Eye problems in cats and dogs
Eye injuries are a true emergency! Pet’s eyes can easily become irritated or scratched. Dogs are often in and out of grasses, hedgerows, and crops. Cats often like to climb trees or may pick up an injury whilst hunting (or fighting). Smaller mammals can scratch their eyes on the hay and straw in their cages. The important thing to know is that even a small injury to an eye can result in big problems if not treated early. A sore eye can quickly deteriorate. The good news is that they can also heal quickly once the right treatment has been started. The aim of rapid and thorough treatment is to preserve the eye and vision. However, in some cases where the damage is severe, it may be recommended that the eye is removed.
Symptoms of eye problems
Some eye injuries are very obvious. If, for example, the eye has become dislodged from its socket, the eyelids are bleeding or damaged, or a foreign object has penetrated the eye, please seek immediate attention at your physical veterinary clinic. However, a small scratch to the surface of the eye may not become painful immediately. These scratches need to be identified using a special yellow dye called Fluorescein. This dye works by sticking to a scratch (or ulcer) on the surface of the cornea.
Signs to look out for include:
- Holding the eye closed or squinting
- Discharge from eye: watery or thick, of any colour (white, cream, yellow, green)
- Dark pink or redness of the conjunctiva (the inside lining of the eyelids)
- Swelling of the eyeball, eyelids or surrounding area
- Bumping into things (reduced vision or loss of vision)
- Head shy and less keen to allow petting
- Quiet and subdued
Causes of eye problems
There are many causes of eye problems in animals. Causes include allergies, direct trauma, infection, foreign material, cataracts, auto-immune conditions, and cancer. It is also possible for your pet to be born with congenital abnormalities of the eye or the surrounding structures, that may need treatment. For example, inward turning of the eyelid and lashes, which is called entropion. Problems can affect both eyes equally, one eye more than the other, or just one eye. Some eye problems develop very quickly, such as a corneal ulcer. Others develop very slowly, such as cataracts.
How to check your pets eyes?
Getting your pet used to being examined is really important and can help them to feel relaxed whilst being examined both by you and your vet. Here is some advice from our vets to help you to examine your pet. It can also mean that you might pick up on early health concerns that might otherwise not be noticed until they have their annual health check at your veterinary clinic. Your pet might not be used to you staring them in the eye and they may find it disconcerting at first.
Do not put yourself at risk whilst examining your pet; only get up close to them to assess their eyes if your pet is not likely to get nervous and bite you. Start by just looking at your pet when they are relaxed. This way you will still be able to pick up on subtle changes in their eyes without you having to get up close to them. Try and find a clear space where you and your pet are comfortable; make sure that your pet will not be distracted or stressed by other animals. Using a treat can often be a good distraction and will help you keep their attention and get them to look at you.
What to look for:
- Do their eyes look normal for them?
- Is there any bulging or swelling?
- Are they squinting? Both eyes should be clear, bright and fully open. It may be that they are partially closing one or both eyes, or they may be holding their eye/eyes tightly shut.
- Are they irritated by their eyes? Do they keep rubbing their face or trying to scratch at their face?
- Do they have any discharge from their eyes?
- Do their eyes look red, inflamed or sore?
- Is the eye cloudy or blue in appearance?
- Can you see any obvious trauma to their eye or the area around it?
If you have answered YES to any of these questions (except question 1) then you must seek veterinary advice. Your pet may need an appointment at your physical veterinary clinic so that a thorough examination of both eyes can be performed with an ophthalmoscope.
Can human eye drops for dogs?
Certain types of human eye drops, such as sterile, non-medicated artificial tears, may be safe to use on pets, but always consult a veterinarian first.
Treatment of eye problems
Smaller injuries, such as a scratch to the surface of the eye, can usually be treated during a normal consultation. These injuries are painful and you must seek urgent advice. Your vet is likely to use a yellow dye to highlight any ulceration on the cornea, and often some local anaesthetic, to enable a full examination. The eyelids will be checked for foreign material or ingrowing eyelashes. The location and extent of the damage will be recorded. Larger more complex eye injuries may require surgery or specialist treatment from a veterinary ophthalmologist.
If an underlying cause is suspected then your vet will be able to perform the appropriate diagnostic tests. This may include checking the quality and quantity of normal tear film that your dog produces. In uncomplicated cases a course of antibiotic eye drops may be prescribed. These typically need to be given at least twice a day. Your vet is likely to ask for a follow-up consultation within 48 hours to check on your pet’s progress and ensure that the eye is healing appropriately. There are some cases which require further intervention and/or a surgical procedure to assist the healing process.
When to see your physical veterinarian
- There is discharge from the eye(s). If it is yellow or green then your pet needs to have their eyes examined.
- The eye(s) are red or bloodshot.
- Their eye(s) look cloudy or blue in colour.
- If you see any scratches or marks on the surface of your pet’s eye.
- A foreign object in or near their eye(s). This might be a piece of grass or hay but it might also be a thorn or a piece of wood.
- If you are at all concerned about your pet’s eyes then it is best to seek veterinary advice straight away. Eye conditions can be serious and prompt treatment is required.
Book a video appointment to have a chat with one of our vets.
This article was written by FirstVet vets Dr Eve Hanks and Dr Emma Bower.