One of the most frightening things for a dog owner to deal with is an eye injury or head injury to their dog that has affected the eye area. This is a very sensitive area for the dog and is easily hurt and irritated, just like for a human. Understanding how to assess the problem and provide some basic first aid until the dog can be seen by a vet is critical in both staying calm and hopefully protecting as much of the dog's vision as possible.
Many eye injuries are caused by irritations in the eye that are either from the dog's hair or eyelashes or from foreign materials getting into the eye itself. These foreign objects can be pieces of grass or vegetation or even more serious issues such as glass, metal shards, splinters or virtually any other type of object or debris. When dealing with eye injuries it is important to be able to assess the injury and take appropriate first aid measures as quickly as possible.
Immediate First Aid for Eye Injuries
Eye injuries have the best chance of healing and preserving the dog's site if treated within 12 hours of the injury. Some eye injures or irritations are very minor at first and only become really problematic if there is further damage to the area by the dog rubbing or scratching at the eye or when a bacterial infection gets into the eye area.
Typically most emergency type first aid treatments for eye injuries involve simply flushing out the eye with a commercial saline eye flush. Pet stores do sell specialty products for dogs but in a pinch any eye flush solution will do. Do not use tap water unless there is absolutely nothing else available. Water from lakes, streams or other natural sources is also not a good idea as it can contain bacteria that can lead to further infections, but if there is nothing else available and you can see foreign debris in the eye you may not have any choice. Adding a small bottle of saline solution for eyes in your pet first aid kit is a simple and easy way to handle this potential problem.
After any foreign loose material is flushed from the eye it is important to cover the eye if there is any signs of cuts, irritations or abrasions. Sometimes the third eyelid is partially across the eye or may be swollen and protruding. It is very important to keep the area moist and clean, so applying a piece of damp sterile lint free cloth is very important. This can be lightly taped to the area to keep the eye covered on the trip to the vet, but no significant pressure should be placed on the eye. Any signs of bleeding from the eye should be considered a very high priority emergency and immediate vet assistance sought.
Since eye injuries can potentially lead to corneal ulcers and lesions on the eye even the slightest signs of irritation, tearing, squinting or avoiding light should be immediately check by a veterinarian. In some injuries and chronic conditions of the eye your regular vet may make a referral to a specialized veterinary ophthalmologist that works specifically on treating eye injuries and conditions. Often a simple piece of grass, bit or dirt or even a hair can be the cause of the original irritation that has then led to a very serious and potentially blinding swelling and lesion or ulcer of the eye.
Common Eye Problems
Depending on the breed of dog there are several eye conditions that may be hereditary or may be more prevalent in different breeds of dogs. These conditions, as well as their symptoms, should be understood by the owners so that any indications that the condition is present in the dog or puppy can be treated quickly to prevent greater problems as the condition progresses. The common eye conditions seen in dogs of various breeds include:
- a condition that occurs when the gland of the third eyelid pushes outwards or is prolapsed. The exact cause of the condition is not known but it is common in breeds such as the Boston Terrier, Shar Pei, Bloodhound, Lhasa Apso, and Saint Bernard. Any breed can develop cherry eye however and it can be found in dogs and puppies of all ages. Treatment involves a relatively surgical procedure that repositions the gland to its correct location and attaches it to prevent further problems. There is usually a treatment of antibiotic drops that are used to prevent any possible bacterial infections while the area is healing. Historical the gland was completely removed, but since it does produce tears removing the gland can result in dry eye, another problematic condition.
KCS (Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca)
- also know as dry eye, this condition occurs when the eye does not produce enough tears to keep it properly lubricated. This can occur because of some health conditions that lead to dehydration, through some antibiotics and medications, or through injury or trauma to the tear glands. Typically KCS is treated with a topical application of drops or eye creams containing cyclosporine, which helps the eye fight infections and restore normal tear production. The drops are used two times per day and for a set period then the vet makes a determination if the tear glands are working enough to discontinue the treatment. If the tear glands are blocked or infected this will also eliminate this problem.
- when the eyelids turn inwards so the eyelashes are rubbing and irritating the eyeball itself. This is a hereditary condition and can be corrected with a simple surgical procedure. Some breeds where entropion is a concern include Great Danes, Poodles, Shar Pei, Spaniels, Chow Chows, Pugs, Irish Setters, Boxers and Labrador Retrievers.
- the lower eyelid turns outward or gaps away from the eye. In itself the condition is not a problem, however the gap can trap dirt and debris, lead to drying of the eye and increase the chances of bacterial infections. The breeds most commonly associated with the condition are Bloodhounds, Basset Hounds, Cocker Spaniels and Saint Bernards. Usually unless it is problematic or there are other associated eye conditions the eye is just monitored and routinely checked. The eyelid can be made smaller through a simple surgical procedure if the conditions indicate this is the best treatment.
Ask your vet or breeder what hereditary or breed specific eye conditions you should be aware of that are specific to your dog.