A Vet’s Advice: Eye Exams and Eye Care for Your Pets

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A Vet’s Advice: Eye Exams and Eye Care for Your Pets

I love looking at my pets! They amuse and relax me. In fact, we probably look at our pets hundreds of times during the day, but how often do we really study their faces, particularly their eyes? General eye care begins with being familiar with “normal”. However, what’s normal for your pet may not be for others. So, it’s a great advantage and a huge help to us vets when you can tell us what your pet’s eyes usually look like.

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How to Prepare Your Pet for an Eye Exam at Home

You can start a basic eye exam on your pet at home. For dogs and cats, intense eye contact can be interpreted as threatening, so it may take a few days or weeks for them to become comfortable with an up-close exam. Start by keeping the exam short and relaxed. Offer plenty of treats and encouragement. Teaching your pet to be at ease when you’re touching their face and eyes will make vet exams, administering medication, and cleaning or trimming around their eyes so much easier. For more advice on applying eye medication, check out our related article.

What to Look for During Your Pet’s Eye Exam

Begin by looking at both eyes. In general, overall eye appearance should be symmetrical. Although, some pets can have one eye color different from the other, or differently pigmented third eyelids. The pupils (dark circles in the center of the eyes) should be equal size. They should enlarge when in dim light and become much smaller in bright light.

When looking at the eyes, try to gauge if there’s any irritation from hairs on their nose, eyelashes, or the hair around the eyes. Make sure tears or discharge from the eyes is minimal. Eye discharge should never be yellow or green (an indication of infection).

Very gentle finger contact on the skin around the eye should stimulate your pet to blink. The inability to blink isn’t always obvious. If blinking is absent or incomplete, it can cause several eye problems, like dry eye or abrasions.

Lastly and importantly for the hands-on exam, look for redness of the eyes. This is most accurately done by lifting the eyelid and looking at the “whites” of the eye, called the sclera. As the name suggests, this area is white with a very small number of red blood vessels crossing over. If the eye is painful, infected, or inflamed, these blood vessels become larger and more plentiful. The sclera itself can even become filled with blood. Any time the white area becomes red should be an immediate cause for concern. If you notice a problem with your pet’s eyes, you should contact your vet or call us at FirstVet for advice.

What can my pet see?

Animals cope so well without their vision. Their other senses are so sharp that they can mask blindness very well. I even have video evidence of a blind cat catching a mouse!

So how can we evaluate their vision? It would be helpful if our pets could read a neat chart of letters on the wall; however, we have to resort to different measures in veterinary practice. Actually, our best assessment of vision often is your observations at home. For instance, blind cats may be more reluctant to jump up and down from furniture or may be caught bumping into things if the furniture is rearranged. Dogs often lose their nighttime vision before their daytime vision, so watching them navigate the yard at night versus day can give helpful clues. Throwing cotton balls to see if they can track where they land is also useful, but don’t use anything that makes a sound or smells good. Remember that they can use their other senses and follow the object with their ears or nose instead.

How to Know What’s Normal for Your Pet’s Eyes

As mentioned above, what’s normal for your pet’s eyes may not be normal for another pet. Below is a list of examples of “normal” eye changes based on breed and species.

Flat-Coated Retrievers, Greyhounds, some Setters, and Siamese cats have deep-set eyes. These breeds can be prone to getting a buildup of “sleep” debris in the corners of the eyes. This material is usually grey or white in appearance and shouldn’t be too excessive. It should be regularly wiped away with warm water on a cotton pad or cloth.

Large eyes have been bred to look appealing, but many popular breeds such as Pugs, Bulldogs, and Persian cats can have excessive watery discharge as a result. This is due to the shape of their eyes and the normal tears not being contained within the orbit (eye socket). These tears can cause a stain on the fur and should be kept clean, as described above.

In more extreme cases, some breeds can have eyes that are too big for their eyelids to cover. This may cause them to sleep with their eyes open or blink incompletely. This can lead to diseases on the surface of the eye (keratitis). If you’re concerned about this condition, please mention it to your vet - eye lubricants may be prescribed.

The scruffy-dog look can be very charming. Breeds like Labradoodles and other poodle mixes are becoming popular, especially because they don’t shed. However, this can lead to other problems. These pets will need regular grooming and often have stray hairs that rub on the eyes. It’s possible to learn to trim the hair on their nose and around the eyes using blunt-ended, curved scissors; however, it's important to learn this technique properly to prevent injuring an eye. For these breeds, we recommend regular grooming. Professional grooming every six weeks may be necessary.

As you can see, there’s a lot you can do for your pet at home, but please always seek advice if you feel something’s not right. It’s never worth taking a chance with an eye, and we never recommend the “wait and see” approach with something so sensitive and delicate.

Read more:

What is Cherry Eye in Dogs?

Top 3 Diseases of the Surface of the Eye (Cornea) in Dogs

Why do my dog’s eyes look cloudy?

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Published: 10/16/2020
Last updated: 11/9/2021

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