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Disorders of the Optic Nerve in Dogs

By Kirk N. Gelatt, VMD, DACVO, Emeritus Distinguished Professor, Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida
David G. Baker, DVM, MS, PhD, DACLAM, Director and Professor, Division of Laboratory Animal Medicine, School of Veterinary Medicine, Louisiana State University

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The optic nerve carries the electrical impulses from the eye to the area in the back of the brain where vision is sensed and interpreted. Injury to the optic nerve usually leads to partial or complete loss of sight.

Optic Nerve Hypoplasia

Optic nerve hypoplasia is a failure of the optic nerve to develop fully. It may be inherited in Miniature Poodles. The condition may occur in only one eye or both, and it can occur with or without other eye abnormalities. If the optic nerves of both eyes fail to develop, the newborn will be blind. Involvement of only one of the optic nerves often goes undetected or may be discovered later in life if the other eye acquires a blinding disease.


Papilledema is swelling and protrusion of the optic disk caused by fluid buildup. It is uncommon in most animals. The condition is often associated with tumors of the orbit. The optic disk appears raised above the surface of the nearby retina, and veins appear swollen. Vision and the light reflexes of the pupil are not usually affected unless the optic disk degenerates.

Optic Atrophy

Optic degeneration or atrophy may occur after glaucoma, trauma, advanced degeneration of the retina, prolonged low pressure within the eye, or inflammation. The optic disk appears flattened and smaller than normal; it is darkly colored, with very noticeable reduction in the optic nerve and blood vessels of the retina. Both direct reflex of the pupil and vision are absent. There is no treatment.

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