the risk of hyphema, especially following an eye injury. A dog with a clotting disorder may require plasma transfusions or other treatment to control bleeding into the eye.

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In summary, the most common causes of hyphema in dogs are eye trauma, high blood pressure, infections, and blood clotting disorders. Close monitoring of your dog’s eyes and health, especially if at higher risk of these conditions, can help prevent hyphema or allow for early diagnosis and treatment.

Symptoms of Hyphema in Dogs to Look Out For

1. Redness and swelling of the eye

If your dog’s eye appears swollen, inflamed or irritated, it could indicate the presence of hyphema. The blood in the anterior chamber causes inflammation that leads to a swollen, puffy looking eye. The sclera (white part of the eye) may appear reddened. These are signs you should have your vet examine your dog’s eye as soon as possible.

2. Visible blood in the eye

The most obvious symptom of hyphema is the appearance of blood within the eye. The blood may appear as a fluid level of dark red color in the bottom of the eye or dispersed throughout the anterior chamber. In some cases, the blood may be visible as a ‘hyphema blister’ – a raised, fluid-filled lesion on the eye. This warrants an emergency vet visit.

3. Cloudiness in the eye

Hyphema can cause the normally clear cornea and lens to appear cloudy or opaque. This is due to blood cells and plasma dispersing within the aqueous humor. Vision may seem impaired or the eye may have a ‘hazy’ appearance. If caught early, this symptom may be reversible once the underlying cause is diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian. However, prolonged bleeding can potentially lead to permanent damage.

4. Pain or discomfort

Some dogs may show signs of pain, discomfort or irritation in the affected eye. They may frequently rub, paw at or squint the eye. Excessive tearing, sensitivity to light (photophobia) or unwillingness to open the eye can also indicate discomfort. While not all dogs show obvious discomfort, any symptoms of pain or irritation require prompt veterinary evaluation.

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Early diagnosis and treatment of hyphema is critical to prevent potential vision loss or other complications. If your dog shows any symptoms of hyphema, contact your vet right away for an eye exam and to discuss emergency treatment options.

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Diagnosing and Treating Hyphema in Dogs

1. Accurate Diagnosis

To properly diagnose hyphema in dogs, the veterinarian will conduct a thorough eye examination. They will check for signs of trauma or injury to the eye, as well as look for blood in the anterior chamber. Diagnostic tests like fluorescein staining, tonometry, and ophthalmoscopy may be used to check for corneal ulcers, glaucoma, and retinal detachment. These tests help determine the underlying cause of the hyphema and appropriate treatment.

2. Treatment Options

Treatment for hyphema typically focuses on controlling the bleeding, reducing inflammation, and preventing complications. The veterinarian may prescribe eye drops like antibiotics, steroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling and prevent infection. They can also administer medications to constrict blood vessels in the eye and slow bleeding.

In severe cases, the vet may need to surgically drain the blood from the anterior chamber through a procedure known as anterior chamber paracentesis. This helps prevent increased pressure in the eye (glaucoma) from the built-up blood. The dog will need to be under anesthesia for this procedure.

3. Recovery and Aftercare

Strict rest, minimal activity, and proper aftercare are essential for recovery from hyphema. The owner will need to administer all prescribed eye drops as directed and bring the dog in for regular recheck appointments. Cone collars or Elizabethan collars may be necessary to prevent rubbing or scratching of the eyes. Any activity that increases pressure in the eye should be avoided. The prognosis for recovery depends on the severity and underlying cause of the hyphema. With prompt treatment and diligent aftercare, many dogs can recover full vision. However, some may develop glaucoma or other complications that lead to vision loss if not properly managed.

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Close monitoring by a vet ophthalmologist is recommended to ensure the best outcome for your dog. By understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment of hyphema, dog owners can get their faithful companions the care they need to heal from this serious eye condition.


What causes hyphema in dogs?

Hyphema, or bleeding into the anterior chamber of the eye, can occur due to several causes in dogs. The most common causes include trauma to the eye, glaucoma (increased pressure within the eye), retinal detachment, inflammation of the eye, blood clotting disorders, or tumors in the eye. In many cases, the exact cause of the hyphema may not be determined.

What are the symptoms of hyphema in dogs?

The most obvious sign of hyphema is bleeding into the clear front part of the eye (the aqueous humor). This will appear as a pooling or streaming of blood within the eye. Other symptoms may include squinting, tearing, pain or sensitivity to light, and vision loss or impairment.

How is hyphema in dogs diagnosed?

Diagnosis begins with a thorough ophthalmic exam by a veterinarian to determine the source and severity of the bleeding. Additional tests like blood pressure measurement, blood tests, and imaging such as ultrasound may be required to determine an underlying cause. In some cases, surgical procedures may be needed to fully diagnose and treat the condition.

How is hyphema in dogs treated?

Treatment depends on the severity and cause of the condition. Mild hyphema may be treated with eye medications such as antibiotics, corticosteroids, and mydriatics (to dilate the pupil) along with limited activity and rest. Severe hyphema requires hospitalization and intensive medical management to stabilize the eye. In some cases, surgery may be required to treat any underlying conditions, repair damage, and restore vision. Follow-up care with an ophthalmologist is usually needed to monitor healing and intraocular pressure.

The prognosis for recovery depends on the cause and severity of the hyphema. With prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment, many dogs can regain most or all of their vision. However, some may have permanent visual impairment or blindness, especially if there are underlying chronic conditions like glaucoma or retinal detachment. Close monitoring by a veterinarian is usually required long-term.