While attending veterinary college, I held ophthalmologists (vets who specialize in eye care) in high esteem. They not only diagnosed eye disorders, but also identified many obscure medical conditions, cancer, liver disease and viral conditions affecting other areas of the body.
They often did this only with information gained through a thorough eye exam. In time, I learned how to relate eye health to overall health and help pet owners protect their pets’ vision. I also learned how changes in the iris and retina relate to specific organs and functions of the body.
I am saddened when a pet loses vision because of an untreated, preventable infection or injury; a common example is corneal blindness that follows untreated eye trauma or eye infections.
Dogs and cats, like humans, can develop a variety of eye problems. Since pets can’t communicate when their eyes hurt, itch or their vision is blurred, owners and vets need to work together to keep the eyes healthy. Stay alert to these warning signs of a potentially serious eye problem:
l Eye discharge, swelling or matted hair.
l Blinking, squinting or shying from light or touch.
l Redness of membranes around the eyes or bleeding into the eye.
l White or bluish cornea.
l Bulging eyes.
l Any traumatic injury to the face or eye.
l Persistently dilated (wide) pupils.
l Itching or rubbing the eyes.
Some common eye conditions of pets include:
Conjunctivitis: inflammation of the clear membrane covering the eye. The conjunctiva becomes red and swollen. It can be caused by a virus, bacteria or allergies. In cats, feline herpes virus and chlamydia are common causes of conjunctivitis.
Cherry eye: a swelling of the gland of the third eyelid in the corner of the eye that is corrected by surgery.
Dry eye: a condition that can show up as excess mucous or drainage initially. It can lead to corneal scarring and blindness. It is diagnosed through a simple eye test and treated with a prescription eye drop.
Corneal ulcer: a defect in the outer layer of the cornea. In animals, they are often due to an abrasion, virus or chemical irritation. Untreated, they can cause blindness.
Foreign bodies: Dogs and cats can get a toenail from a cat scratch, or thorns that get trapped under eyelids. Ocular foreign bodies are painful and can lead to a corneal ulcer and infection if not removed.
Cataracts: opaque lens that prevents light from reaching the retina. The density of the cataract determines how much the pet can see. Cataracts can be congenital or develop with age, uncontrolled diabetes or following an injury.
Retinal detachment: occurs when the retina separates from the underlying tissue. In animals, retinal detachments are often part of a systemic problem, such as high blood pressure due to kidney disease.
Glaucoma: can lead to blindness when too much fluid is trapped in the eye. High-risk breeds like cocker spaniels and bassett hounds should have eye pressures performed at every exam. Any pet with a red eye should have eye pressure exams.
Like people, animals can develop other problems such as lens luxation and uveitis.
If your pet has any of the above signs, be sure to visit a vet who can perform a tear test, corneal stain and eye pressures. Additionally, you can help monitor your pet’s eye health by doing the following:
l Take precautions with pet’s eyes during bath time by using an eye lubricant before the shampoo.
l While using household cleaners, keep pets in another room. Chemical irritation with detergents is common. If chemicals do splash, flush the eyes with saline and visit your vet.
l Have regular blood work performed to monitor for diabetes and kidney disease.
l Check for discharge around the eyes. Notify your vet if you note any discharge.
l Do not use eye drops that have not been prescribed specifically for your pet.
l Take close-up pictures that show the iris at least every six months. This will alert you to changes, such as white deposits on the corneas, or eye color change.
When it comes to eye health, it is better to have any abnormality checked promptly. Call your vet as soon as you note any change in eye appearance
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 email ellwood firstname.lastname@example.org.