Swelling of the Optic Disk in the Retina of Dogs

PetMD Editorial
By PetMD Editorial on Nov. 6, 2008

Papilledema in Dogs

The condition known as papilledema is associated with swelling of the optic disk located within the retina and leading to the dog's brain. This swelling can lead increased pressure on the brain and may cause other symptoms, such as inflammation of the optic nerves.

When inflammation occurs it interferes with the eye's ability to transmit retinal information to the brain. Inflammation of the optic nerves may be related to inflammation on the brain or the retina, or could be solely related to the nerves. In some instances the optic nerve will only be partially inflamed, while in other instances the optic nerve will be inflamed along the full length of the retina. 

Papilledema can affect both dogs and cats. If you would like to learn more about how this disease affects cats, please visit this page in the PetMD health library.

Symptoms and Types

Depending on whether the nerves in both eyes have been affected, it may be difficult to observe symptoms. If both nerves are inflamed then signs of blindness will normally be present.

Symptoms will include bumping into things; getting lost within the normal habitat; a fearful attitude; and being incapable of catching toys or finding objects. Aggressive behavior may also be present. If the disease has affected the dog's brain, neurological indicators will be present. However, if the disease is systemic in nature, the dog may display signs of weakness, anorexia and lethargy.  


There are a number of underlying causes associated with this disorder, including canine distemper, a contagious viral infection found in young animals, or toxoplasmosis, which is caused by parasites. Other causes include fungal infection, water on the brain (hydrocephalus), tumors, peritonitis, inflammation of the brain, inflammation of the spinal cord and their membrane, or trauma due to injury.


This condition can sometime be difficult to diagnose. Your veterinarian will perform a thorough examination of both eyes, including a check of the reflexes in the pupils and neurological nerves. Tests may also be ordered to look for fungal infections, or viral infections that are specific in nature, as well as scans to look at how well the brain is functioning.

Further testing will also involve measuring the level of pressure on the dog's brain. If a systemic illness is present, the examination will include an overall physical checkup, to eliminate the presence of disease in other areas of your pet’s body. Chest X-rays may be ordered, along with abdominal x-rays as well.  


In order for treatment to be effective, the cause of inflammation must first be identified.

Treatment for papilledema will involve monitoring your pet closely, along with the administration of medication to treat any underlying cause of inflammation associated with the optic nerves.

Optic neuritis, or swelling of the optic disk, is considered a very serious condition that could be life threatening, and as such, great care must be taken to help your dog to maintain proper health.

Living and Management

It is important to follow your veterinarian’s medical instructions precisely in relation to the administration of medication. Follow-up visits to monitor your dog’s response to therapy, as well as any change in condition, is essential. Some animals will respond well to treatment and regain their sight, while others will not. Depending on the outcome, blindness may be permanent.

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