Retinal Detachment

Dr. Jeffery Bowersox, DVM, DACVO

Understanding Retinal Detachment

The retina is a very complex structure that normally lies flat against the back of the eye and is crucial for normal vision in animals and humans. It is a ten-layered neurologic structure that is responsible for collecting light impulses which are then transferred to the brain and interpreted as vision. The first steps and chemical responses that start the visual process occur in the retinal tissues and it is imperative that the retina remains healthy and in its normal position in order for our pets to have normal visual function. When the retinal cells detach from their normal position, they cease to function appropriately and the patient becomes blind. 

What causes retinal detachment?

Severe trauma, tumors, fungal infections, inflammation, genetic predisposition, high blood pressure, complications from ocular surgery, or immune system dysfunction problems can lead to retinal detachment in animals. 

Early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of retinal detachment is extremely important for your pet’s general health and prognosis for retention or return of vision. Depending on what caused the detachment and how long the retina has been detached, in some cases the retinas can be reattached (medically or surgically) and vision restored.

How is retinal detachment diagnosed?

Symptoms of retinal problems can be very subtle and vague but also sudden and complete. Pets with vision problems in different lighting situations or problems with catching objects may have early retinal disease. Retinal tears or complete detachments can result in sudden, complete vision loss. Evaluation of the retinal tissues requires specialized equipment in order to identify subtle or early changes in retinal health or position. Early detachment is best identified with the specialized equipment and training that your veterinary ophthalmologist can provide. 

How is retinal detachment treated?

Significant advances are being made in improving surgical outcome and retaining vision after retinal reattachment surgery. Please discuss these options with your local veterinary ophthalmologist. 

Figure 1: Normal retina sample

Figure 2: Detached retina sample

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Amanda Brown