Sore eyes in pets
Eye disease and injuries can be very painful and may progress rapidly, occasionally resulting in irreversible damage.
Sometimes this can lead to the loss of vision and even the loss of the eye itself. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to have your pet checked by a vet and to get the appropriate treatment to ease pain and prevent complications as soon as possible. Depending on the problem, a visit to a veterinary eye specialist may be recommended for more detailed insight into the problem.
Some breeds are predisposed to certain problems because of their genetics or breed conformation (the way that they are built) for example Cocker Spaniels are prone to getting Dry Eye, some Sharpeis have eyelids that roll inwards and rub on the eye surface which is called entropion, breeds with squashed in faces, like Persian Cats, often have poorly developed tear ducts. There are also certain types of pathogens (disease-causing organisms) like herpes virus in cats that cause eye problems including weepy eyes and eye ulcers. Because herpes virus persists in the body life-long, these cats can be prone to having eye problems throughout their lives.
Some of the more common eye problems that we see in veterinary practice are the following:
The eye is a complex structure and is often protected from injury by the bony orbit of the skull (less so in breeds whose eyes bulge outward abnormally like pugs), the eyelids and the third eyelid, which is a membrane that protrudes across the eye from the inner corner.
One of the most common eye concerns that we find in veterinary practice is patients with sore eyes due to trauma. This can be because of a scratch to the eye, a foreign body like a seed causing damage or even a blunt blow to the eye.
The result of trauma can be inflammation of the conjunctiva (conjunctivitis) which is the pink mucous membrane inside the eyelid, ulcers of the cornea (outer layer of the eyeball), infections, bleeding inside the eye and even glaucoma (a swollen eye because of fluid build-up inside the eye), which is a very painful condition.
In most cases of trauma, it is best to have a veterinary check up to ensure that problems are treated effectively early on. Vets use an ophthalmoscope and sometimes a special stain and other equipment to assess the injury. Often ointments or drops are prescribed and sometimes surgery is needed depending on the problem.
The eyelids protect the eyes. Sometimes they fold inwards and rub on the cornea causing ulcers and pain. This condition, called entropion, can be corrected with surgery where we roll the eyelid outwards and stitch it in place so that it no longer causes problems. Most animals recover beautifully from this surgery and it’s very rewarding to do.
Ectropion is the reverse of entropion where the eyelid folds outwards exposing the eye, making these animals more prone to eye irritation. Corrective surgery can be done to help these cases. With surgery for entropion and ectropion, achieving a perfect result is not always easy and sometimes repeat surgery is needed.
Dystichia are short and sharp eyelashes that protrude into the eye causing irritation, pain and sometimes ulcers on the cornea. These fine hairs need to be removed under anaesthetic. In some dogs they regrow and the procedure needs to be repeated.
The eyelids can develop lumps. Sometimes these are cysts or benign lumps and occasionally they are cancerous. If they are growing quickly or rubbing on the eye it is important to have them checked as soon as possible.
Cherry eye is the prolapse (sticking out) of the gland of the third eyelid. If caught early it can be massaged back into place. Medication may also be used and surgery to tuck it back in place is needed for those cases that don’t respond to conservative care.
Tear Duct Problems
Dry Eye (KCC or Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca) is a condition where not enough tears are produced causing the eyes to become dry which leads to damage of the surface of the eye or cornea. The underlying reason is often because of an immune mediated reaction causing the glands to stop producing tears. Certain medications can help to retard this process and improve tear production. Some animals need maintenance on these medications as well as regular management with tear replacement drops.
Watery eyes (epiphora) is usually an indication that something is causing irritation to the eyes. This can be due to allergies, irritants in the air, foreign bodies and other reasons. If it persists and especially if there is a yellow or green discharge or the animal is sore or unwell, a check-up at the vet is a good idea.
Sometimes it appears that the eyes are watery but what is actually happening is that the tear ducts that drain water from the eyes into the sinuses are blocked or under-developed and tears then drains outside of the eyes along the side of the nose bridge. Under anaesthetic we can flush the tear ducts and help to restore normal function in many animals.
Brown tear staining is relatively common and may indicate an imbalance in the microbial population of the eye. Sometimes treatment with medication is necessary. From a holistic perspective we question why the imbalance is there and do what we can to get to the root of the problem. I often find that correcting an animals diet to include a wholesome, well-balanced, biologically appropriate diet with optimal amounts of omega 3 fatty acids, probiotics, appropriate herbs and super-foods like chlorella helps to improve this.
Blindness can be due to damage of the retina, cats with high blood pressure are especially prone. Where blindness occurs suddenly it can cause severe distress to animals. Other reasons for blindness are the lens luxating or cataracts forming, especially in diabetic animals. Often in these cases, veterinary eye specialists can operate to restore vision.
As a normal part of the ageing process the lens in the back of the eye changes and becomes more hazy which makes vision blurry, especially at night. Because this process happens slowly most animals gradually adapt to this loss of vision and manage to cope well.
Eye health can be supported by providing optimal amounts of certain nutrients like omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin C, lutein, anthocyanidins and other phytonutrients.
Dr Liza Schneider
Dr Schneider is an internationally acclaimed author and speaker, the director of award-winning Holistic Vets clinic in Tauranga, and a founding trustee of the ARRC Wildlife Trust.