Ocular (Eye) Discharge in Small Mammals

Ocular (Eye) Discharge in Small Mammals

Ocular or eye discharge is a principal sign of eye disease. Abnormal discharges may develop suddenly or gradually. They may be serous (watery), mucoid (thickened and ropy), purulent (yellowish green and thickened) or hemorrhagic (bloody). In general, the greater amounts of discharge occur with more serious disease.

It is important to understand that any source of ocular irritation or pain can cause ocular discharge. Common causes of ocular discharge include:

  • Excessive production of tears by the tear glands
  • Conformational eyelid defects
  • Blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelids)
  • Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (dry eye syndrome)
  • Keratitis (inflammation of the cornea)
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Glaucoma
  • Lens luxation (displacement)
  • Uveitis (inflammation of the iris and blood vessel layers within the eye)
  • Trauma


    Certain diagnostic tests are essential to determine the precise cause for the ocular discharge. Some of these tests may not be possible in all small mammals due to the size of the eye or cost concerns. Commonly recommended tests include:

  • Complete ophthalmic examination of the eyelids, cornea, conjunctiva and anterior (front) chamber of the eye
  • Schirmer tear test and tear break-up time test
  • Fluorescein and Rose Bengal staining of the cornea and conjunctiva
  • Tonometry (measures the pressure within the eye)
  • Cytology (complete cell analysis) of samples collected from the eyelid margins, corneal and conjunctival surfaces
  • Complete blood count (CBC) and serum tests to evaluate the cause and identify any related problems
  • Skull radiographs (X-rays)may determine the presence of an orbital (space behind the eye) or sinus problem


    Successful therapy relies on obtaining an accurate diagnosis. Do NOT use human over-the-counter eye drops. Once the underlying cause has been determined, specific treatment can be recommended.

    Home Care

    Gently clean away any eye discharge with a warm moist cloth as needed until the cause of the problem is identified. Do not allow your pet to rub or self-traumatize the eyes.

    Do not delay in bringing your pet to the hospital for examination as some causes of excessive ocular discharge are potentially vision threatening and require immediate medical attention.

    Do NOT administer human, prescription eye medicine or even over-the-counter medicines such as Visine® or other topical solutions intended to 'reduce eye redness' to your pet. The underlying cause for the problem must be properly addressed.

    As a temporary measure, the eyes may be flushed or the eyelids cleansed with sterile saline (contact lens solution).

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