Thursday, October 4, 2012
Pet Smarts: Contrary to what owners might think, ‘goopy’ eyes in dogs is sign of dry eye
By Dr. Mara Wendel
Sheabel Pet Care Center
Just like certain people, some of our canine companions are prone to dry eyes due to inadequate tear production. The medical term for this condition is keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), which is a fancy way of saying that the surface of the eyes are dry and irritated.
Why are tears so important other than for the purposes of crying? Actually, tear glands in dog’s eyelids constantly produce what we refer to as the “tear film.” This layer of tears is necessary to coat the delicate surface of the eye and the cornea and protect it from damage. In addition, tears provide oxygen and nutrients to the surface of the eye. Without sufficient tear production, eyes become painful and irritated.
Contrary to what the name of this condition suggests, dogs suffering from dry eye often do not have the appearance of “dry” eyes to many owners. This is due to the excessive discharge that builds up in the eye when it is dry and irritated. Although you might think of “goopy” eyes as “wet,” this excessive buildup of discharge is actually one of the first signs of dry eye. Additionally, the sclera (white part of the eye) becomes reddened, and if the condition is left untreated it can lead to corneal ulcers, vision loss and even rupture and loss of the eye in severe cases. Both eyes are usually diseased, but the condition can start off primarily in one eye.
Although there are many causes of dry eye in dogs (drug reactions, trauma, viruses, etc.), the most common cause is immune-mediated destruction of the tear glands. Certain breeds are far more prone to developing this autoimmune disease, for example the pug, Yorkshire terrier, shih tzu, Boston terrier, English bulldog, Cavalier King Charles spaniel, and American cocker spaniel.
Of course, if you notice any sign of discomfort, redness or discharge in your dog’s eyes, you should schedule an appointment with your veterinarian immediately. Eyes are very sensitive, and things can go dramatically wrong very quickly if a problem is left untreated. Your veterinarian will do a thorough physical and eye exam, as well as run a couple of tests on your dog’s eyes to evaluate tear production and look for any sign of corneal ulceration. Other causes of eye pain and irritation will be ruled out, such as glaucoma, conjunctivitis and ulcers that are not due to dry eye.
Treatment of dry eye involves addressing the underlying cause and treating any secondary problems. For example, dogs with immune-mediated dry eye are often treated with topical drops or ointment that suppress the body’s immune attack on the tear glands. This allows the tear glands to start working again and to produce adequate tears. This type of treatment is lifelong, and if treatment is stopped for any reason the dog will begin to suffer again within a few days to weeks. If there is any sign of corneal ulceration or conjunctivitis, antibiotics and pain medication may be prescribed as well.
Remember, any sign of discharge, redness or pain in your dog’s eyes is significant and warrants a thorough veterinary exam as soon as possible. The eye is a very sensitive organ and requires diligent treatment and frequent re-examination to make sure healing occurs quickly. If your dog is diagnosed with dry eye, also remember that this disease requires lifelong treatment, but that most dogs live happy, comfortable lives once they are on appropriate therapy.
Dr. Mara Wendel is a veterinarian at Sheabel Pet Care Center. She received her undergraduate degree in biology from Cornell University in 2005. Wendel then returned home to Ames, Iowa, to attend veterinary school at Iowa State University. After graduation, she moved to Lexington to work at Rood and Riddle as an equine veterinarian for two years before joining Sheabel.