Eye Diseases in Pets

By: Lynsey Wagner, DVM

TVMA Member
San Antonio, TX.

Published October 2014

We all want to keep our pets as healthy as possible, but when it comes to ocularOf or connected with the eyes or vision. health, do you know what to look for? You should check your pet’s eyes often, looking for the following signs:

  • Redness in the whites of the eye (bloodshot eyes)
  • Squinting or holding the eyes shut
  • Scratching or rubbing at the eyes
  • Brown, green or yellow discharge
  • A change in the color of the eye, especially cloudiness
  • Difficulty navigating through the house or finding toys and treats

If you notice any of these signs, you and your pet need to head to the veterinarian. Eye problems tend to worsen very quickly.

Many ocularOf or connected with the eyes or vision. diseases can be diagnosed and treated by your regular veterinarian. If things become more complicated or if surgery is necessary, you may be referred to a veterinary ophthalmologist. Yes, there are veterinarians who specialize in just treating eyes.

Below are some common conditions and diseases that veterinary ophthalmologists treat on a daily basis.

Dry Eye

Dry eye refers to a lack of normal tear production, creating desiccation (dryness) and inflammation of the white part of the eye and the cornea. Tears are an extremely important component of overall ocular health and provide nutrients to the surface of the eye. When dogs don’t produce enough tears, the cornea can become scarred (and appear cloudy) and even ulcerateDevelop into or become affected by an ulcer.. A very common sign is the presence of a thick yellowish discharge that tends to cling to the eyelid margins and can be difficult to clean.  Dry eye in people is described as having the feeling of sandpaper in your eyes, so it’s also uncomfortable. The condition is diagnosed with a tear test that only takes 60 seconds. Luckily, the majority of dogs respond to medicated eye drops that encourage the tear gland to increase its production of watery tears.

Corneal Ulcers

An ulcer refers to a wound on the cornea. These come in many shapes, sizes and severities. Similar to human medicine, a fluorescein stainA test that uses dye (fluorescein) and a blue light to detect foreign bodies in the eye. This test can also detect damage to the cornea. is used to diagnose corneal ulcers in our pets. Superficial ulcers that barely scratch the surface tend to heal very quickly (within five to seven days) but are painful nevertheless and require antibiotics. Ulcers can rapidly become infected by bacteria and become deep wounds that threaten the integrity of the eye and can potentially lead to loss of vision. The main sign of ulceration is holding the eye shut (squinting). Treatment depends on the severity of the ulceration. Medical management will be necessary in all cases, and some of the more severe ulcers may require surgery under an operating microscope, usually performed by an ophthalmologist.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a buildup of pressure inside the eye. You may know people diagnosed with glaucoma; however, this condition is very different in dogs. The disease can affect any breed of dog and unfortunately can rapidly lead to permanent blindness. Glaucoma is painful—humans describe it as feeling like a migraine headache. Signs of this disease to watch for include a very blue or hazy cornea, severe redness in the white part of the eye and a dilatedMake or become wider, larger, or more open. pupilThe dark circular opening in the center of the iris of the eye, varying in size to regulate the amount of light reaching the retina.. As glaucoma is blinding and painful, it is recognized as a true emergency in ophthalmology. Often we only have 12 to 24 hours to bring the pressure down inside the eye before permanent damage occurs. Cocker spaniels, chow chow, Basset hounds and Siberian huskies are breeds very commonly affected by this disease, so owners should be on the lookout for signs.

Cataracts

Just like people, dogs can develop cloudiness or opacityThe condition of lacking transparency or translucence; opaqueness. inside their lenses, which is referred to as a cataract. The lens is a structure inside the eye that focuses light on the retina so we can clearly see objects both up close and at a distance. A common misconception is that cataracts only occur in older dogs. In fact, we see quite a few cataracts in young and middle-aged dogs. Diabetes is also a common cause of a rapid onset of complete cataracts. Seventy-five percent of dogs will develop cataracts within a year of being diagnosed with diabetes. Cataracts do limit vision but are not painful unless they lead to other eye problems. Dogs require anti-inflammatory eye drops to prevent further complications secondary to the disease. In order to restore vision, cataract surgery is available for our pets. The success rate of cataract surgery is approximately 90 percent; however, specific testing (usually provided by an ophthalmologist) will identify if an individual dog has an increased risk of post-operative complications. The operation is performed with the same equipment and techniques used in human medicine.

If you feel that your pet is experiencing any symptoms of ocular disease, we encourage you to take your pet into your regular veterinarian for an assessment.

Lynsey Wagner, DVM, DACVO, is a graduate of Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine who lives in San Antonio, Texas. Dr. Wagner is a board-certified diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists who practices at South Texas Veterinary Ophthalmology.