Pets' exams should include regular eye checks

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When healthy, pets' eyes express emotions, give clues about their needs and indicate when they want to play, go for a walk, or share affection.

Dog's and cat's eyes reflect their health, and are delicate organs that are susceptible to infection, injury and many of the eye disorders humans get.

Conjunctivitis, cataracts, dry eye, ulcers, glaucoma, tear staining, feline herpes keratitis and retinal blindness are common conditions that vets are trained to diagnose and treat. Many ocular problems, which are easily treated in early stages, can become serious when not treated within 24 hours.

The following signs mean it's time for a vet visit: cloudiness; dullness; discharge or watery eyes; matted fur around eyes; foreign objects; blood or redness in eye; swollen eyelids or growths on the eyelids; sunken or protruding eyes; squinting or unwillingness to open the eye; pawing at the eye; unequal pupils; bumping into objects.

If you notice these signs, especially discharge, red eyes, or rubbing, don't delay in calling the vet.

A pet's exam should include regular ocular exams. This is done with an instrument called an ophthalmoscope that gives a good view of the eye structures, including the cornea, lens, the chambers, optic nerve and retina.

When there is a problem with these structures, further testing with corneal stains, tear testing and eye pressures will be performed. The iris or colored portion of the eye also reflects the internal organ health of the animal. Some vets trained in iridology will look for subtle changes as an early indicator of illness.

A dog's eyes are similar to our own, with a couple of differences. They have a third eyelid. This thin membrane protects the eyeball from grasses and irritants, as a dog runs through the woods and plays. The third eyelid contains a tear gland, called the third eyelid gland. Changes in these structures necessitate a vet visit.

Cats also have a third eyelid that closes from the side and appears when the eyelid opens. This membrane partially closes if the cat is sick, but it is often visible in cats that are sleepy and content. If your cat regularly shows its third eyelid, it is indication for a visit to the vet.

Treat your pets' eyes the same way you treat your own, but never share your medication.

The eyes reflect the overall health of your pet, so provide him with an excellent diet and nutritional support.

Here are some other tips for maintaining your pet's eye health:

Don't let your dog or cat ride in the car with its head out the window. Foreign substances can lodge in your pet's eyes and cause infection or injury.

Avoid exposing your pet to smoke, dust and chemicals that can irritate its eyes.

Apply an eye lubricant before bathing to protect pets from soap and chemical burns.

Beware of the dry plant seeds that are prevalent in early fall. Dogs running through fields are susceptible to getting them lodged behind their third eyelid.

Remember to call your vet immediately if you see any changes in your pet's eyes or vision. Routinely schedule twice yearly checkups for your pet. Vets can diagnose many diseases before symptoms arise, by examining an animal's eyes.

Dr. Cynthia Maro is a veterinarian at the Ellwood Animal Hospital in Ellwood City and the Chippewa Animal Hospital in Chippewa Township. She writes a biweekly column on pet care and health issues. If you have a topic you’d like addressed, please e-mail