Canine Eye Disease

Eye infections in pets can be serious and dogs and cats have different reasons each species develop eye issues. Today’s column will focus on common problems in dogs. One disease is “Dry eye” or Kerato Conjunctivitis Sicca. This syndrome causes decreased tear production. The best way I can explain this is to think about your car windshield. If it is hot and dusty and the windshield has dirt or dust on it and you turn the wipers on with the wiper fluid, the water mixes with the dust and a thick film smears across the glass. After several applications of washer fluid, it finally gets wiped clean. In dogs with dry eye, they do not have enough tears (wiper fluid) to keep the eyes free of dust and debris so they constantly have a thick film on the surface of their eye (the cornea) causing irritation, redness and pain. In severe cases, the cornea becomes ulcerated because of debris and friction from the eyelids.

If your dog has red, dull eyes that have a thick yellow discharge or matter stuck to the fur around the eyelids, these are indications of Dry Eye. Breeds such as Yorkshire Terriers, Shi Tzu’s, Pugs, and Boston Terriers are more prone to this disease and some drugs can cause this disorder. The diagnosis is made by performing a “Tear test” in the vet’s office. A thin strip of soft paper (called a “Schirmer Tear Strip” is placed inside the lower eyelid for 60 seconds then the moisture level on the paper is measured. If your dog is diagnosed with dry eye, the condition is permanent and eye drops are required daily for the remainder of the pet’s life. These eye drops not only lubricate the eye, but stimulate the dog’s tear gland to produce more fluid. The most common medication, considered to be greater than 75% effective, is Cyclosporine. It takes a few weeks to see the benefit and it has to be special ordered from the vet’s office because it is a “compounded medication”. Another medication called “Tacrolimus” is available and considered to be more effective than Cyclosporine but also more expensive. The cost of eye drops is high, approximately 40.00-50.00 per month which adds up over the life of the dog. However, if dry eye is not treated, the dog could lose the eye to infection and the cost of surgery and permanent loss of vision are worse than daily drops. Over the counter eye lubricants help in mild cases, but for severe cases, lubricating drops only help for a few hours, and are not appropriate because they don’t last long or help produce more tears. Cataracts are another common finding in dogs and can appear at a young age (Juvenile cataracts).

Most cataracts in dogs are slow growing and do not interfere with vision, but others may develop quickly leading to blindness. Some cataracts can be removed surgically by a veterinary ophthalmologist but the expense is significant. Approximately 3,000-3,500 for both eyes and then extensive follow up and several medications (eye drops) given for life. Recovery time for cataract surgery is labor and time intensive, but if you want to give your dog the ability to see again you may believe it is worth the effort. Unlike cataracts, as dogs age, the lens in the eye hardens and becomes a milky grey color. You may notice this in the bright light during the day. This is a natural age change and not cataracts. The scientific term for this is Lenticular Sclerosis and causes mild vision problems at night or with depth perception but not permanent blindness. If your dog or cat is holding their eye closed, has cloudy, yellow discharge from the eye or is pawing at the eye as if experiencing discomfort, make an appointment with your veterinarian. Any eye issue should be addressed immediately to prevent serious and possibly irreversible damage to the eye.

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