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By T. J. Dunn, Jr., DVM
Almost daily every animal hospital receives a call about canine eye problems; and the diversity of concern expressed by the dog’s caretaker runs a wide spectrum.
There are times when veterinarians will check a frantic and anxious client’s dog only to discover an insignificant soreness in the dog’s supporting tissues around the eye (called conjunctiva). The very next "eye case" may be an advanced corneal ulcer that has allowed internal contents of the eye to actually protrude through the corneal surface! And that client might calmly state, "It’s been like that for two weeks but we though it would clear up."
Fortunately in most veterinary practices the entire staff has been directed to prioritize all calls that express concern about a potential ocular difficulty. The reason for expediting the evaluation of any case relating to eye difficulties is that there is no way for verbal description to convey the true nature or severity of the problem. Seemingly innocent conditions can fool you … and result in an ocular emergency rather rapidly. These cases simply must be seen right away.
Let’s take the "squinting dog" as an example. Surely any dog might develop a mild irritation in an eye and squint for a few moments, and extra tear production would be expected, too. But without direct examination of the eye and attendant structures, no one (not even a specialist in veterinary ophthalmology) would know if the squinting is due to a tiny scratch on the cornea, a cinder hiding beneath the third eyelid or a penetrating wound from a carelessly aimed BB gun! And one of the very first signs of systemic diseases such as blastomycosis or cancer could be an innocent looking squint.
I asked a specialist in veterinary pphthalmology, Deborah S. Friedman, D.V.M., of Animal Eye Care, in Fremont, California, what the most common eye condition might be that could potentially fool the dog’s caretaker into delaying an eye exam. Her reply was:
Glaucoma comes immediately to mind. In many cases owners delay treatment of glaucoma until it is far too late. If the intraocular pressure in the eye is elevated for more than 24-48 hours, permanent damage is the usual outcome and this usually means blindness and sometimes loss of the eye. Signs of glaucoma can be very subtle at first and could include a dilated pupil that responds poorly or not at all to light, a cloudy cornea, a red appearance to the eye, and poor vision. Glaucoma can be dangerous because many of the signs of glaucoma are similar to simple conjunctivitis.
A good general rule for all dog owners to follow is to have any eye or adjacent tissue dysfunction evaluated by a veterinarian without delay. As Friedman states, "In my opinion, any injury to the eye (from cat fight, thorn, foxtail, BB gun, caustic substance etc.) should be brought to the attention of a veterinarian immediately (within 12 hours if possible). With eye injuries, the sooner the specific problems are identified and treated the better the chance of saving eye function."
During routine physical exams internal disorders are often first recognized by subtle changes in the normal appearance of eye structures. A yellowish appearance of the normally white sclera, undetected by the pet's caretaker, signals to the veterinarian that there is likely to be a liver or red blood cell dysfunction. And a faint haziness in the normally transparent cornea can prompt the need to evaluate liver or pancreas function. Tumors of any of the eye structures can occur and need to be addressed at the earliest possible time in their development.
Patricia J. Smith, MS, D.V.M., Ph. D., Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists and a colleague of Dr. Friedman at Animal Eye Care has recommended the following home remedies:
Ordinary Eye Wash (Sterile Buffered Saline) is proper to use in a dog’s eye to clean the eye but it will not be helpful for an inflamed, sore eye. For a red, sore eye seek veterinary attention immediately. Artificial tear drops or ointments are usually not harmful and may be soothing for some dry eye conditions, but consult a veterinarian and it can be harmful in certain cases.
Image: MozartFoto / via Flickr