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Dog eye health: how to look after your dog’s eyes

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Looking after your dog’s eyes is a vital part of being a responsible pet owner.

Just like with people, there are lots of things that can lead to issues with your dog’s eyes – from getting dirt or dust in them, to more serious problems.

Petplan looks at ways to care for your dog’s eyes, issues to look out for and common conditions in your furry companion…

General care for you dog’s eyes

It’s extremely important to check your dog’s eyes regularly to ensure everything is as it should be.

Examine your dog in a well-lit area. Look carefully at all the structures of their eyes as well as into the globe (the eyeball apart from its appendages) to see if they are clear and bright. With a damp cotton ball, sweep outwards from the corner of the eye to remove any dirt or discharge. Your dog will automatically close its eyes as you do this. Be gentle and careful not to rub the cornea (the transparent part of the eye).

Things that indicate there is a problem include:

•    Squinting or closed eyes
•    Tearing or discharge around the eye
•    Cloudiness of any part of the eye
•    Redness
•    Rubbing or pawing the eyes

If any of the above symptoms are visible, persistent or recurring, you should seek help from your vet as soon as possible.

If your dog is a shaggy or long-haired breed, you may consider trimming the hair around your dog’s face and eyes.

Common canine eye conditions

While there are many conditions that affect the eyes, here are a few of the more common conditions. Remember, if you are in any way concerned about your dog’s eyes, consult with your vet.

Cataracts

Cataracts are an opacity of the lens. The lens sits inside the eye behind the iris (the coloured part of the eye) which has a hole in the middle known as the pupil.  A cataract appears as cloudiness of the pupil. They result in impaired vision for your dog and may eventually lead to blindness.  Cataracts can be genetic, or as a result of an injury. A common cause of cataracts in dogs is diabetes.

Symptoms:

•    Blue-grey cloudiness of the pupil
•    Signs associated with reduced vision (stumbling, bumping into things and a reluctance to move in new surroundings)
•    In dogs with diabetes, look for an increased water intake and higher frequency of urination

Treatment:

The only real solution for a cataract is surgery whereby the affected lens is removed.  Although cataracts are usually painless, they can cause diminished quality of life. Whilst removal of the lens removes the ability to focus, the dog’s overall vision is improved

Corneal Ulcers

Corneal ulcers are a like a deep graze within the cornea, which is the transparent part of the eye. They can be caused by a scratch on the surface of the eye or by a foreign object. Some bulging eye breeds (such as Pugs and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels) are more prone due to diminished natural protection of this part of the eye.

They are hard to diagnose without a special stain. Irrespective of the cause, it is important for pet owners to get them treated early as a simple corneal can rapidly deepen, not only causing prolonged distress but also risking the integrity of the entire eyeball.

Symptoms:

•    Squinting or partial closing of the eyes
•    Sounds or appearance of pain
•    Watery eyes
•    Redness

Treatment: Depends on the cause

•    Antibiotics or eye drops
•    Anti-inflammatory medication
•    Surgical debridement or support

Third Eyelid Prolapse (Cherry Eye)

The third eyelid in dogs is an unseen eyelid that sits under the outer haired eyelids. It has an associated gland that produces tears to lubricate the surface of the eye.  Sometimes this gland pops out from under the third eyelid and sits in the inside corner of the eye with the appearance of a small cherry.

The condition is not painful, and is especially common in younger dogs and breeds with shorter, flatter faces such as the Bulldog, Beagle, Cocker Spaniel and the Mastiff.

Symptoms:

•    Oval, pink mass protruding from the corner of the eye (one or both eyes can be affected)
•    Irritation
•    Redness

Treatment:

•    Sometimes application of lubrication will work but usually –
•    Surgery is required to reposition the gland back in its pocket

Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is the inflammation of the membrane covering the eye. It can be caused by a foreign body (including malpositioned eyelashes), bacteria, viruses, allergies or a lack of natural tear production. The condition is uncomfortable, producing itchiness and pain.

Symptoms:

•    Blinking/squinting or partial closing of the eyes
•    Redness
•    Discharge
o    Watery discharge
o    Mucous or pus-like discharge – infection or virus
•    Irritation and rubbing of eyes

Treatment: Depends on the cause

•    Bathing the eye in a recommended eye wash
•    A short treatment of anti-inflammatories (if the cause is an allergy)
•    Antibiotic ointment and oral tablets (if the cause is a bacterial infection)
•    Artificial tears and anti-immune medications (for dry-eye)
•    Surgery – only required where there is an abnormality with the eye causing the conjunctivitis (e.g. malpositioned eyelashes)

Glaucoma

Glaucoma results when there is increased pressure inside the eyeball itself. This can result from a blockage of the eyeball’s natural draining mechanism leading to an excess of fluid inside the eye. This puts pressure on the eye causing it to enlarge.

Glaucoma can eventually damage the optic nerve and the retina, both of which are essential for vision. Some breeds most commonly affected are the Pug, Siberian Husky and the Poodle.

Symptoms:

•    Squinting and Blinking
•    Pupils – overly large or overly small, and unresponsive to light changes
•    Redness
•    Abnormal appearance of the pupil
•    Sticky eyes that are hard to open

Treatment:

•    Medications which reduce the pressure inside the eye
•    Surgical removal of the lens
•    In severe, irreversible cases, removal of the eye may be necessary

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

This is an inherited and irreversible condition that results in the steady disintegration of your dog’s retina – the light receiving part at the back of the eye.

Initially, blindness is most marked during darkness. However, dogs with PRA will eventually lose all vision as it usually affects both eyes. PRA is not painful, and breeds prone to the condition include Labradors, Cocker Spaniels and the Husky.

Symptoms:

•    Night time blindness
•    Dilated pupils
•    Decreased response to light changes

Treatment:

Sadly, PRA is irreversible and there is no cure for blindness. However, dogs adjust to progressing loss of sight naturally, perhaps because PRA develops gradually.

If you’re concerned about your dog’s eye health, or they’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, always contact your vet who will provide you with a diagnosis, and more information regarding possible treatments.

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2 Responses to Dog eye health: how to look after your dog’s eyes

  1. Sara Redpath says:

    My dog regularly drinks from the garden pond but today I have spotted what I think is a leech. Is it likely that my dog can ingest a leech and are they harmful if that happens?

    • Petplan says:

      Hi Sara
      I am not concerned about the suspected leech. People used to even have them attached to their body to draw blood out!
      As long as your dog is vaccinated against Weil’s disease, ie leptospirosis, which is one of the standard vaccines they get annually, pond and puddle water is generally harmless. Thank you, Brian – The Petplan Vet

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