When Is A Sore Eye an Emergency?
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When Is A Sore Eye an Emergency?

Health & Safety

Eye injuries, illnesses and diseases are incredibly common in our pet dogs and cats, and are one of the main reasons that they are taken to the vets. From allergic conjunctivitis to glaucoma, the conditions that affect eyes in our pets are many. But how do you know when to rush to the vets? Some eye problems may result in a loss of sight, and knowing when to call the vet is important- it could even be the difference between a blind dog and a sighted one.

What are the most common eye symptoms?

Sticky or gunky eyes

Sticky eyes can be caused by a variety of different things, and usually means the eye is irritated by something.

In cats and young dogs, bacterial or viral conjunctivitis can cause eyes to discharge with very few other symptoms- they might also appear a bit red. In allergic conjunctivitis, eyes will be itchy and runny- just like hayfever. Contact conjuncitivitis might also occur- for instance when animals have been in contact with a dusty or polluted environment.

Some dogs of particular breeds will have discharge from their eyes that can be considered almost normal, and often this will be the same throughout their life. This is especially true of breeds with very hairy faces- hairs tickling the eyes might cause increased irritation and discharge. Dogs with different face shapes may have conjunctivitis because of abnormally shaped eyes, incorrectly placed tear ducts, or increased strain on the eyes due to face shape.

Sticky eyes can also be a sign of something more serious, especially if another symptom is involved. Sticky eyes should be seen within three days if this is the only symptom, but if other symptoms are present such as holding the eye closed, pain, lethargy or redness, it’s best to get it checked out straight away.

Holding eye closed

Holding the eye closed (called ‘blephorospasm’) is a sign of pain. It is a reflexive response and usually suggests something very serious is going on. The eye could have a scratch to the surface, or could have something stuck in there. It’s probably best to get this checked out straight away, as some conditions causing blephorospasm can result in loss of sight if left untreated.

Eye appears red

Different parts of the eye can appear red in different conditions. If the inside of the eyelid or the third eyelid (the part that makes up the inner corner of the eye) is swollen or red, then your dog could be suffering with conjunctivitis. Topical medications may well help. If the white of the eye appears red, the eye is likely to be painful. Any blood present coming from the eye or seen inside the eye necessitates an emergency trip, as conditions causing bleeding may cause a loss of sight.

Pupils different sizes

If your pet’s pupils are different sizes then they should be seen by the vet immediately. The pupils should be able to change size in response to light, and any difficulty in doing this can cause great pain and damage to the back of the eye. Pupils that are different sizes can be a symptom of uveitis or glaucoma, both of which are extremely painful and serious conditions that often need treatment by veterinary opthalmologists.

Growth on eye

A growth on the eyelid is rarely an emergency, but may need treatment. Masses can grow on either the upper or lower eyelid, and may need removal. Some dogs may have what appears to be a growth on their third eyelid – the part that makes up the inner corner of the eye- but this could be a prolapse of the gland here. Either way, surgery is often warranted. If no other symptoms are present, masses on the eye are not considered to be emergencies and can wait two or three days to be seen if necessary, although if you have other concerns its best to get them checked over.

Eye prolapse

Eye prolapse is when the globe of the eye protrudes beyond the eyelids or ‘falls out’. This is always an emergency, as strain on the optic nerve at the back of the eye can cause blindness if not corrected as soon as possible. Prolapse of the eye is usually due to trauma such as a car accident, and therefore there may also be other damage. This is especially true in cats. However dogs with flat faces and less eye socket may be more prone to prolapsing the eyeball with less trauma.

Change in colour of eyes

Owners of older dogs will often notice a blue-grey colouration to their dog’s eyes- this is nuclear sclerosis and is a benign change that rarely affects sight. Cataracts are unusual in dogs and are not related to old-age changes- these should be seen within 24 hours, and sooner if your dog seems unwell. Bleeding into the eye, as mentioned before, is rare, but may be seen as a new red colouration to the eye. As before, this may be considered an emergency and should be seen as soon as possible.

What can I do?

If you are worried about your pet, always call your vet for advice, especially if any of the symptoms described as emergencies are present. Discharge can be cleaned away with damp cotton wool- cool, previously boiled water is usually better than salt water for eyes as it is less irritant. In long-haired breeds, carefully groom the fur from around the eyes, or ask your groomer to do it for you. And if the problem persists- you guessed it- get it checked out at the vets.

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