Eye problems in dogs can be very stressful for your best friend and regular veterinary care is essential for prevention. There are a host of eye conditions that can affect your dog and some can lead to blindness. So, it’s very important that you have your dog’s particular problem treated.
This first one is interesting in that I have personally experienced it. Blepharospasm is a condition that causes a rapid blinking of the eye due to involuntary spasms of the orbicularis oculi muscle of the eyelid. During one of these episodes, it can look as if the eyelid is closed.
Your dog may avoid looking at bright lights. Also, the affected eyelid will usually look red and swollen and she will squint or blink. The eye may also be itchy with a discharge. Additionally, the skin over the eyelids could appear crusty or flaky with small pustules on the surface.
Any condition that irritates the eyelids can cause blepharospasm, including:
- Congenital abnormalities
- Allergies to insect bites and inhaling allergens
- Short, flat faces, facial folds and long narrowed muzzles. The Pekingese comes to mind
- Bacterial infections such as staph
- Fungal infections
- Tumors located in the meibomian glands (oil glands on the edge of the eyelid)
- Inflammatory disorders
- Trauma to the eyelids
- Nutritional disorders
- Endocrine problems
- Environmental irritants like tobacco smoke
To treat this condition you can use warm compresses and remove discharges with saline drops. Additional treatment will depend on the cause. Eye conditions can progress quickly so a trip to your veterinarian is probably in order.
A cataract is an opacity or imperfection in the lens. The lens is designed to focus light and should therefore be crystal clear. When a cataract develops it obscures vision and can eventually cause blindness.
Diabetes can cause cataracts to develop because high blood sugar alters the metabolism and can result in very rapid onset. Cataracts can also develop in dogs from exposure to ultraviolet light but less commonly than in humans.
Genetics is another cause of cataracts and they occur quite commonly in certain purebred dogs like Poodles, Cocker Spaniels, Siberian Huskies and Yorkshire Terriers. Unfortunately, these genetically caused cataracts can form when the dog is quite young – between 1 and 5 years old.
Usually, a dog with cataracts can still see. However, as a cataract matures it can cover the entire eye lens and then the dog can see only changes in light. Veterinarians recommend to remove these with surgery.
Generally speaking, the cataract itself won’t be painful. However, inflammation can develop and that can at least be uncomfortable. This inflammation can lead to glaucoma and that is painful.
With this in mind, veterinarians recommend that dog owners treat cataracts with anti-inflammatory eye drops.
Dr. Katie Grzyb, Medical Director at One Love Animal Hospital in Brooklyn, New York, says “There are some beliefs that certain antioxidant eyes drops can slow down the progression of small cataracts just by improving the overall health of the eye, but they will not dissolve the cataract.”
You can tell that your pooch has cataracts when there is whiteness in the pupils making them appear cloudy. Also, if your dog has always been great at catching her ball and is starting to miss, this may be a sign.
Unfortunately, cataracts won’t go away on their own and must be removed surgically. Immediately after surgery, your veterinarian will start your dog on a routine of anti-inflammatory cataract eye drops. You should also bring her in for regular checkups.
Many cataracts are hereditary so there is not much you can do to prevent them. However, some veterinarians say a high-quality diet with an anti-oxidant supplement may help. Also, blocking your dogs eyes from harmful UV rays can help, so make sure she has plenty of shade while indoors.
Cherry Eye – Prolapse of the Third Eyelid
Many mammals, including dogs, have an extra or third eyelid gland located inside the lower eyelid. We also refer to this as the “nictating membrane.” This third eyelid serves as extra protection for the eye – especially when a dog is fighting. It also contains a special gland that produces a significant amount of the eye’s protective tear film. When this gland pops out (prolapses), we call the condition “cherry eye.”
Cherry eye appears as a red swollen mass on the lower eyelid near the muzzle. It may be quite large and cover a significant portion of the cornea or it could be small and appear only periodically.
The gland of the third eyelid is normally attached to the lower, inner rim of the eye by fibrous material. In certain breeds, it’s thought this attachment is weak and so causes the gland to prolapse. The breeds most affected are those with “squished” faces and short limbs like Cocker Spaniels, Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Shih Tzus, Bloodhounds and Lhasa Apsos.
To treat this condition, your veterinarian must perform surgery to replace the third eyelid gland. Further, it’s important to treat the condition as soon as possible to minimize damage. This is because the gland produces up to 50% of the watery portion of the tear film and if not treated could lead to “dry eye.” Dry eye can really impair vision
In most cases the gland returns to normal within a few weeks of surgery. Sometimes there may be a recurrence and additional surgery may be needed.
Conjunctivitis – Pink Eye
Pink eye is an inflammation of the conjunctiva which is the moist tissue that covers the front part of the eyeball and lines the eyelids.
Breeds that are prone to allergies and autoimmune skin diseases tend to have more problems with this inflammation.
Signs of pink eye include:
- Redness of the moist tissues of the eye
- Spasmodic blinking (blepharospasm)
- Discharge from the eye
- Swelling from fluid buildup of the moist tissue covering the eyeball
There are several causes of pink eye. These include:
- Bacterial such as neonatal conjunctivitis
- Viral – canine distemper virus
- Immune – allergies, follicular conjunctivitis, plasma-cell conjunctivitis, lid diseases, lash diseases and eye gland diseases
- Environmental causes such as foreign bodies in the moist tissue of the eye and irritation from pollen, dust and eye medications
To diagnose the disease, your veterinarian will look for evidence of other eye diseases. To treat it, he will determine the cause. For example, if it’s a bacterial infection, he will likely prescribe and antibiotic ointment.
Some cases may require surgery to remove an obstruction in a duct. If there’s cancer, the tumor needs to be removed. Your veterinarian may also recommend cryotherapy which uses cold application to remove hair, cysts and other irritations. In very serious cases, the eyeball and surrounding tissues will be removed.
The cornea is the clear outer layer of the front of the eye. The sclera is the white part of the eye and is composed of a tough layer covering that protects the eye.
A penetrating injury is a wound or foreign body that enters but does not completely pass through the cornea or sclera. A perforating injury is when the wound or foreign body completely passes through. In this situation there’s a greater risk of vision loss. A simple injury involves either the cornea or sclera. A complicated injury is a type of perforating injury that involves other parts of the eye.
These injuries are generally very painful and can become infected. Infection can lead to permanent corneal scarring, injury to deeper tissues in the eye, permanent vision loss and even loss of the eye.
Here are some signs of corneal damage:
- Rubbing at the eye
- Excessive blinking
Veterinarians often diagnose corneal wounds with a special dye that assists in their detection. They often treat less serious injuries with medications. In more serious cases, surgery may be required along with additional medications.
It’s very important that you seek immediate treatment for all eye injuries because it can make the difference between healing and permanent vision loss.
Ectropion – Outward Eyelid Projection
Ectropion is a condition where the lower eyelid rolls outward thus causing the eyelids to look droopy. It’s often accompanied by a thick discharge, red inflamed tissue and your dog may even tear. Ectropion exposes the conjunctival tissues that line the inner surface of the eyelids and cover the eyeball resulting in a drying of the tissues. This condition is usually diagnosed in dogs less than one year old.
Certain breeds are more likely to have Ectropion and these include:
- Saint Bernard
- Cocker Spaniel
- Basset Hound
Acquired Ectropion is a result of something other than an inherited trait. Some of the causes are:
- Facial nerve paralysis
- Chronic inflammation and infection of the tissues around the eyes
- Neuromuscular disease
If the condition is mild, you can treat it with lubricating eye drops, ointments and ophthalmic antibiotics. If the condition is severe, surgery may be necessary which is done to restore the normal contour of the eyelid.
Entropion – Inward Eyelid Projection
Entropion is a genetic condition where a portion of the eyelid is folded inward. This in turn causes the eyelash hair to irritate and scratch the surface of the eye. Consequently, this can lead to a corneal ulceration. The condition can also cause dark scar tissue to build up over the wound. These factors may cause a decrease or loss of vision.
Entropion is fairly common in dogs and seen in many breeds. It’s almost always diagnosed before one year of age.
Facial shape is the primary genetic cause of Entropian and can more commonly affect short-nosed dogs. This is because there is more tension on the ligaments of the inner eye than normal. The shape of the nose is also a factor.
Most dogs will squint, hold their eye shut and tear excessively with this condition although, interestingly enough, flat faced dogs often don’t show discomfort. In most cases, both eyes are affected.
Here are just some of the breeds more likely to have this problem:
- Basset Hound
- Golden Retriever
- Great Dane
- Irish Setter
- Shih Tzu
- Yorkshire terrier
The treatment for Entropion is surgery. In the process, skin is removed from the affected eyelid to reverse its inward rolling. A second surgery or even several surgeries may also be necessary.
Generally, the prognosis is good and most dogs will live a pain-free life after the condition is corrected. However, in those cases where treatment comes later and there is corneal scaring, there may be permanent visual deficits.
Humans get glaucoma and so do dogs. It’s a condition where pressure is placed on the eye (intra-ocular pressure) that results in inadequate fluid (aqueous humor) drainage. If the pressure isn’t relieved, the eye may stretch and enlarge.
If not treated, it will cause permanent damage to the optic nerve and result in blindness.
Again, just like many conditions of the eye, certain breeds are affected more than others. These include Samoyed, Cocker Spaniel, Poodles and Chow Chows. Unfortunately, 4 out of 10 dogs will become blind in the affected eye, even if there is treatment. Often both eyes are affected.
There are 2 main types of glaucoma: primary (usually genetic) and secondary. For primary, look for these symptoms:
- Receding eyeball
- Redness in the blood vessels in the whites of the eyes
- Dilated pupil
- Vision loss
For secondary (due to secondary eye infection or wound) look for these symptoms:
- Redness in the blood vessels in the whites of the eyes
- Inflammatory debris visible in the front of the eye
- Constriction of the pupil
- Loss of appetite
- Changes in behavior
Sometimes in secondary glaucoma, the tiny attachments that hold the eye in place are broken or weak and make the lens move out of place and rest against the iris. This is called luxation/subluxation and will hinder proper drainage. Other things that can trigger secondary glaucoma are tumors, infections, cataracts and cancer of the eye.
Your veterinarian will test the pressure within your dog’s eye by using a tonometer on the surface. Because of the pressure, glaucoma can be very painful. He may also refer you and your dog to a veterinary opthalmologist who will take x-rays and perform an ultrasound.
Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KCS) or Dry Eye
This condition is characterized by a deficiency of aqueous tear film over the surface of the eye and in the lining of the lids. This results in severe drying and inflammation of the cornea and the conjunctiva (the clear membrane that covers the white part of the eye).
Keratoconjunctivitis is relatively common in dogs and especially in some breeds. These include Bulldogs, West Highland Terriers, Shih-Tzus and Lhasa Apsos. It’s also possible that female dogs may be more susceptible than males.
Here are some symptoms of this condition:
- Excessive blinking
- Swelling of the tissues around the eyelids and on the surface of the eyes
- Swollen blood vessels in the eyes
Most forms of dry eye are spontaneous. However, this disease is more common in dogs with skin allergies and/or ear disease. Certain oral medications and low thyroid production can also cause the condition.
To treat this disorder your veterinarian will conduct an ophthalmological exam on your dog. A Schirmer’s tear test might be used to measure tear values and the amount of wetness in the eye. Your veterinarian may also use a dye to examine the eye for abrasions. Further, she may take a sample of the aqueous fluid to see if there is infection.
Your veterinarian may prescribe an artificial tear medication, a lubricant, antibiotic and a corticosteroid. There is also a surgical procedure called parotid duct transposition which reroutes the aqueous ducts in such a way that saliva can be used to compensate for the lack of tears. This is performed less frequently than in the past.
This is the medical term for a blue transparent haze that develops in middle-aged to senior dogs. It’s considered a normal change in the lens as a dog ages. It appears as a cloudiness or bluish discoloration on the pupil and usually affects both eyes. You can see the condition best when the pupil dilates.
Fortunately, vision doesn’t seem to be significantly affected in dogs diagnosed with this condition. Don’t confuse Lenticular Sclerosis with Cataracts. Cataracts are white and opaque, reduce the ability of light to penetrate to the retina and affect the vision. Lenticular Sclerosis and Cataracts are two of the most common eye problems in dogs over the age of 9 . Some estimates show Lenticular Sclerosis or Cataracts in 50% of dogs over 9 and 100% in dogs over 13.
Veterinarians don’t exactly know the cause although it appears that the lens hardens as your dog ages. It’s believed that as new lens fibers are produced, they exert pressure on the central lens and this leads to the hardening.
There is no specific treatment for Lenticular Sclerosis and treatment isn’t necessary anyway. However, your veterinarian should monitor your dog for the development of Cataracts.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is also known as Progressive Rod and Cone Degeneration. Unfortunately, it can cause blindness in both eyes. PRA isn’t well understood although it’s probably a genetic disorder.
The first symptom of this condition is night blindness. You’ll notice that your dog is reluctant to go down the stairs, go outside, jump off furniture in dim light and navigate unfamiliar areas. The surface of the eye becomes cloudy, gray and may even have a greenish gloss.
As the disease progresses, your dog will bump into things and stumble over familiar objects. The good news is that this condition is rarely painful and most dogs adjust to the loss of vision.
An inheritance pattern called “Autosomal Recessive” passes most forms of PRA from parent to offspring. This is especially true with Irish Setters, Miniature Poodles, Collies, Labrador Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels and Briards. In these breeds, if the dog has inherited the PRA gene from one parent, they won’t develop the disease but could pass it on to their offspring. If they get the gene from both parents, they will develop PRA.
In some breeds such as Samoyeds and Siberian Huskies, only one copy of the gene can cause the disease.
Your veterinarian will diagnose this disease through extensive eye examinations and may even refer you and your dog to a veterinary ophthalmologist. For a definite diagnosis, the VO uses an electroretinogram to measure the retina’s ability to respond to light
Unfortunately, PRA always ends in blindness as there is no way to reverse the degeneration. However, with minor environmental accommodation, most dogs adjust well to vision loss and can live long and healthy lives.
Epiphora (excessive tear production) usually causes tear stains. They appear as reddish-brown streaks under your dog’s eyes. They are usually the result of porphyrins which are naturally occurring molecules containing iron.
The breakdown of red blood cells causes these waste products that are usually removed from the body when a dog poops. However, in some dogs it’s secreted through tears, saliva and urine.
When tears and saliva containing porphyrins sit on light-colored fur for a while, staining will occur. When exposed to sunlight, the stains darken. If the stains are more brown than rust colored, it’s likely your dog has developed a yeast infection on her face because of the wetness. If your dog’s face smells, this is likely because of the yeast.
The condition is more common in Maltese, Lhasa Apso. and Shih Tzus.
Tear staining may be a minor annoyance although is can sometimes be the result of a more serious problem. Some of these are Glaucoma, Entropin (inverted eyelid), medications, poor-quality diet and stress.
There are measures you can take to keep tear-staining at bay. You can flush her eyes with a canine eye-wash. Try using a dry shampoo and a wet wash cloth. Also, try 3% hydrogen peroxide on a paper towel. Keep the hair trimmed around the eye area as well.
There are a host of eye problems in dogs and some are more serious than others. Although dogs can live a full life with partial or full blindness, do everything you can to prevent problems from happening in the first place. However, keep in mind there are certain diseases like Cataracts that in many cases can’t be prevented.