Eye ulcers in dogs

Eye ulcers in dogs are painful sores on the surface of the eye. They can happen in dogs of all ages and types. But short-faced (brachycephalic) breeds and dogs with other eye problems are most at risk.

Corneal ulcers or eye ulcers result from damage to the clear window that forms the outermost layer of the eye. Trauma or disease can be triggers, and severity depends on the depth of the ulcer and the eye’s ability to heal. With prompt identification and treatment, most eye ulcers heal within a week. Untreated or non-healing ulcers may penetrate the eye, potentially causing blindness or even loss of the eyeball. Talk to a vet for advice as soon as you notice anything wrong with your dog’s eyes.



What are eye ulcers in dogs?

The cornea is the clear window at the front of the eye. It’s very thin, less than 1mm thick. But it’s also strong and plays a vital role in allowing light into the eye while protecting the deeper delicate structures. It’s made up of 3 layers. The cornea also has lots of nerve endings, so it’s very sensitive.

Corneal ulcers:

  • Are open sores, like craters, on the surface of the eye.
  • Develop when infection, trauma or inflammation destroys the two outermost layers of the cornea.
  • May eventually penetrate all the way through the deepest layers of the cornea, allowing infection and inflammation into the back of the eye.

Causes of corneal ulcers include:

  • Scratches: running through bushes, playing or fighting with other animals (cats!)
  • Foreign bodies in the eye: thorns, grass seeds, splinters, grit, sand
  • Eyelid abnormalities: in turned eyelids, called entropion
  • Extra eyelashes or hairs under the eyelid
  • Infections: viral or bacterial conjunctivitis
  • Dry eye



Symptoms of eye ulcers in dogs

Eye ulcers are very painful due to all the sensitive nerve endings present on the cornea.

Symptoms include:

  • Having a weepy eye
  • Blinking more
  • Keeping the eye part or fully closed
  • A bloodshot, red, angry-looking eye
  • A cloudy patch appears on the surface of the eye
  • Pawing or rubbing the eye
  • Visible and very red third eyelid in the corner of the eye



Dogs most at risk of eye ulcers

Although any dog can get an ulcer, especially due to trauma or infection, there are some breed, health and lifestyle factors that increase the risk.

  • Brachycephalic breeds, such as Boxers, Pugs, Bulldogs and Shih Tzus. Their short faces and prominent eyes make the cornea vulnerable to injury and inflammation.
  • Dogs prone to dry eye: Miniature Schnauzers, West Highland Whites, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
  • Older dogs whose corneas are less able to heal quickly or fully.
  • Boxer ulcers: Boxers are particularly susceptible to a type of non-infected but non-healing ulcer that keeps recurring.
  • Energetic dogs who charge through bushes or squabble with cats.



How do vets diagnose eye ulcers in dogs?

An initial examination will confirm a painful, inflamed eye. The vet will confirm the diagnosis with:

  • Ophthalmoscope exam: checking the cornea and back of the eye with a light source and lens.
  • Fluorescein dye test: applying a few drops of harmless dye to the eye. Dye clings to an ulcer but washes off the smooth, healthy eye surface. The ulcer shows up as a green patch when the vet shines blue light on it.
  • Slit lamp exam: a special instrument to examine the eye in detail. This can show the vet if any fluid is leaking out of the eye through a full-thickness ulcer.


Vet treatment

How do vets treat eye ulcers in dogs?

As well as treating the ulcer, the vet will investigate and treat the underlying cause. Otherwise, recurrence is inevitable.

Treating uncomplicated ulcers

Eye drops:

  • Antibiotic
  • Lubricant or artificial tears
  • Atropine: to increase the size of the pupil. Pain and inflammation cause the affected pupil to become tiny.
  • Anti-inflammatory

Medicine by mouth:

Most uncomplicated ulcers will heal quickly. If an ulcer doesn’t heal, your vet may first advise a swab of the eye to confirm whether infection is present. And to decide the best antibiotic for treating it.


For larger or non-healing ulcers

Simple procedures promote healing by removing damaged or loose cornea and stimulating a healing response.

After applying local anaesthetic drops to the eye:

  • Cotton bud debridement: removing loose material with a dry sterile cotton bud has 50-65% success rate.
  • Grid keratotomy: making fine scratches across the ulcer, usually after cotton bud debridement has 65-87% success.
  • Diamond burr keratectomy: uses a special tool to remove the unhealthy tissue and has 85-90% success rate.

Operations under general anaesthetic:

  • Superficial keratectomy: completely removing the top layer of the ulcer, has nearly 100% success.
  • Graft: a healthy piece of tissue used to repair a damaged one. For example, a piece of conjunctiva or healthy cornea.

Additional measures:

  • A cone or buster collar to prevent rubbing or scratching.
  • Contact lens: the vet fits a sterile contact lens (just like a human one) to protect the healing eye.


Treating the underlying problems

  • Removing a foreign body, like a thorn or splinter, from the eye.
  • Entropion surgery: an operation to correct inturned eyelids.
  • Removing extra or malpositioned lashes.
  • Treating dry eye with drops or surgery.


Home treatment

Caring for a dog with an eye ulcer at home

Corneal ulcers worsen very quickly, especially if they become infected. They need prescription eye drops from a vet to heal. However, recovery also depends on completing the treatment and protecting the eye from further trauma.

  • Apply eye drops at the dose and frequency prescribed
  • Seek help if you are struggling to put eye drops in
  • Keep the cone collar on your dog at all times, especially at night
  • Bathe the eye with boiled, cooled water and a clean cotton pad once or twice daily or when discharge accumulates
  • Avoid walking in windy or dusty conditions and lead exercise only



Reducing the risk of eye ulcers in dogs

Often, it’s an unfortunate chance that dogs get eye ulcers. Particularly if it’s triggered by a piece of grit in the eye or conjunctivitis. However, some precautions can help reduce known risks.

  • Supervise dogs meeting cats or other dogs for the first time.
  • Reduce risks of foreign bodies: avoid walking in dusty or extremely windy conditions, especially with brachycephalic breeds.
  • Keep your dog’s eyes clean: wipe away discharge to reduce the risk of conjunctivitis.
  • Recognise what the discharge means and seek prompt veterinary advice to prevent corneal inflammation and ulcers.
    • Green or yellow discharge signals infection in the eye.
    • Sticky discharge in the morning suggests a dry eye.


When to worry

When to worry about eye ulcers in dogs

Call your nearest vet immediately if your dog:

  • Appears suddenly blind
  • Has a collapsed or sunken eyeball
  • Has suffered a sharp penetrating eye injury (fence nail, glass, stick)

See a vet as soon as possible if your dog’s eye:

  • Continues to look red and painful after treatment for conjunctivitis
  • Has a cloudy patch visible on the eye
  • Is painful or closed over

Joii can help with:

  • Early recognition and treatment of conjunctivitis
  • Mild signs such as weepy eyes
  • How to give and apply medicines
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