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Eye Problems

Eye Problems in Your Pet

Mark Hale, DVM¬óBolivar, MO


One of the more common ailments appearing in small animal veterinary clinics is eye problems. Red eyes, tearing eyes, squinting eyes, and lots of other signs may be present and of concern to an owner. Uncovering the clues to the underlying cause and making a treatment plan, are important to resolving the issue. Sometimes the problem is elsewhere in the body and ocular problems are only secondary to a more serious disease. Following are some general classes of eye problems and what might be causing them.

Red eye (especially when the normally pink tissue under the eyelid is bright red) is called conjunctivitis. This can be a simple irritation or presence of a foreign body such as a grass seed. If this is the case, a good flush with saline or artificial tears can sometimes be curative. Conjunctivitis can also be a sign of systemic viral infections such as the Herpes or Calici viruses of felines. These very common viral infections also usually cause some upper respiratory signs such as sneezing and a runny nose. Distemper virus of dogs also can cause severe conjunctivitis. Bacterial infections of the eye more commonly involve only one eye at first, but may spread as the pet rubs its eyes due to the irritation. Several types of ointments and drops are made for treatment of conjunctivitis. Care must be taken that there are no conditions which may be worsened by these medications (such as a corneal ulcer).

The cornea is the transparent tissue across the pupil and iris. Corneas are very susceptible to trauma such as scratches and foreign bodies. When a shallow defect is found in the cornea it is called a corneal ulcer. The cornea is covered by a very thin layer of skin cells so it can heal slight defects just like our skin can. However, unlike skin it has a very poor blood supply.  Therefore, topical antibiotic treatment is generally necessary for healing to occur.  Sometimes various surgeries or other treatments may be necessary.

Uveitis is inflammation of the interior part of the eye.  This can also cause red eye.  This inflammation can be a response to many different diseases that are occurring elsewhere in the body.  Uveitis can be very frustrating to diagnose and treat.  Accurate diagnosis and treatment is imperative as it can be a sign of severe systemic diseases.

Cataracts are opacities in the lens.  These may occur due to genetics, trauma, or systemic diseases such as diabetes.  Surgery is the only treatment currently available.  Referral to a veterinary ophthalmologist is necessary for surgery.  A thorough physical examination along with blood and urine tests to check for underlying causes should always be performed if cataracts appear quickly.

Blunt trauma to the eye area can cause the globe to come out of the socket.  If this happens, keep the area clean and moist and seek emergency care immediately.  Artificial tears or saline solution are the ideal products to use to maintain moisture. Quick action may enable the veterinarian to save the eye.

These are just a few of the many problems which can affect the eye.  Some can be very painful.  Early intervention will provide the best chance for resolution.  Please visit with your veterinarian if you have any questions about this or other healthcare topics.