Canine Eye Care and Eye Diseases


Vaccinating against diseases, proper nutrition, plenty of exercise, love and attention are all ways to safeguard the health of your dog. In the grand scheme of canine care, eye health is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. However, preventing eye problems is of the utmost importance. The eyes are a breeding ground for bacteria. For some dog breeds, eye care is high on the list of preventative actions that need to be taken to keep a healthy pet. Owners of canines with protruding eyes, such as the Pekingese, need to be especially aware of eye health since these dogs have eyes which are not as deeply set as other breeds and thus prone to more eye problems.

Cleaning Your Dogs Eyes

Acknowledging the need for eye care is one thing; performing it is quite another. Most dogs will simply not sit still to get their eyes cleaned, especially when there is already an infection present. Signs of this include red-rimmed eyes, increased green-yellow drainage, inflammation, cloudiness of the eye, and even bleeding. These symptoms need a veterinarian’s care. Routine care, however, can be as simple as cleaning the corners of the eyes with a moistened washcloth, using a downward motion to avoid scratching the cornea. Making this part of a daily routine helps dogs to become habituated to the eye care with lessened resistance. A monthly eye wash, as recommended by a veterinarian, is also a good idea, taking care to wipe with a soft washcloth.

Eye Problem Prevention

As stated above, checking the eyes every day for any changes is a good practice. For long-haired breeds, trimming the fur around the eyes using blunt scissors not only helps the dog to see better, but prevents scratches to the cornea. Any mucus in or around the eye should be cleared out as soon as it is recognized, since bacteria can grow on mucus causing eye infections and discomfort. Keeping the area around the eyes dry is also important, as bacteria love moist environments. This is especially true of dogs that have issues with excessive tear production. Those dogs with protruding eyes sometimes require moisturizing eye drops to keep them from drying out.

  • Eye Diseases – Overview of dry eye, cherry eye, and glaucoma.

Eye Anatomy

Dogs’ eyes are very similar to humans. They contain an iris, cornea, optic disk, optic nerve, lens, retina, vitreous body, and anterior chamber. One major difference though is the perception of color. The photoreceptors in their eyes contain mostly rods, which is good for night vision. It is not good for color or sharpness of detail. Cones are necessary to see the color spectrum. Dogs generally see only yellows, blues, purples, white, black and shades of gray. The dog eye also has greater peripheral vision capabilities. The canine eye has an inner third eyelid that wipes away debris and other possible eye irritants.


Cataracts are as common in canines as they are in humans. The lens becomes cloudy or opaque, causing blurred vision and if not corrected, blindness. Predisposing factors include heredity and diabetes. Approximately 75% of dogs diagnosed with diabetes will develop fast-growing cataracts within a year’s time, so prompt diagnosis is imperative for the most efficacious treatment possible.

Cherry Eye

Canines have a third eyelid containing a tear gland that basically sweeps away debris and other irritants to the eye. Occasionally, this gland will prolapse or pop out and then swell, causing “cherry eye.” There are many theories as to what really causes it, from trauma to loose connective tissue surrounding the eye, but in reality, very little is known about the cause. There is only one effective treatment for it – surgery to tack the tear gland in place.

Chronic Corneal Erosions

Corneal erosions, also known as ulcers are open wounds that are very painful. The chronic form can take weeks or months to heal. An erosion is a break in the surface of the cornea. Again, surgery is about the only recourse for those animals suffering from the chronic version.

Chronic Superficial Keratitis

Also known as pannus, chronic superficial keratitis (CSK) is an inflammation of the cornea and sometimes involves the third eyelid. Like cataracts, the eye becomes opaque. This condition is one that can be managed but not ever cured entirely. Treatment of choice typically includes topical corticosteroids and sometimes cyclosporine at the same time. Those cases that are more severe tend to respond to radiation therapy.

  • Pannus – Definition of chronic superficial keratitis, affected breeds, diagnosis, and management.

Eyelid Diseases

Canines with abnormally shaped eyelids that do not fit tightly together are more prone to eyelid disorders than their almond-shaped counterparts. One of these disorders is called entropion, in which the eyelid rolls inward, causing corneal ulcers. The only effective treatment is surgery whereby the eyelids are tightened. Another disorder is distichiasis and ectopic cilia where there is abnormal hair growth on the oil glands of the eyelids. These are irritating to the dog and can cause corneal abrasions and ulcers. This also can be cured by surgical means.

Macropalpebral Fissure Syndrome

This syndrome occurs in those breeds with a short nose, pushed-in faces, and large protruding eyes. Dogs with this disorder often cannot blink or close their eyes properly, leaving some of their cornea open to air and desensitizing the cornea. These dogs have chronic dry eyes due to lowered tear production. Scar tissue then forms and can quickly lead to blindness if not corrected immediately. Surgery of choice is medial canthoplasty whereby the inner corners are sutured closed, giving a more normal canine eye shape.

Ocular Trauma

The same breeds that are prone to macropalpebral fissure syndrome are more than twice as likely to suffer ocular trauma. When the eyes do not close all the way, they can become desensitized due to overexposure of air. They do not experience the degree of ocular pain of other breeds and so might not feel an ocular trauma as acutely. These breeds also have a markedly increased incidence of proptosis whereby the eye pops out of the shallow socket. Young intact males are the most likely to suffer ocular trauma. As with any injury, seeking the immediate assistance of a veterinarian is the best course of action.

  • Eye Trauma – This site demonstrates the types of ocular trauma and what it can lead to.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

This can be described as going blind slowly since there is no known cure for it. It is generally an inherited disease. The first thing that is noticeable is the shiny eyes and night blindness. Generally speaking, canines diagnosed with PRA go completely blind within a year. Due to the slow progressive nature of this disease, dogs adapt better to their vision loss.

  • PRA – Contains images and further details relating to this inherited disorder. 

  • PRA Brochure – This is an informational brochure that shows all signs and symptoms of the disorder along with diagnosis.


The owners of blind animals typically have a harder time accepting full vision loss in their pet. For the pet, life goes on, especially if still following a set routine. They use their other senses to get their bearings and adjust quite well. Fortunately, the practice of putting blind animals to sleep for humane reasons has lessened in recent years due to increased understanding of the canine psyche with respect to vision loss.

Eye Examinations

For the most part, the eye examination is a routine test that takes place after the physical exam. As a rule, the room should be dim instead of bright so that the pupils, conjunctivae, sclerae, corneas, and ocular adnexa can be adequately seen by the practitioner. If there are no previous eye problems, the veterinarian is looking for clarity of the eye, foreign bodies, trauma, ulcerations, inflammation, and signs of bacterial conjunctivitis. A visual examination is usually all that is required of most animals, and about all that they will sit quietly for. A more thorough evaluation will be conducted if the vet notices any abnormalities.

For people interested in breeding their pets the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) has created a registry aimed at making it easy for people to identify heretible eye disease in dogs. They maintain a registry of purebred dogs examined by the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO). Initially, purebred dogs were the only ones who could register, but in 2007, mixed breeds were also allowed to be registered.

Diagnosis and Surgery

Treatment options vary from eye drops to major surgery, just like with humans. However, canines tend to have the capacity to heal quicker, and they are more adaptable to change than humans. For example if the diagnosis is PRA, then surgery is not even a realistic option and will place unnecessary risk on the dog’s system. Price, age, recuperative period, prognosis, possible complications, and quality of life are all things that need to be considered before electing surgery for the animal. 

  • Proptosis – Information into surgery for proptosis.

In this day and age, advancements in canine medicine are astounding. Nowadays, dogs can have the same treatment options as humans. Not so very long ago, if a dog had a cataract, nothing could be done, and the dog would go blind, and more than likely, the dog would then be euthanized after going blind for humane reasons. Fortunately, those days are gone. With proper care and routine evaluations, optimal eye health can be managed.

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