We don’t know exactly how dogs see the world. But we do know that dogs need to lose about 80% of their vision before we notice them making visual mistakes, like walking into objects. This means we usually only discover that our dogs have a problem with their eyes once a disease has progressed quite far. Dog First Aid is more than reacting in times of emergency, it’s about monitoring your dog’s health daily. By knowing what good eye health looks like, we can help identify problems sooner rather than later.
What Healthy Eyes Look Like
Healthy dog eyes should be bright, shiny, clear, moist and of equal size. They should be wide open, as opposed to squinting. The area around the iris (the coloured part of the eye) should be white and the pupils should be the same size. The pink membranes surrounding the eyes (conjunctiva) should be pink and healthy-looking. And there should be no unusual swellings in and around the eyelids.
Does your dog have a sore eye?
How to check your dog’s eyes.
In a brightly lit area, look into your dog’s eyes. Slowly blink your own eyes as you do this otherwise your dog could perceive this as threatening and become scared or defensive. If your dog’s eyes are runny, you see cloudiness, yellowish whites, the pupils are not the same size or a visible third eyelid, take your dog to the vet. The third eyelid, called the nictitating membrane, protects dogs’ corneas, but you can’t usually see it. If it is showing, it could be a sign of a common condition called cherry eye.
Using your thumb, gently roll down your dog’s lower eyelid so you can see the lining. It should be pink, not red, or white. A deeper red often indicates a problem, and a pale pink or white colour can indicate that your dog has anaemia. Look at the whites of your dog’s eyes to see if they are actually white. Yellow sclera (the eye whites) is often a sign of jaundice. Take baseline reference photos, and photos/videos of any eye issues that concern you.
Give your dog small treats frequently while you are checking their eyes and a special treat afterwards. Training your dog to accept having their eyes checked means that it will be something that they will come to enjoy.
If dog eye discharge is there, make a note of its texture; is it wet, sticky, ropy and/or crusty. Note the colour too; is it clear, grey, yellow, green, red, brown, or reddish-brown? If there is discharge, make a note of when you see it. Normal dog eyes often have discharge that looks like a small grey bead, or a small dried grey/brown crust (“eye bogies”) at the inside corner of the eye. Unhealthy looking discharge could be constantly there, or it could only be there in the mornings, or after visiting a certain place. Knowing where and when the discharge appears can help your vet to identify the cause quickly and save you money and your dog’s sight.
Put the lights off and, in the darkness, shine a light in your dog’s eyes. The pupil should go from constricting (a small circle) in bright light to dilating (a larger circle) in dim light. As you shine a light in the eyes, notice what the “eye-shine” in the pupil space looks like. If it looks cloudy, it could be a sign of developing cataracts.
Watch your dog’s behaviour. Dogs with sore eyes can also squint or have only one eye fully open. Look out for frequent rubbing of their eyes either with their paws or onto something like the ground. Some dogs with eye conditions will avoid bright lights. If your dog develops a sore eye, think about where they have been and what they have done recently. For example, if your dog has a sore eye after grooming they may have hair in it.
Keep Dogs Eyes Healthy
Research your dog’s breed to see if she may need more attention throughout her life to maintain optimal eye health. Breeds with protruding, bugeyes, are more prone to injuries and dry eyes and some breeds can have a genetic predisposition to eye conditions. Before you buy a puppy check that the parents have had genetic health tests for common breed conditions.
Many of us now feed our dogs a processed diet. But many of the benefits of fresh food are lost in the manufacturing process. Heating can cause a loss of nutrients and the chemicals added to give the food a long shelf life don’t promote optimal health either. By replacing some of your dog's meal with fresh ingredients you can help your dog to stay healthier for longer. Some fresh foods are especially good for their eye health. These include blueberries, carrots, sweet potatoes, eggs, sardines and salmon. If feeding raw salmon, it must be deep-frozen before serving and sweet potatoes must be cooked before giving them to your dog. Other veg can be given raw.
Certain blends of seaweeds can also help with weeping eyes as they have anti-inflammatory properties. And weeping eyes is often caused from inflammation. There are seaweed supplements you can buy to make adding it to your dog's diet easier.
Preventive eye-care strategies include not allowing your dog to stick his head out the car window while you drive. The wind can dry your dog’s eyes and the risk of infection or injury if debris or an insect hits their eyes means that it is a risky thing to let your dog do. Be careful and have dogs out of the way when using household chemicals; for example, dogs can get sore eyes after using bleach. Don’t allow your dog to play with sticks. Sticks are dangerous for many reasons, but specifically for the eyes, splinters can cause blindness.
Don’t use grooming products that could be irritating if they get in your dog’s eyes. And, if you are using any spray products or flea-control formulas protect your dogs’ eyes as you apply them. Groom the area around your dog’s eyes to keep from hairs poking or scratching their eyes. Use a round-tipped scissors and be very careful. Practice teaching your dog to be still before you put scissors anywhere near their eyes. Then practice using a metal spoon to pretend to trim the hair while your dog is still. Only once you have mastered these steps with some practice sessions, then you can trim the hair around the eyes.
If there is debris like hair in your dog’s eye, you can flush it out with saline solution or use an eye wipe. Make sure that what you use is safe to put in your dog’s eye.
Dog Eye Problems
Dog eye infections, like Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is caused by the eyelid tissues becoming inflamed. It looks like swollen, itchy, or red eyes, and there is usually discharge in the corner of their eye too. Dogs suffering from this condition often rub them or paw at their face. Many things, including foreign objects, allergens, and trauma can cause conjunctivitis. It can also be caused by a virus or bacteria and will therefore be contagious so don’t let a dog with conjunctivitis mix with other dogs unless you are sure that it is not caused by any germs. Due to their short noses and large eyes, flat-faced or brachycephalic breeds like pugs, are more prone to this condition.
Cataracts. There are many causes of cataracts. The most common form of cataracts in dogs are genetic, inherited types. Cataracts may also develop after the eye has been damaged, or because they have a metabolic disease like diabetes, or from nutritional disorders during puppyhood.
Glaucoma is abnormally high pressure in the eye of a dog. Inside the normal eye there is constant production and drainage of a watery fluid. When there is a problem with the drainage of the fluid, the pressure within the eye can increase. High pressure causes damage to the optic nerve, which, in turn, causes vision loss. Glaucoma causes a dull, migraine headache-like pain.
Corneal ulcers are a deterioration of the skin cell membrane of the eye. They are usually caused by trauma. Ulcers may be superficial or deep, and treatment depends on the severity. Deep corneal ulcers can lead to a leaking of fluid and a risk of eye rupture or blindness. So, they should be treated as an emergency if suspected. All dogs are susceptible to corneal ulcers due to the very nature of the canine lifestyle. However, dogs with long hair around their eyes and faces tend to be prone to trauma. Brachycephalic breeds, like the bulldog, boxer, and shih tzu, have also proven to be more at risk for corneal ulcers. Ulcers cause a sharp, stabbing pain.
Dry eyes. Some dogs are unable to produce enough tears. This dries out the eyes, which can cause inflammation and/or squinting from your dog.
Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is a group of degenerative diseases in dogs that cause the breakdown of retina cells, which eventually leads to blindness. The retina is a layer of cells in the back of the eye containing cells that sense light. Some commonly affected breeds of PRA include Labrador retrievers, Bedlington terriers, and cavalier King Charles spaniels.
Pannus in dogs, also known as Chronic Superficial Keratitis (CSK), is an autoimmune disease that affects the cornea (the clear) part of the eye. If left untreated, it can eventually scar the eye so badly it can cause blindness.
Uventis is inflammation of the inner parts of the eye, including the iris and is a very painful condition. There are many potential causes including infections, metabolic disease, high blood pressure and eye tumours. Signs of uveitis are severe pain with an intense reddening of the visible parts of the eye. The eye is usually kept shut or squints and dogs may avoid bright lights. Sometimes there is bleeding into the eye and there may aso be excessive tearing.
Lens luxation is where a lens shifts out of position. There are many causes and terriers and shar-peis are more prone than other breeds to this condition. It can cause a deep, constant, throbbing pain.
Alternative medicine for eye care?
Veterinary medicine can be costly, time consuming and take ages to find answers to problems. So, it can be tempting to look to alternative medicine for answers.
While many standard treatments once came from alternative medicine, and many alternative medicines have fantastic positive effects, many alternative treatments are little more than placebo effects or built on myths. So, it’s best to have your eyes wide open when looking into them.
Iridology is an alternative medicine that claims that conditions can be diagnosed from the iris, the coloured part of the eye. Practitioners state that the iris acts as the connector to all of the internal nerves, muscles and organs and by studying the pattern and changes Iridologists claim that this can show when there is a change in the health. This medicine came about after someone noticed that an owl with a broken leg had changes to their iris. As the leg healed so the iris came to look normal again. This correlation is thought to be linked by practitioners of iridology. But, as of yet, there is very little scientific research to back this claim.
How Do I Give My Dog Eye Drops?
Most dogs will need to have eye drops, or their eyes rinsed, at some point in their lives. Like any medical treatment, it is best to train your dog to accept eye drops before you need to administer them.
But, if it is too late for that, and you need to give them eye drops today, it will benefit you and your dog to do this as gently as possible. Adding the stress of forced eye drops to a dog that is unwell will mean that it takes your dog longer to heal. It also means that your dog will trust you less if you force them and it can be pretty upsetting to see your best friend cower away from you in fear whenever you pick up a ‘suspicious-looking’ bottle. So, take your time giving the drops and aim for it to be as pleasant an experience as possible for your dog.
Step 1. Before you begin make sure that you are feeling relaxed, dogs become nervous when we are tense. So, take some deep breaths and mentally scan your body to release tension in your body.
Step 2. Then call your dog over to you and show them the eye drop bottle. Praise them and/or give them a treat or pet where they like to be petted.
Step 3. Stroke them gently on the face and practice holding their head in a comfortable position for delivering the drops. Praise and reward your dog with whatever they enjoy for cooperating.
Step 4. Practice step 3 until your dog is comfortable with you doing this.
Step 5. Repeat step 3 and pretend to put eye drops in. Reward your dog for cooperating.
Step 6. Repeat step 5 until you feel confident that you can quickly put in the drops.
Step 7. Put the drops in your dog’s eye(s) then give your dog something amazing to do straight after. This could be a walk, snuffle mat or a game of fetch. Keep in mind that the drops may have caused a stinging sensation, so it is a good idea to have this amazing activity happen straight away to distract your dog from the discomfort.
Have the same routine each time you put in the eye drops and your dog will learn to overcome any fear or nervousness as the predictability helps them feel less anxious.
It's not only our dogs that suffer when something is wrong, but also painful for us to see our dogs not well. It can be confusing and upsetting trying to figure this all out when your dog is already suffering. If you are unsure how to get eye drops in your dog and would like some help, I offer a free 40-minute confidence call. You can contact me by using the contact form on the website or you can click the Facebook button below and contact me on messenger. Just ask for free confidence call on eye drops.
Here at Dog Tales there are a range of resources helping you to have a happier, healthier dog. The Heart Dog Program is a 3-month online program that provides you with info, challenges and training so that you and your dog can have the best life possible.