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Keratoconjunctivitis sicca, or KCS as it is sometimes called, is a disease affecting the eyes, causing the eyes to become dry and irritated. One can easily imagine the pain that dry eyes can cause, and it must be doubly frustrating for our dogs who cannot always tell us what ailments are troubling them. Unfortunately, this disease is sometimes misdiagnosed, and leaving the disease untreated can cause grave problems and even blindness. In this article, we'll learn what causes Keratoconjunctivitis sicca, who can be affected, and what treatments are available.

What is Keratoconjunctivitis sicca?

Keratoconjunctivitis sicca, also sometimes called Dry Eye syndrome, is caused by an abnormal or insufficient amount of tears being produced. Tears are very important to the overall health of the eyes because they lubricate and clean the corneas and can also help protect and heal the eyes from infection. The lack of tears is caused by a problem in the lacrimal glands, which produces the tears. When these glands malfunction, the lack of tears can cause dryness and irritation. If the eyes are left untreated, this can eventually cause scars and ulcers on the cornea, eventually leading to blindness.

Which breeds are affected by Keratoconjunctivitis sicca?

While breeders are discouraged from breeding dogs that suffer from this disease, it is true that some breeds have a natural predisposition to be affected by it. Some of these breeds include Bloodhounds, Boston terriers, bull terriers, English bulldogs, English and American cocker spaniels, Kerry blue terriers, Lhasa apsos, miniature poodles, miniature schnauzers, Pekingese, pugs, Sealyham terriers, Shih tzus, standard schnauzers, West Highland white terriers and Yorkshire terriers. Congenital Keratoconjunctivitis sicca, or KCS that is present at birth, is very rare but can sometimes be found in toy dog breeds. This is because the lacrimal glands are sometimes very small or even nonexistent.

There are some instances when Keratoconjunctivitis sicca can develop because of outside influences. If a dog receives a blow to the head around the area where the lacrimal glands are located, this can lead to Keratoconjunctivitis sicca. Other examples include antibiotics containing sulfa or going under anesthesia, which can cause temporary dryness.

What are the symptoms?

The first symptom to appear is usually redness on the thin, transparent surface of the eye, called the conjunctiva. This redness means that there is inflammation present and it can be quite painful. This acute pain can lessen to a duller irritation, but this doesn't mean that the disease is relenting. There is often a yellow discharge at this stage which is sometimes misdiagnosed as conjunctivitis. Misdiagnosing Keratoconjunctivitis sicca can be dangerous, because the disease may not respond to conjunctivitis treatment or will come back when the treatment is done. If left untreated, the conjunctiva will scar over and lose its transparency and ulcers may appear. In the worst case, the dog will lose its sight.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Keratoconjunctivitis sicca can be diagnosed by a veterinarian by performing a Schirmer Tear Test, which measures the amount of tear production. A low amount of tears produced signals the presence of the disease.

While there is no cure for Keratoconjunctivitis sicca, there are several methods of keeping the eyes lubricated including tear stimulants or artificial tear replacements. Because every dog will respond differently to treatment, dog handlers and their vets will have to work together to find the right measure of treatment for the dog.

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