Corneal Dystrophy in Dogs

Black cocker spaniel head profile.

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Corneal dystrophy is a disease of the eyes that can affect dogs. Dogs of any age can develop it, but some breeds are at a higher risk than others. Corneal dystrophy can be a painful condition, plus it can lead to more serious eye issues including blindness. Knowing the signs of corneal dystrophy and what should be done about it, especially if you have an at-risk breed, is helpful for dog owners to be aware of.

What Is Corneal Dystrophy?

Corneal dystrophy affects the layer of the eye called the cornea. The cornea is the front, clear layer of the eye and with corneal dystrophy, this clear layer develops opacities. This opacity can be due to lipids or even calcium deposits. Some people may confuse corneal dystrophy with cataracts, but these diseases affect different parts of the eye. Cataracts affect the lens in the eye while corneal dystrophy affects the cornea.

There are three different types of corneal dystrophy and they are classified by the layer of the cornea that the disease occurs in.

  • Epithelial corneal dystrophy - The epithelium is the outermost or most superficial layer of the cornea and is affected in epithelial corneal dystrophy.
  • Stromal corneal dystrophy - The stroma is the middle layer of the cornea and is affected in stromal corneal dystrophy. It is also known as macular corneal dystrophy.
  • Endothelial corneal dystrophy - The endothelium is the innermost layer of the cornea and is affected in endothelial corneal dystrophy. It is similar to Fuchs endothelial corneal dystrophy in people.

Signs of Corneal Dystrophy in Dogs

  • Cloudiness of the eyes
  • Pawing at the face

Corneal dystrophy really only has one key sign that pet parents can notice and that is the cloudiness of the eyes. This may look similar to cataracts or lenticular sclerosis to many people. Some dogs that have corneal dystrophy may develop painful corneal ulcers and therefore also paw at the face.

Causes of Corneal Dystrophy

  • Genetics
  • High cholesterol blood levels
  • High calcium blood levels

There is more research to be done on the causes of corneal dystrophy in dogs but it is suspected that many breeds may develop it due to genetics. Veterinarians have also noted though that high cholesterol and calcium levels may contribute to this disease so it may not be strictly an inherited disease.

Diagnosing Corneal Dystrophy in Dogs

If you suspect your dog has developed corneal dystrophy, your veterinarian will perform a number of eye tests. They may also refer you to a veterinary ophthamologist for more advanced or specific testing as well to discuss a potential treatment plan. Eye pressure and tear production tests are often performed alongside checking for corneal ulcers and light reflexes. Visualization of the opacities in the corneas confirm diagnosis.

Treatment

A veterinary ophthalmologist will most likely be involved in the treatment of your dog's corneal dystrophy. Secondary issues, including corneal ulcers and other painful conditions, will be addressed if they are present. To treat corneal dystrophy, your vet may recommend changes in diet as well as prescription eye drops, though many dogs do not respond to treatment. In severe cases, surgery may be recommended but it is not without risks.

While it will depend on the type and severity of corneal dystrophy, most dogs do not lose their vision. In some cases, the disease progresses slowly so treatment may not be recommended at all. The secondary eye issues that the disease may cause are often the bigger concerns and should not be ignored.

How to Prevent Corneal Dystrophy

Since it may be an inherited disease, dogs with a history of corneal dystrophy should not be bred. Additionally, regular monitoring of cholesterol and calcium blood levels and ensuring they are not elevated may help to limit the development of corneal dystrophy.

Risk Factors for Corneal Dystrophy in Dogs

Older dogs and female dogs are thought to be more likely than others to develop most types of corneal dystrophy, however it can be seen in young dogs as well.

Additionally, some specific breeds may be at a higher risk of being affected by this ocular disease. At risk breeds may include:

  • Shetland sheepdogs
  • Siberian huskies
  • Beagles
  • American cocker spaniels
  • Miniature schnauzers
  • Rough collies
  • Airedale terriers
  • Bearded collies
  • Bull terriers
  • Brittany spaniels
  • Cavalier King Charles spaniels
  • Samoyeds
  • Weimeraners
  • Boston terriers
  • Chihuahuas
  • Dachshunds
  • Bichon frises
  • German shepherds
  • German shorthaired pointers
  • German wirehaired pointers
  • Poodles
  • Labrador retrievers
  • Bassett hounds
  • Lhasa apsos
Article Sources
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