Ocular (Eye) Trauma in Dogs

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Overview of Canine Eye Trauma

Ocular trauma may result from either blunt or sharp forces applied directly to the dog’s eye. Blunt injuries to the eye are sustained when flat or dull objects strike the surface of the eye and often traumatize the eye without penetrating it. These concussive forces can result in forward displacement of the eye from the bony eye socket (proptosis), lens displacement (luxation), bleeding within the front chamber of the eye (hyphema), retinal detachment, fractures of the bones around the eye, and rupture and collapse of the eyeball (globe).

Sharp injuries occur when piercing, pointed or jagged objects connect forcefully with the eye. Common examples include cat claw injuries, thorns, branches and sticks, writing instruments, sharp toys, or small airborne objects. Potential injuries include laceration or abrasion of the eyelids, cornea, conjunctiva and sclera, penetration of the cornea or the eye itself, hyphema, lens displacement or lens capsule tear and orbital injuries.

Ocular trauma can affect dogs of any age. Younger dogs are more likely to act without caution around cats, and cat claw injuries are most likely to occur in puppies. Young dogs are also more likely to stray from their owners and become injured by other animals or be involved in road accidents. Working/hunting/outdoor dogs are more prone to ocular trauma because they run through wooded areas and under brush. They are also more likely to encounter other unrestrained or wild animals and vehicles. Non-neutered male dogs are more prone to roaming and are at a higher risk for traumatic injuries.

What to Watch For

Animals with minor ocular trauma may show the following symptoms:

  • Increased blinking, squinting and tearing
  • Redness of the eye
  • Corneal cloudiness
  • Minor bleeding from the eye or eyelids
  • Bruising around the face and head
  • Protrusion of the third eyelid
  • Pawing at the eye

    Animals with major ocular trauma may show the following symptoms:

  • Signs of extreme pain, reluctance to have the head touched or examined
  • Closed and squinted eyelids
  • Increased eye discharge (tearing, mucous strands or bleeding)
  • Significant bleeding within the eye with subsequent blindness
  • Significant color changes of the eye such as corneal cloudiness and increased redness
  • Deformities in the shape of the eye or structures around the eye
  • Lethargy, reluctance to eat or drink
  • Possibly signs of trauma to other areas of the body

    Diagnosis of Ocular Trauma in Dogs

    Veterinary care includes diagnostic tests to determine the severity and extent of the injuries that were sustained by the eye and to determine appropriate treatments. There are several potential diagnostic tests. Recommendations depend upon the likelihood of the potential diagnosis. These tests may include:

  • Physical examination and history. They include examination for head injuries, swelling and fractures of the skull, nose (nasal sinuses), and jaw. Animals with evidence of major ocular trauma must be evaluated for concurrent injuries that may be life threatening or that require immediate stabilization, such as trauma to the chest and abdomen. Historically, it is important to determine whether the trauma was blunt or sharp in nature, and if the injuries presented are recent (acute) or chronic. This information often helps determine the prognosis.
  • Complete ophthalmic examination. It includes examination of all structures of the eye and surrounding tissues under magnification. Fluorescein staining of the cornea is particularly important to identify corneal wounds. Your veterinarian may refer your cat to a veterinary ophthalmologist for further examination using specialized instrumentation.
  • Neurologic examination to assess the presence of any neurologic injury in animals with head trauma
  • Skull X-rays to determine the presence of skull, nasal or jaw fractures
  • Ultrasound examination of the eye if the eye is too opaque to allow examination, or ultrasound examination of the orbit if trauma is suspected behind the eye
  • Computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) particularly if brain injury is suspected     

    Treatment of Ocular Trauma in Dogs

    Treatment depends on the extent and severity of the ocular injuries. Treatment may involve either medical, or medical and surgical intervention to stabilize the ocular injuries.

  • Home Care for Dogs with Ocular Trauma

    Obtaining immediate veterinary medical attention is critical as many forms of ocular trauma are vision threatening and most are associated with significant discomfort or pain.

    Keep your dog quiet and confined to a safe area in order to minimize further injury. Do not allow him to rub excessively or traumatize the injured eyes. A protective collar called an Elizabethan collar may be necessary to ensure this and may be obtained from your veterinarian.

    Do not administer human over-the-counter medicines such as Visine® or other ophthalmic products designed to reduce eye redness or irritation as the extent of the injury must be identified and appropriately treated.

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