Your pet’s eyes function in the same way that your own do and are made up of the same components including
- Cornea, the transparent outer covering of the eye
- Pupil, the circular membrane in the center of the eye that lets light from the environment enter the eye
- Iris, the pigmented membrane that surrounds the pupil and contracts or expands to regulate the amount of light that can enter the eye
- Lens, a transparent structure that adjusts its shape as needed to focus
- Retina, a sensitive membrane that lines the interior surface of the eyeball. The retina receives the focused light impulses that have entered through the lens and then sends them to the brain,as visual information
- Optic nerve, this sends signals to the brain
Keeping eyes clean
Cleaning away any discharges or tear-staining from around the eye area may be necessary for your pet, especially if your pet is short-nosed (brachycephalic breed), has slightly protruding eyes, has light coloured fur that is prone to tear staining or has an eye infection or problem.
- Wash your hands so that you do not introduce any dirt or infection.
- Care should always be taken not to touch or contaminate the surface of the eye.
- We recommend that you use either a sterile solution of boiled and then cooled water on some cotton wool pads or pet eye wipes (available from most pet stores).
- Always wipe from the inner corner of the eye towards the back of the head or down and away from the eye, using a different side/piece of the cleaning pad each time you wipe.
- Make sure you always use a separate piece of cotton wool or eye wipe, for each eye to prevent cross-contamination if an infection is present.
- You may need to ‘soak’ any particularly stubborn eye gunk to make it easier to wipe away. Just gently hold your damp cotton wool pad or eye wipe onto the area.
- If there are just tiny bits of gunk/sleep at the corners of the eye – you can wash your hands and then just use a finger or your thumb to remove/wipe this away easily.
- If your pet is particularly hairy, you may need to trim some of the fur away from his or her eyes. Always do this carefully, using round ended scissors and if you are any doubt ask a groomer or vet nurse to do it for you.
Do Not use anything in your pet’s eye that you wouldn’t put in your own eye and Never use a salt water solution in or near the eye!
Some of the more common eye problems that we see in pets can include
Cataract: Opacity in the lens in the eye. Similar to humans, this problem can occur with old age, trauma or disease.
Cherry Eye: This looks like a small red, inflamed mass in the corner of one or both of the eyes. It is caused when the third eyelid/nictitating membrane of the eye does not attach properly, which leads to a prolapse and allowing the membrane to flip up and over. It can be quite common in young dogs and is occasionally seen in cats and some breeds of rabbits.
Conjunctivitis: This happens when the lining inside the eyelid becomes red, inflamed and very painful. It may be caused by a bacterial or viral infection, injury, allergic reaction or a foreign body in the eye or conjunctiva.
Dry Eye: This is also known as Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca and is caused by inadequate tear production, which may be initially be due to trauma or infection, Symptoms of dry eye include a thick, yellowish discharge and chronic infections because the lack of tears means that the eye is not able to flush away bacteria and particles such as dus and pollen.
Ectropion: A condition (usually inherited) where the eyelid rolls outwards; giving the impression of ‘droopy eyes’. This can cause the eyes to become very dry which can be very painful .
Entropion: A condition where the eyelid rolls inwards, which causes irritation to the eye and its surrounding tissues because the eyelashes and hair rub against the surface of the eye. This condition may be an inherited problem in some breeds.
Foreign Body: Occasionally foreign objects such as tiny pieces of grit, thorns or other plant substances may become lodged in the eye or the surrounding tissues, causing pain and irritation.
Tear duct obstruction: the ducts that normally drain tears from the eyes become blocked resulting in tear overflow onto the face. This may be caused by an infection or be the result of a dental problem. Rabbits and very short-nosed breeds of dogs and cats can be particularly prone to this problem.
Tear overflow: Tears may leak from the corner of the eye, causing staining to the hair in light coloured animals or a build up of crusty “eye gunk” that gets caught up in the animals hair. If the eye area is persistently wet or the gunk is in contact with the eye itself it can lead to inflammation and infection.
Ulcers: The surface of the eye can become damaged or ulcerated following injury or infection.
How to tell if your pet has an eye problem
Eyes are very delicate and sensitive organs and when problems occur they can be accompanied by a number of symptoms. If you see anything out of the ordinary you should contact your vet as soon as possible.
- You pet is blinking more
- Your pet seems to be squinting or the eye looks half closed
- Your pet is rubbing the eye (either with a paw or rubbing against something in the house)
- The eyes are producing more tears than usual
- The eye or surrounding area looks red or inflamed
- The eye itself looks to have a scratch, mark or something in it
- There is any discharge (clear or gunky)
- The eye looks cloudy or discoloured
- The eye is bulging
- Your pet has started to bump into things
How eye problems are diagnosed and treated
Eye problems are diagnosed with a thorough eye examination by a veterinary surgeon. They may use one or more of the following
Physical Examination – Sometimes eye problems can be linked to or caused by other illnesses and disease within the body, such as herpes virus, Feline Leukaemia, cancer and diabetes.
Ophthalmoscope – used to examine the inside and outside of the eye. The ophthalmoscope consists of a light source, mirror, and view hole through which a circular series of convex and concave lenses can be used to examine different parts of the eye.
Tonometer – measures intraocular pressure
Fluorescein Stain – this is a dye that can be applied to the eye which will stain any areas of injury such as ulcers and scratches or foreign particles.
Schirmer’s Test – this is a small paper strip that is used to measure tear production.
The treatment of eye problems depends on their cause; some pets may need a short course of antibiotic drops to clear up an infection, while those with problems such as Dry Eye may require ongoing treatment with eye drops and lubricating solutions. Pets with problems such as ingrowing eyelashes may require surgery to correct the problem. In all of these cases it is very important that your pet cannot cause further damage or irritation to the affected eye, so a buster collar may be necessary to prevent this.
How to Apply Medication or Eye Drops To The Eye
Your pet may need to have eye medication in the form of drops or a cream at some stage and giving this medication should be relatively simple if you follow our guide. The key thing with pets is to be prepared, have everything to hand and, most importantly, Don’t Faff About – Be direct and quick!
- Get the medication ready and within reach
- Wash your hands, you do not want to introduce infection to an already sensitive area
- It may be necessary for someone else to hold your pet for you while you apply the medication. For smaller animals we recommend placing them onto your lap or on a table.
- Gently clean any discharge / gunk away from your pet’s eyes (as mentioned above). You may have to skip this step if your pet’s eyes are too painful.
- Gently pull down on your pet’s lower eyelid and up on your pet’s upper eyelid and drop the medication onto the eye or onto the inner part of the lower lid as directed by the vet . I often find this easier to do if you are positioned behind the pet, rather than from the front as it helps to prevent your pet moving their head back and away from your fingers.
- Make sure that the medicine container does not touch the surface of the eye or any surrounding tissues
- Try to hold the eyelids open for a few seconds as this will help prevent the medication from being blinked out .
- Reward your pet with a really tasty treat and/or a game of something fun. This is especially important if your pet will need to have eye medication regularly.
If your pet has an eye condition that requires eye medication a qualified veterinary nurse will usually be happy to demonstrate how to do this for you and most practices offer free of charge appointments for this.