Dry Eye in Dogs – Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca

English Bulldog on grass

Also known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca, dry eye is a health issue that can affect any dog, regardless of age or other diseases they might be suffering from.

When left untreated, it can lead to the loss of sight in the affected eye, which is why pet owners should always take their pups to the vet if they see them exhibiting any ocular discomfort whatsoever.

In today’s article, we’re looking at everything you should know about this condition, from the symptoms that it leads to and its causes to whether or not it can be treated or prevented.

Why Do Some Dogs Suffer From Dry Eye?

The most common reason why some animals end up developing this condition is a lesion of the tear glands or ducts. This leads to the pet’s eye not being able to produce enough lubrication, which leads to irritation and dryness.

But there are some other causes of keratoconjunctivitis sicca, and most of them are listed below:

  • Infectious diseases such as Distemper
  • Hormonal changes as a result of imbalances such as hypothyroidism
  • Otitis interna
  • Medications that the dog might be on

While dry eye can appear in all dogs, there are some breeds that are more predisposed to developing this health issue. Several examples are the following:

  • Boston terrier
  • Lhasa Apso
  • English Springer Spaniel
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • West Highland White Terrier
  • American Cocker Spaniel
  • Miniature Schnauzer
  • English Bulldog
  • Yorkshire Terrier

Breeds such as the Pekingese, Shih Tzu, and Pug are no exception, either.

How Can You Tell if Your Pet Has Dry Eye?

Many dogs experience pain in the eye that is suffering from this condition. They will try to scratch it in an attempt to soothe their discomfort, but they might actually make matters worse by making the irritation even more severe.

Most dogs manage to develop local hypersecretion in the form of eye discharge – of various colors. It can be mucous-looking or yellow, or even thick, causing even more itchiness and pain.

Dogs that don’t receive the right treatment might suffer from lasting effects that can lead to loss of vision, such as ulcers. It is also worth noting that dry eye can also be caused by recurring conjunctivitis cases, where the dog might receive treatment, it could be effective for a period of time, and then they would experience another episode – related or unrelated to the same pathogen.

Keratoconjunctivitis sicca is more common in dogs that are older than 7 or 8. As your dog begins to age more, eye examinations should be an important part of the clinical exams that your vet performs when you take your pooch to the clinic once or twice a year.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Dry Eye

The good thing about diagnosing this disease, if there is any, is the fact that a specific test for it already exists. It is called the Schirmer tear test and it involves assessing the quantity of tears that your dog’s eyes are capable of producing in a matter of one minute.

There are, however, specific ophthalmologic tests that can be performed to make sure that the animal is indeed suffering from dry eye – and they range from corneal staining to measuring intraocular pressure (to eliminate any suspicion of glaucoma).

As for how dry eye can be treated, you might not be over the moon because of this, but you will basically have to provide your dog’s eyes with artificial tears for the remainder of their life.

This type of product is called tear film replacement and needs to be applied to your dog’s eyes twice or three times per day, as per your vet’s recommendations.

There are various other solutions depending on the exact cause of the disease, such as Pilocarpine, which is more commonly utilized in treating neurogenic dry eye.

If you leave your dog without treatment for a long time, they might have to be treated for additional health issues, such as conjunctivitis and any secondary bacterial infection that might have gotten the opportunity to develop due to the lesions in your dog’s eyes.

If none of this works, some dogs might be eligible for an operation. However, we would like to note that the surgery can be rather complicated and that it needs to be performed by a seasoned veterinary ophthalmologist since it basically involves repositioning the salivary canal so that it drips its secretions into your dog’s eye.

Can You Prevent Your Dog From Getting Dry Eye?

It depends on every dog in part. If you are the owner of one of the breeds that we have previously mentioned, chances are that you can do nothing in the way of preventing this condition.

But if you can keep your dog’s eyes in good health, you will prevent conjunctivitis or other lesions, so you will, at least to some extent, be able to prevent keratoconjunctivitis sicca.

Do keep in mind that this condition is also associated with permanent damage such as corneal scarring, which is irreversible. Therefore, your dog could entirely or partially lose their sight if they don’t get help as soon as possible.

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