We all want our best friends to live long and healthy lives, but sometimes dogs — whether due to genetics, accident, or plain old bad luck — get sick. Dogs especially are prone to eye problems, and it is up to their humans to spot the signs and symptoms of the various eye conditions that can affect canines.
The experts at Animal Eye Associates recognise that sometimes it can be hard to tell if something is wrong with our pet’s vision, so we’d like to introduce a small guide to common eye conditions in dogs and how to properly spot them.
Also known as pink eye, conjunctivitis is a reactive infection characterized by inflammation, redness, and gooey discharge leaking from the eye. Inside your dog’s eyes are mucus membranes called the conjunctiva, which are hidden on both sides of the eye. These membranes are sensitive and prone to infection when exposed to extraneous influences.
Pink eye is a reaction that can be caused by a number of sources, including bacterial infections, viral infections, allergies, and foreign materials like dirt and dust. In the case of foreign materials and allergies, a simple sterile eye wash is usually enough to clear any symptoms. Bacterial and viral infections, however, require prescription antibiotics that are only available through a veterinarian or canine opthamologist.
Though you wouldn’t know it by inspecting your their eyes, dogs actually have three eyelids. Two of them are pretty obvious (your dog blinks, right?), but the third, harder-to-spot one is hidden in the inner corner of the eye. This third eyelid is actually a gland held together by ligaments and tissue, and it helps produce tears.
In some breeds of dogs, the ligaments in the third eyelid can become weakened over time, causing the gland to pop out. This condition is called “cherry eye,” and it tends to affect certain breeds of dogs, although any dog can develop it. The breeds most affected by cherry eye are:
Dogs with short muzzles such as
- Lhasa Apsos
- English Bulldogs
- Bull Terriers
- Boston Terriers
Specific breeds such as
- Saint Bernards
- Basset Hounds
- Cocker Spaniels
- Neopolitan Mastiffs
The above list is by no means comprehensive, but it is helpful to know that cherry eye is usually hereditary. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen to other breeds, though — cherry eye can be caused by eye and head trauma, or even allergic reactions.
Treatment for cherry eye is almost always a surgical procedure, performed by an experienced animal eye care specialist.
Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KCS)
Also known as “dry eye syndrome,” KCS occurs when a dog has a deficiency in its aqueous tear film, or the film that covers and lubricates the eye. This can happen for a number of reasons, most commonly through trauma, infection, or nerve damage to the tear glands. In some rare cases, no cause can be found at all; it seems that in some dogs, the tear glands just stop working to produce enough moisture to keep the lubricating film over their eyes active.
With KCS, a dog’s eyes typically develop an infection in the form of a gunky, yellowish discharge. This discharge can lead to very painful and chronic eye problems if left untreated, so it is very important to visit a veterinary ophthalmologist as soon as possible if you notice it in your dog. In most cases, treatment is lifelong and consists of applying artificial tears to the affected dog’s eyes on a daily basis. In extreme cases, a dog opthamologist can even transplant a salivary gland in place of the inoperative tear duct!
Dogs have small holes located near their eyes that allow excess tears to drain into the nose and throat. Miniature dog breeds, with their prominently “bulging” eyes, are partial to conditions which can block these holes and lead to surplus tears exiting the eyes externally. Tear stains are the result.
Tear stains are very obvious in dogs with light-colored fur. If you’ve ever wondered why so many small breeds of dogs have stains located near their inner eyes, it’s because bacteria is reacting to the excess tears and causing discoloration in the fur. With regular care, these stains can be erased entirely with a little warm water and a clean washcloth, but outside of surgery there is no known cure for small dog breeds that suffer from tear stains.
Fortunately, tear stains themselves rarely cause discomfort or pain to the affected animal. This doesn’t mean you should ignore them; if your dog has tear stains and is showing signs of discomfort, you should take them to a pet ophthalmologist and have the cause diagnosed.
Glaucoma, a condition where fluid production in the eye becomes unbalanced and leads to pressure, is common in dogs. Symptoms include:
- Excessive tears
- Dilated pupils
- Bulging eyes
- Cloudy appearance in eyes
If left untreated, glaucoma can cause permanent damage to the optic nerve. While medications may help, surgery is usually the best course of action to minimize the potential damage done by the disease.
Dogs, like most other animals, have clear lenses in the middle of their eyes. When the lenses become cloudy or peppered with milky spots, it can be due to cataracts. Cataracts block light from reaching the back of the eye, resulting in poor vision or even blindness. In rare cases, the lens of the eye can become cracked, leading to the need for surgery.
Sometimes a dog owner will mistake eye cloudiness in an older dog’s eyes as being caused by cataracts; they should rest assured that this is not always the case, as it could be that their best friend is simply getting older and developing a less problematic condition called lenticular sclerosis. Regardless of the cause, many dogs adapt very well to poor vision, so serious treatment may not be necessary in some cases.
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If your furry friend is suffering from eye discomfort and you’re not sure what to do, look no further than Animal Eye Associates. We specialize in the diagnosis, treatment, and care of eye problems in animals, and we would be happy to help. Schedule an appointment online today.