Written by Kristen Gervais, DVM, DACVO
Medical conditions affecting the eye are common in companion animals, especially in middle-aged and geriatric pets. Recognizing the symptoms of ophthalmic disease and seeking treatment early on can help avoid potentially blinding complications of some of the most common eye diseases. Maintaining your pet’s ocular health is an important part of their overall health and quality of life.
Is my pet at risk for ophthalmic problems?
Although eye problems can arise in any breed of dog or cat at any age, ocular disease is most common in certain subsets of individuals. Those among the highest risk are brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds. Prominent eyes and lower sensitivity of the cornea (the surface of the eye) in these breeds predisposes them to ocular injury. Additionally, ocular injuries in these breeds can progress more quickly to potentially vision-threatening complications compared to other breeds. In addition to brachycephalic breeds, geriatric pets generally have a higher incidence of eye problems compared to younger pets.
What are some of the most common eye diseases in companion animals?
In dogs, common ophthalmic problems include dry eye, corneal ulcers (scratches on the eye), cataracts, and glaucoma. In cats, feline herpesvirus commonly leads to recurrent conjunctivitis and corneal ulcers.
What are the symptoms of ophthalmic disease
Although there are a wide variety of conditions that can affect the eye, often the symptoms noted are very similar. Some of the common symptoms of an ophthalmic problem are squinting and discomfort, redness, tearing or excessive discharge, cloudiness, or vision loss. Certain symptoms (e.g., sudden vision loss) should prompt you to bring your pet to a veterinarian for evaluation as soon as possible. Other symptoms (rubbing at the eye, increase in discharge from the eye) may indicate a mild self-limiting problem, however a veterinarian should evaluate your pet if these symptoms persist for more than 12-24 hours or if the symptoms are becoming progressively worse.
Ultimately, while some ophthalmic conditions may not require specific treatment others may be serious and require aggressive therapy from the outset. If you notice any concerning symptoms with your pet’s eyes, contact your veterinarian to discuss the nature of the problem. In some cases, your veterinarian may recommend that you bring your pet in for evaluation right away.
What is evaluated during an ophthalmic exam?
Your veterinarian will first evaluate your pet’s vision with a series of simple tests. Other routine diagnostic tests include measurement of tear production and measurement of the pressure inside the eye. Your vet will check for corneal ulcers (scratches on the eye) by applying fluorescein stain, a green dye that can help to identify the presence of a corneal ulcer. Your vet will also examine the inside of the eye to look for any evidence of problems such as inflammation or cataracts. Take a look at our video of an ophthalmology consult here.
In most cases of common eye problems, diagnosis and treatment can be performed by your primary care veterinarian. In some cases of more severe disease or when the diagnosis is uncertain, your vet may recommend referral to a veterinary ophthalmologist. A vet ophthalmologist has received additional training in the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases and is also able to perform specialized eye surgeries when necessary.
What can I do to maintain the health of my pet’s eyes?
The most important factor in managing the health of your pet’s eyes is simply paying close attention to your pet so that any problems are identified in a timely manner. Especially in at risk patients (geriatric and brachycephalic patients), make regular note of the appearance of your pet’s eyes. This will help you to identify any changes that may prompt you to contact your veterinarian.
In breeds with long hairs around the eyes or prominent skin folds on the face, maintaining periocular (around the eye) and facial hygiene can help to reduce the risk of ocular problems. Hairs near the eyes should be kept cut short if possible. Any discharge from the eyes should be cleaned on a regular basis. You can use a soft cloth and warm tap water to clean around your pets’ eyes. If you pet has problems with dermatitis (inflamed skin) around the eyes or face, speak with your veterinarian about what steps can be taken to treat the inflamed skin.
In flat-faced breeds with prominent eyes, regular once to twice daily (or more) use of artificial tear eyedrops can be used to give some added protection to the surface of the eyes and potentially reduce the risk of eye injury. Artificial tear gel drops are recommended since they are long-lasting and can be purchased over the counter or online without a prescription.
If you have any concerns regarding your pet’s eyes, it is always best to discuss your questions with you veterinarian. Jumping in front of any issue or disease is the best thing you can do for your pet. As always, we are always here and available if you need us.