Many pets are very expressive with their eyes. They can use them to communicate hunger, anxiety or fear, happiness and love. We get used to exchanging looks with our pets and reading their eyes for clues into how they are feeling and their general well-being. Sometimes, however, owners notice that something about their pet’s gaze is not quite right and become concerned. In those cases, a trip to the veterinarian is in order to determine the source of the problem and any treatment required.
Eyes can be affected with disease and other problems in many different ways. Externally, malformations of the eyelids can cause them to roll in, roll out, or be absent all together. Eyelashes can grow in the wrong place or direction. Masses and other growths can occur along the eyelids. Some animals have problems producing an appropriate amount or quality of tears. These conditions and numerous others can cause inflammation and trauma to the eye, particularly the cornea, leading to corneal ulcers or scarring. Glaucoma may cause the eye to swell or bulge. Within the eye, changes to the lens can cause it to become cloudy or opaque. These changes may be the result of a normal aging process called nuclear sclerosis, or may be indicative of a problem, such as a cataract. Problems with the retina or the optic nerve in the back of the eye may cause decreases in vision. Certain ocular problems may be indicative of a more widespread disease process or infection, such as diabetes, hypertension, or systemic viral, bacterial, or fungal infection.
Signs of eye problems in pets can range from subtle to very obvious. Common signs to watch for are reddening of the eye, squinting or holding the eye closed, and discharge from the eye. Some dogs may rub the eyes frequently or appear sensitive to bright light. Changes to the outer appearance of the eye, such as a dull or cloudy appearance of the cornea, an irregular surface of the eye, and swelling or bulging of the eye are all signs of problems. If the lens appears white or cloudy, a cataract may be present. Indicators of vision loss in pets may include an increase in bumping into objects or walls, a reluctance to venture out of well-known spaces, and difficulty finding toys or catching objects. Pets may appear anxious, walk more slowly, or may appear confused or disoriented.
Many disorders of the eye are at the very least uncomfortable for pets and many are actually quite painful. Certain conditions such as deep or infected corneal ulcers may progress quite rapidly, sometimes resulting in loss of the eye if left untreated. If you notice any signs of eye disease in your pet, you should consult your veterinarian as soon as possible, particularly if there is a known history of trauma or injury to the eye. Your veterinarian will perform a thorough examination which will often involve some tests of the eye itself, but since ocular disease may be an indicator of other disease within the body, other tests including blood work may also be performed. In some cases, your veterinarian may refer your pet to a veterinary ophthalmologist for care if the case is complicated or severe, or if the particular treatment required is not one performed in general practice.
Ocular disease can be painful for your pet and the consequences of not addressing it quickly can be severe. If you notice any signs of ocular disease in your pet, please schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. If you do not have a regular veterinarian, we are always happy to discuss your pet’s ocular health with you at the wellness clinic at the Louisiana SPCA although for some conditions, referral to full service or specialty clinic may be required.