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For the love of your pet: How to treat painful condition of dry eye in dogs

By By Shana Bohac
Jan. 30, 2014 at midnight
Updated Jan. 29, 2014 at 7:30 p.m.


Dry eye is a painful and potentially dangerous condition that occurs because of lack of tear production.

There are a number of different symptoms you can see if your dog has this issue. Common signs include pawing or rubbing at the eyes, redness, dullness of the cornea, thick discharge, sensitivity to light, swollen eyelids, squinting, ulceration of the cornea, blinking excessively and impaired vision.

In most cases, the eyes start off itchy, red and irritated, and if left untreated, they can progress to corneal ulceration because of lack of lubrication and/or mechanical trauma.

Dry eye can occur in any dog, but West Highland white terriers, American cocker spaniels, English bulldogs, pugs, pekingese, shih tzus, lhasa apsos and English springer spaniels are more prone to this condition.

Previous surgical removal of the third eyelid for treatment of "cherry eye," bacterial eye infections, damage to the tear gland or their nerves, middle ear infections, general anesthesia and metabolic disorders can predispose a dog to chronic dry eye.

Dry eye can be easily diagnosed by your veterinarian. They will perform a Schirmer tear test, which involves placing a paper strip into the tear pool at the corner of your dog's eye.

The strip will remain in place for one minute in order to measure tear production. In a normal dog, the strip should wet the paper at least a distance of 20 millimeters. If less than 15 millimeters is wet, then the dog has dry eye.

Treatment of dry eye will include various ophthalmic drops and ointments; however, your veterinarian's choice depends on the severity and cause of the disease. If corneal ulceration is present, then this should be taken care of immediately.

Typically, antibiotic and corneal repair drops or ointments will be prescribed for this issue. It is important to remember that corneal ulcers can progress to loss of vision if not properly and quickly treated.

Immunosuppressive ophthalmic ointments are the mainstay of treatment for chronic dry eye. It is typically necessary to keep dogs with dry eye on this medication for their entire life.

Lapse in treatment with immunosuppressive ointments can result in the return of symptoms. The symptoms will likely resolve once the medication is started again. Saline drops should be avoided in dogs with dry eye since it washes away the lipid layer of the tear film.

This layer provides protection and lubrication. If severe inflammation of the eye is present and there is no ulceration or scratches, then your veterinarian may prescribe a topical corticosteroid to help reduce the irritation.

If you have any questions regarding dry eye, please consult your veterinarian or you can email me at drshanabohac@hotmail.com.

Dr. Shana Bohac has a veterinary practice at Hill crest Animal Hospital in Victoria. She works on both small animals and equine patients. Submit questions to drshanabohac@hotmail.com.

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