What to Do If Your Dog Has Eye Problems

What to Do If Your Dog Has Eye Problems
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There are a number of different conditions that can affect a dog's eye, leading to redness, swelling discharge, and even vision loss. Eye problems are relatively common in dogs and require prompt veterinary treatment to avoid permanent damage.

Causes of Eye Problems in Dogs

The eye is a complex organ that contains many structures that facilitate vision and enable the eye to function as a whole. There are a host of potential eye problems that can affect one or more of these structures. Some of the most common eye problems in dogs include:

Some eye problems are caused by a trauma or injury. Other eye conditions are hereditary; they may be present at birth or develop later in life. Certain eye conditions are known to affect specific dog breeds. Dogs can develop eye infections caused by exposure to bacteria or viruses. Allergies can lead to eye symptoms like itching, redness, and excessive discharge. An eye problem may occur secondary to another disease process in the body. Cancer can affect a dog's eye as well. In some cases, there is no known underlying cause for a dog's eye problem.

Diagnosing Canine Eye Problems

Be sure to contact your vet at the first sign of an eye problem in your dog. Eye issues can quickly go from bad to worse. Left untreated, an eye problem can lead to pain, blindness, and loss of the eye.

Your veterinarian will discuss your dog's history with you and perform an exam that includes an evaluation of your dog's vision and eye reflexes. During the ophthalmic examination, the vet will visualize the eyelids, the surface of the eye, and the structures inside the eye to look for abnormalities. Light is used to assess the pupil's responsiveness. An ophthalmoscope has magnification and lights to enable the vet to look into the back of the eye to see the retina, optic nerve, vasculature, and vitreous humor.

The vet may recommend additional eye diagnostics based on the dog's signs and the exam findings. A referral to a veterinary ophthalmologist may be necessary for advanced testing and treatment.

  • Schirmer tear test to evaluate tear production
  • Fluorescein stain to look for wounds on the cornea
  • Tonometry to measure intraocular pressure
  • Slit lamp biomicroscopy to evaluate the lens and aqueous humor and look for cataracts
  • Ocular ultrasound, an advanced test to get a detailed look inside the eye
  • Electroretinogram, an advanced test that measures the electrical response of the retina to light
A tonometer is used to measure a dog's intraocular pressure
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The appropriate treatment for eye problems in dogs will depend on the specific diagnosis. Many ophthalmic conditions are treated with one or more topical eye medications given several times per day. Be sure to follow your veterinarian's direction when administering eye medications to your dog. If giving multiple eye medications, wait five minutes between drops and 20 minutes between ointments. Do not stop or start eye medications without your vet's recommendation. Contact your veterinarian immediately if the eye is not improving or is getting worse.

Surgery is necessary to treat many types of eye issues. Some eye problems temporarily respond to topical treatment but eventually require surgical repair. Other eye problems, like cataracts and cherry eye, can only be repaired surgically.

Your veterinarian may refer you to a veterinary ophthalmologist for treatment of a severe eye problem.

How to Prevent Eye Problems in Dogs

You can help prevent eye problems by keeping your dog healthy and reporting new eye problems to your vet immediately. Visit the vet for wellness exams as recommended by your vet (usually once or twice a year). A minor problem may be found on a routine exam and treated before it causes major damage.

Dog breeders can prevent genetic eye problems in offspring by having the eyes of the parents examined by a veterinary ophthalmologist and certified through the Companion Animal Eye Registry. When buying a purebred puppy, do your research to determine if any eye problems are known to affect that breed. If so, make sure the dog breeder has had the parents' eyes tested.