What You Need to Know About Your Dog’s Eye Health

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Keep an eye on the eyes.

That’s the advice you’ll likely receive from your veterinarian. As a dog owner, you should pay particular attention to your canine’s eyes when conducting routine care at home.

Although dogs depend heavily on other senses – notably smell – as they go about daily life, adequate vision and eye care remain vitally important to your canine’s overall health and well-being. After all, in many respects a dog’s eyes are extremely similar in function and design to a human’s eyes.

A variety of eye-related injuries and diseases can afflict dogs, producing consequences ranging from minor discomfort to – in the worst-case scenarios – vision impairment or loss. These conditions include eye infections, trauma, cornea lacerations, cataracts, and glaucoma.

Proper canine ocular health starts at home, with owners taking precautions to ensure eye safety. Preventive eye-care strategies include not allowing your dog to stick his head out the car window while you drive, keeping shampoo away from your canine’s eyes during bathing, practicing caution when spraying household chemicals, and avoiding incorporating sharp sticks into playtime.

In some circumstances, though, you may need to consult your vet, or even a specialist in veterinary ophthalmology, to ensure proper eye treatment for your canine companion. Here’s what you need to know about your dog’s eye health.

Eye Care in Dogs and Puppies

Take a moment to gaze into your dog’s eyes. Signs of health include:

  • Your dog’s eyes are wide open (not squinting).
  • Your dog’s eyes are moist and glistening.
  • The conjunctiva (pink membranes surrounding the eye) are pink and healthy-looking.
  • The pupil constricts to a small circle in bright sunlight and dilates in dim light.
  • There are no accumulations of mucus or other discharges in the corner of the eye.
  • There are no unusual swellings in and around the eyelids.

When conducting a self-examination of your canine’s eyes, check for excessive tearing, crust, or discharge, cloudiness, and visibility of a third eyelid. If you observe any of these conditions – or cannot see white around the eyeball – then a trip to the vet is likely in order.

It makes sense to take your puppy or new dog to a veterinarian for an eye examination before you get involved in home eye care. Your vet will either conduct an examination or recommend you to a veterinary ophthalmologist for special attention. If your dog receives a clean bill of eye health, then all you’ll need to do is protect his eyes from unnecessary physical onslaughts while you vaccinate him and protect him from exposure to systemic disease.

Eye Pain and Squinting in Dogs

The most obvious signs of pain associated with eye conditions in dogs are squinting and holding the eyelids closed. Squinting may occur from both external and internal irritation of the eye. Other potential signs of ocular pain include tearing excessively, pawing at the eye, rubbing the face, and whimpering. Eye pain may make a dog very sensitive to light, thus the affected dog may seek to avoid bright light.

It’s not always easy to tell if your dog is experiencing eye pain and sometimes all you may notice are subtle behavioral changes related to sleeping habits and playfulness. It’s instinctual for many dogs to withdraw and become more reclusive when they’re experiencing eye pain or discomfort.

There are many different causes of eye pain. Among them are:

  • Foreign material on the surface of the eye
  • Trauma to the face, eyelids, the eye itself
  • Glaucoma or elevated pressure in the eye
  • Infection behind the eye and within the eye socket
  • Inadequate tear production or dry eye

Diagnostic tests used to determine the cause of eye pain are chosen by your veterinarian based on the findings from an ophthalmic examination, physical examination, prior history of ophthalmic disease, and response to prior treatment.

Eye Trauma in Dogs

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. Sharp injuries occur when piercing, pointed, or jagged objects connect forcefully with the eye.

Dogs suffering from major ocular trauma may show the following symptoms:

  • Closed and squinted eyelids
  • Signs of extreme pain
  • Increased eye discharge (tearing, mucous strands, or bleeding)
  • 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

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. Depending on the extent of the trauma, treatment may involve either medical, or medical and surgical intervention to stabilize the eye injury.

Corneal Laceration in Dogs

Lacerations or scratches of the cornea occur from trauma to the dog’s eye. The cornea is the thin clear covering of the eye. Common causes of cornea lacerations include a cat scratch or exposure to foreign bodies, sticks, and other plant materials. Cat scratches are particularly common when a new puppy meets the household cat for the first time.

Corneal lacerations or scratches are quite painful and require medical attention, and the prognosis depends on the depth and severity of the laceration. Partial thickness lacerations have the best chance of recovering without complications, while perforating lacerations have a fair-to-guarded prognosis for recovery and maintaining vision.


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Cataracts in Dogs

A cataract is any opacity in the lens of the eye. The dog’s normal lens is translucent (clear), and it transmits and focuses light onto the retina in the back of the eye. A cataract within the lens may block the transmission of light to the retina.

There are many causes of cataracts. The most common form of cataracts in dogs are genetic, inherited types. Cataracts may also develop following trauma to the eye, in association with metabolic diseases such as diabetes, or from nutritional disorders during puppyhood.

Although there’s no medical treatment available to reverse this condition, cataracts that are inherited or aren’t complicated by other eye diseases may be surgically removed. Whether a dog is a candidate for cataract surgery can be determined by a veterinary ophthalmologist.

Glaucoma in Dogs

Glaucoma is abnormally high pressure in the eye of a dog. Inside the normal eye there is constant production and drainage of a watery fluid. When there is a problem with the drainage of the fluid, the pressure within the eye can increase. High pressure causes damage to the optic nerve, which, in turn, causes vision loss.

The primary goals associated with treatment of glaucoma are to treat or correct any underlying causes, to decrease the pressure within the eye, and to save vision if possible. Treatment of glaucoma in dogs may be medical or surgical in nature.

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