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Peanut (41/365)
Credit: John Liu (LifeSupercharger on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Pets are incredibly shy patients and will suffer in silence for extended periods of time. In fact, cats become less social when they are ill, preferring to be alone. Humans, on the other hand, react quite differently to pain and discomfort. (We usually let others know - some of us whine more than others).

While I primarily worked with humans in the eye care field, I saw my share of similar symptoms in animals I fostered and in those who owned me. Corneal ulcers or abrasions (scratches on the eye) are commonly seen during this time of year.

Gardening, low-lying branches, trimming bushes, and just being outside poses considerable risk. However, pets (and people) have also scratched their eye while getting their fur (or hair) brushed, playing, or a lesser-known reason: "My grandchild poked me (or my pet) in the eye."

Ever wonder why babies do that? Your eye (or your pet's eye) is a nice shiny object and babies (human or animal) are attracted to shiny things. It also appears to move and disappear when you (or your pet) closes it. This is fascinating to babies and it's well worth trying to touch an eye, they reason.

Dog licks baby 6
Credit: Parker Knight on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Dogs seem to suffer from corneal ulcers or abrasions more than cats. Dogs with large, protruding eyes and those with wider lid openings are more prone to them. Eyelid abnormalities or eyelashes that touch the eyeball (trichiasis) are also causes. In rare instances, a paralyzed facial nerve is the root cause. Some breeds (especially Boxers and Boston Terriers) are more susceptible to a hard-to-heal type of ulcer.Boxer puppyAlonzo (LosAnheles on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

According to veterinarian Ron Hines, "The most common cause of corneal ulcers is dry eyes."

Older animals (similar to humans, as we age) generally produce less tear film or tear film with less oil in it. Another commonality I noticed was that some people (and pets) sleep with their eyes slightly open at times - this can also dry out the cornea (making it more uncomfortable and susceptible to ulceration).

Something to watch for: don't place your dog's bed near an air vent. Also, it might be a good idea to invest in a vapourizer or humidifier.

Kady vs. Vapourizer Bubbles
Credit: Rose Webster / All rights reserved

Signs and Symptoms

The type and depth of the abrasion or ulcer is key to how aggressively your veterinarian will treat your pet's eye(s). It's also important to tell your veterinarian if there has been any previous injury to your pet's eye(s). 

You may notice some or all of the following in your pet:

1) An elevated third lid (which starts at the inner corners of your pet's eye and can extend to cover 1/3 of his or her eye). Quite often it will be pink.

2) Tearing and/or discharge from the affected eye(s).

3) Redness of the eye and sometimes under the lid.

4) Rubbing or attempts to scratch the eye. The eye may feel painful and/or itchy to your pet.

5) Squinting which is more pronounced in the affected eye (especially in response to light).

6) As it progresses (and hopefully your pet is seen by a vet sooner) clouding of the cornea results due to swelling. Left too long, the cornea becomes a whitish colour. Blindness can result if treatment isn't sought.

Pumpkin's corneal ulcer
Credit: Heather on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic | Text and arrow added by Rose Webster

Dr. Mike Introduces Us to Dr. Esson

who is board certified in veterinary ophthalmology

A Note of Caution

Do not attempt to treat your dog or cat using steroidal eye drops or ointments, antibiotics, or topical anesthetics. Not only will these make a diagnosis difficult but they can make corneal ulcers worse.

Why is there a yellowy discharge now?

Sometimes veterinarians do not have the time to explain to pet parents exactly what they are doing during a diagnostic procedure. And just as often, people ask the technicians questions (which usually happens as soon as the doctor leaves the room).

So I thought I'd address something I've been asked numerous times:

Why did my pet have yellowy-orange stuff put in his or her eye?

Answer: The vet uses fluorescein dye strips to stain the clear cornea to look for scratches or ulcers. This stain is administered along with anesthetizing (numbing) eye drops - so your pet will not feel any pain and will be relieved of discomfort for a spell. The fluorescein dye is naturally flushed out of your pet's system.

Your Pet Will Need to Wear a Cone

Pumpkin is wearing a "soft" inverted cone

Pumpkin is broken once again
Credit: Heather on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

If Your Pet Has a Corneal Abrasion or Ulcer

There is a pretty good chance that your pet will be prescribed eye drops or ointments. If you honestly feel that you cannot ensure your pet receives his or her medication (at the appropriate times) tell your veterinarian.

It's crucial that corneal abrasions and ulcers are treated as soon as possible.

In cases where you'll be at work for extended periods or out of town (and hey, I've been there), your veterinarian may recommend that your pet be hospitalized for a few days. Veterinary hospital staff will ensure your pet receives his or her eye drops, ointments, and/or medication as prescribed several times a day.

I can't stress this enough: early diagnosis and treatment yields an excellent outcome. If you feel you cannot monitor your pet, it's best to let your veterinarian know. S/he will know the best course of treatment for your pet.

In Summary

There are numerous types of corneal abrasions/ulcers that can affect your pet. A definitive diagnosis that identifies the underlying cause is important to ensure a speedy recovery in your pet. Fortunately, the cornea (in most cases) tends to heal quickly.

Your dog or cat will likely require prescription medication. Eye drops and ointments are easy to apply once you know a few tips:

1) If eye medication is cold, pull it out of fridge 20 - 30 minutes before administering it. (Often, cold medication can be a bit of a shock to a pet). Just before you position your pet, open the medication so it's all ready to be applied with one hand.

2) It's a good idea to gently swab away any discharge from the area around your pet's eyes with a warm wet soft cloth. Give your cat or dog a few good pats to reassure him or her.

3) Keep the medication in your dominant hand (behind and above your pet's head) so that s/he doesn't see the medication coming towards his or her eye.

4) View the following short video(s) to see how easily this can be accomplished. (It helps with compliance if you reward your pet with a treat afterwards).

How To Put Eye Drops in a Dog's Eye:

Tip: Pull eye drops out of fridge 20 mins beforehand.

Putting Eye Drops in a Cat's Eye:

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