Eye injuries are a true emergency! Pet’s eyes can easily become irritated or scratched. Dogs are often in and out of grasses, hedgerows, and crops. Cats often like to climb trees or may pick up an injury whilst hunting (or fighting). Smaller mammals can scratch their eyes on the hay and straw in their cages. The important thing to know is that even a small injury to an eye can result in big problems if not treated early. A sore eye can quickly deteriorate. The good news is that they can also heal quickly once the right treatment has been started. The aim of rapid and thorough treatment is to preserve the eye and vision. However, in some cases where the damage is severe, it may be recommended that the eye is removed.
Some eye injuries are very obvious. If, for example, the eye has become dislodged from its socket, the eyelids are bleeding or damaged, or a foreign object has penetrated the eye, please seek immediate attention at your physical veterinary clinic. However, a small scratch to the surface of the eye may not become painful immediately. These scratches need to be identified using a special yellow dye called Fluorescein. This dye works by sticking to a scratch (or ulcer) on the surface of the cornea.
There are many causes of eye problems in animals. Causes include allergies, direct trauma, infection, foreign material, cataracts, auto-immune conditions, and cancer. It is also possible for your pet to be born with congenital abnormalities of the eye or the surrounding structures, that may need treatment. For example, inward turning of the eyelid and lashes, which is called entropion. Problems can affect both eyes equally, one eye more than the other, or just one eye. Some eye problems develop very quickly, such as a corneal ulcer. Others develop very slowly, such as cataracts.
Getting your pet used to being examined is really important and can help them to feel relaxed whilst being examined both by you and your vet. Here is some advice from our vets to help you to do a simple examination of your pet. It can also mean that you might pick up on early health concerns that might otherwise not be noticed until they have their annual health check at your veterinary clinic. Your pet might not be used to you staring them in the eye and they may find it disconcerting at first.
Do not put yourself at risk whilst examining your pet; only get up close to them to assess their eyes if your pet is not likely to get nervous and bite you. Start by just looking at your pet when they are relaxed. This way you will still be able to pick up on subtle changes in their eyes without you having to get up close to them. Try and find a clear space where you and your pet are comfortable; make sure that your pet will not be distracted or stressed by other animals. Using a treat can often be a good distraction and will help you keep their attention and get them to look at you.
If you have answered YES to any of these questions (except question 1) then you must seek veterinary advice. Your pet may need an appointment at your physical veterinary clinic so that a thorough examination of both eyes can be performed with an ophthalmoscope.
Certain types of human eye drops, such as sterile, non-medicated artificial tears, may be safe to use on pets, but always consult a veterinarian first.
Smaller injuries, such as a scratch to the surface of the eye, can usually be treated during a normal consultation. These injuries are painful and you must seek urgent advice. Your vet is likely to use a yellow dye to highlight any ulceration on the cornea, and often some local anaesthetic, to enable a full examination. The eyelids will be checked for foreign material or ingrowing eyelashes. The location and extent of the damage will be recorded. Larger more complex eye injuries may require surgery or specialist treatment from a veterinary ophthalmologist.
If an underlying cause is suspected then your vet will be able to perform the appropriate diagnostic tests. This may include checking the quality and quantity of normal tear film that your dog produces. In uncomplicated cases a course of antibiotic eye drops may be prescribed. These typically need to be given at least twice a day. Your vet is likely to ask for a follow-up consultation within 48 hours to check on your pet’s progress and ensure that the eye is healing appropriately. There are some cases which require further intervention and/or a surgical procedure to assist the healing process.
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This article was written by FirstVet vets Dr Eve Hanks and Dr Emma Bower.