If you name any part of the canine eye, our Veterinary Vision Center team can probably name a disease or two associated with that part. Dogs are prone to a myriad of eye conditions—too many to all be listed here. Instead, our team wants to inform pet owners about the most common canine eye problems. Here is our list of the most common eye conditions in dogs and how to handle your concerns about your furry pal’s eye health.
#1: Corneal ulcers in dogs
The cornea is the clear “window” made up of several layers that cover the eye’s front portion. A corneal ulcer is a scratch or abrasion that removes the most superficial layers and creates a shallow wound underneath. Corneal ulcers may be caused by accidental injury, age, breed predisposition, or another underlying eye disorder. Some ulcers may become infected or progress deeper in the cornea, eating all the way through in severe cases. Treatments range from antibiotic eye drops to surgical repair.
#2: Dry eye disease in dogs
Some dog breeds and dogs with diabetes or thyroid disease are predisposed to dry eye (i.e., keratoconjunctivitis sicca [KCS]). KCS is an immune-mediated destruction of tear-producing glands that leads to a dry eye surface, which becomes inflamed and red, and is prone to frequent ulcers and infections. Most dogs respond well to life-long eye drops or ointments that stimulate tear production, but some require surgery.
#3: Eyelid and eyelash abnormalities in dogs
Eyelid and eyelash abnormalities are common in many different breeds, especially short-nosed and bully-type dogs. Most affected dogs are born with these changes and typically require surgical correction to prevent ongoing issues. The most common abnormalities include:
- Entropion — Eyelids roll inward, causing eyelashes to rub on the eye.
- Distichia — Extra eyelashes directed toward the eye may or may not cause irritation.
- Ectopic cilia — Abnormal hairs that grow from the eyelid’s underside poke into the cornea, causing recurrent ulcers.
- Eyelid tumors — Masses growing on the eyelid margins are typically benign but may rub on the cornea. These are seen most often in middle-aged and senior dogs.
#4: Corneal inflammation and degeneration in dogs
Corneal inflammation (i.e., keratitis) can result from chronic irritation or a defect in a dog’s local immune system, causing red or cloudy spots on the normally clear cornea. A special form of keratitis, called pannus, often affects German shepherds and greyhounds. Most keratitis forms respond well to anti-inflammatory or immune-modulating eye drops.
The cornea can degenerate over time and appear cloudy in a pinpoint spot from a previous injury, or the whole cornea can turn blue because of age-related fluid buildup. The latter condition (i.e., corneal endothelial degeneration) is most often seen in Boston terriers, and unfortunately does not respond well to treatment, potentially leading to visual impairment.
#5: Uveitis in dogs
Uveitis is inflammation inside a dog’s eye, which can result from many different underlying causes and can threaten long-term eye health and vision, if not treated promptly. Infections, including tick-borne and systemic fungal diseases, and possibly cancer or auto-immune diseases, may cause uveitis. The inflammation may require extensive diagnostic testing to determine the underlying cause before treatment can begin. Anti-inflammatory and preventive antiglaucoma eye drops can help address inflammation short-term.
#6: Glaucoma in dogs
Glaucoma is a serious, vision-threatening condition and a common cause of blindness in dogs. Fluid cannot drain properly from the eye, either because of a genetic defect or secondary to another eye disease, and the buildup increases the pressure inside the eye, which damages the delicate retina and optic nerve. Eye drops can reduce the pressure temporarily, but glaucoma is progressive, and the medications eventually stop working. Specialized surgery may help for some pets, but has no guarantee of success, and can be costly.
#7: Cataracts in dogs
Cataracts form in the eye’s lens, which sits behind the pupil and iris and aids in vision by focusing light on the retina. Cataracts are a hardening of this lens, resulting in a white, opaque appearance that partially or completely obstructs vision, and typically occur because of age, genetics, or diabetes. Surgical removal is the only effective cataract treatment. Dogs who do not undergo surgery must be closely monitored for potential complications, including uveitis and glaucoma, and remain on anti-inflammatory eye drops long-term.
#8: Retinal disease in dogs
Several conditions can impact retinal health, including the following:
- Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) — PRA is an inherited condition that results in progressive retinal thinning and blindness over months to years, with no effective treatment.
- Sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome (SARDS) — This condition causes sudden for unknown reasons and has no effective treatment.
- Retinal detachments — The retina may detach because of an immune disorder, genetic susceptibility, high blood pressure, or other ocular diseases. Surgery performed by a specialized surgeon can reattach the retina in some cases. Medications are effective for immune-mediated retinal disease.
Your dog likely has an eye problem if you notice redness, cloudiness, squinting, rubbing, tearing, mucoid discharge, or any change in the eye’s appearance or visual acuity. Because many eye conditions look similar, an accurate diagnosis is critical to determine the best treatment plan and obtain the best outcome. Contact our Veterinary Vision Center team to schedule a consultation if you have concerns about your dog’s eye health or questions about common canine eye diseases.