A dog's love of play and its innate curiosity makes it prone to scrapes and injuries from time to time. And even the most well-behaved dog can end up with an eye injury—from rough play, chasing small animals through the underbrush, or just digging in the garden. Often the result of blunt trauma, eye injuries usually require immediate veterinary care. And some eye injuries can be considered an emergency, especially if loss of vision is a threat. As a dog owner, familiarizing yourself with the different types of eye injuries helps you better respond to one when or if the issue presents itself.
Symptoms of Eye Injuries in Dogs
Many different eye diseases can affect dogs. And while ocular symptoms can arise even without an injury, if your dog's eye has a noticeable wound on or around it, perhaps accompanied by blood, it's best you get it checked out. Your dog may squint or twitch its eyelid, paw at the injury, blink rapidly, or tear excessively. Some injuries may even affect your dog's ability to open its eye entirely. A bloodshot appearance in the white of the eye could indicate a stick poke and yellow or greenish discharge can signal an infection (which is also a common symptom of pink eye).
Other types of eye problems can result in a redness of the mucosal membrane surrounding the eye, a cloudiness in the eyes, prolonged pupil dilation or an asymmetrical appearance of the eyes, and light sensitivity. Signs may be present in one or both eyes, which can sometimes confirm if it's an injury or another issue.
If you notice your dog experiencing any of the above symptoms, seek veterinary attention as soon as possible. Do not attempt home care for eye problems unless advised to do so by a professional. Since eye problems can be much worse than they look—and can progress very rapidly—don't risk your dog's vision or it's tolerance for pain.
Causes of Eye Injuries
An eye injury can occur when something comes into contact with your dog's eye and causes damage. A dogfight or altercation with another animal, a cat's claw swipe, or a kick from a horse can all easily injure a dog's eye. Many natural hazards also cause injuries to the eye. Tree branches, insect bites, and dirt scratches can damage or irritate the outer portion of the eye. Dogs that hang their heads out of the car window are at risk for debris blowing into their eyes, causing irritation. And chemicals sprayed or spilled near your dog can cause a temporary sensitivity in the eyes. Sharp objects like furniture corners, fence parts, fishhooks, and tools can also pose a threat to the delicate tissue of the eyes and the surrounding area.
Itchy eyes due to allergies or a mild irritation can cause your dog to injure itself, by pawing at its eyes or rubbing its face on something. If this rubbing continues, an ulcer or scratch can form on the cornea.
Eye injuries may be mild to severe and can be diagnosed by your vet as a corneal laceration (cut or scratch to the eye surface), a corneal ulcer (from chemicals, debris, or a dog's rubbing), a puncture wound (from any foreign object), an eyelid tear, or proptosis (when the eye pops out of its socket).
If your dog has an eye injury, call your veterinarian and do not attempt to treat it at home. If instructed to administer first aid, a vet may suggest flushing out the eye or applying a cool compress. Upon recommendation, use a sterile saline eyewash solution, in lieu of contact solution, to flush out your dog's eye. And be gentle! It is likely your dog is experiencing pain. Enlist another family member to help you hold the dog while you carefully attend to the eye. A bathroom floor, kitchen floor, or patio makes a good doctoring station—one that provides you easy access to your pet and can take a wet spill. Place small dogs up on a table, a counter, or even the sink to aid the ease of cleaning. Then, wrap a towel around the dog, hold the dog's eye open with one hand, and apply a stream of eye wash with the other. Use a small towel or cloth to catch the saline streaming out of the eye.
After that, take your dog to the vet. The vet will ask the details of the injury, followed by an examination with several eye tests to assess tear production, look for ulcers or lacerations, and measure the intraocular pressure of the eye. Depending on the diagnosis, a simple treatment of eye medication and a follow-up exam may be recommended. However, severe injuries may require a referral to a veterinary ophthalmologist for surgical treatment. In some instances, surgical extraction of the eye (enucleation) is performed, although your vet will do everything he can to save it. Do note, however, that some injuries may cause permanent blindness.
If your dog is sent home with eye medication, apply it exactly as prescribed, putting drops in first and then applying any ointments. Most dogs with eye injuries will also need to wear an E-collar (the infamous cone) to keep it from pawing or rubbing its eye. The collar will also help protect the eye from hazards around the home. The E-collar should be worn at all times unless your vet gives you exceptions.
Do not skip or postpone follow-up visits, as eye problems require close monitoring and can deteriorate without you realizing it. If your dog's eye looks worse and it's not yet time for a checkup, call your vet right away, rather than waiting.
How to Prevent Eye Injuries
Sure, accidents happen, but ultimately, keeping your dog safe and preventing injury resides in your hands. Socializing your dog and taking measures to prevent dog fights can avoid costly medical bills down the road. If your dog is prone to fighting, leave it home when attending your next get-together. And since socializing begins at home, teach your cat and dog to get along to reduce the chance of a claw swipe. Watch your dog when it heads outdoors and don't allow it to roam free. It's also best to teach your dog not to hang its head out of the car window while you're driving (even though it's fun) and always keep dangerous chemicals out of its reach.