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Integrative Pet Vet column: Outdoors, springtime and eyes

Dr. Ron Carsten

With the arrival of warm weather, pet companions are spending more time outdoors and having more opportunity for eye problems. The outer parts of the eye and associated tissues, like the eyelids, are susceptible to injury, inflammation and infections. Since many eye problems, even minor issues, can progress rapidly and can sometimes lead to severe problems, it is valuable to have an understanding of basic characteristics of the eye and the associated tissues. Recognizing the cause and contributing factors for eye issues is essential for effective management.

Typical dog behaviors like sniffing in the brush and running through the weeds can contribute to eye problems. Pollen counts and dust levels rise leading to increasing exposure to allergens prompting more allergic reactions and more eye irritation. While investigating new smells it is possible to get grass seeds or other foreign bodies between the eyelids and eye or under the third eyelid. Running and playing in the outdoors can also increase the risk of direct injury to the eye from a poke or blow to the eye from a stick or other object.

The areas of the eye and associated tissues that are easiest to observe include the eyelids, conjunctiva, third eyelid, cornea, sclera and anterior chamber of the eye. Each of these areas has a distinct function, normal appearance and is easily seen. The third eyelid is often seen in the corner of the eye near the muzzle. It may be only slightly up or can completely cover the eye depending on the condition of the eye and excitement of the dog. When the eyelids are gently rolled out, the conjunctiva becomes visible as the pink tissue on the inside of the eyelids. The cornea is the clear, outer part of the eyeball that is in contact with the conjunctiva and/or third eyelid, while the sclera is the white part of the eye. Inside of the eye between the cornea and the iris is the anterior chamber.



Signs of a problem with the eye include discharge that runs from excess clear to cloudy white, yellow or green discharge. The cloudy discharge implies that a bacterial infection is present. Other signs include squinting or holding the eye partially shut or rubbing the eye. This implies that there is pain in the eye or surrounding tissue. Redness of the conjunctiva, third eyelid or sclera indicates inflammation and can be a source of discomfort. Damage to the cornea can also be painful. A damaged cornea may be cloudy or gray or have an irregular surface or a defect. Blood vessels can grow across the cornea with chronic problems. The anterior chamber is normally clear. Anything floating in the anterior chamber or discoloration implies a range of issues including anterior uveitis. This could also result in discomfort in the eye.

Mild discharge or mild conjunctivitis without abnormalities in the cornea can generally be managed conservatively. However, even mild problems can escalate and become bigger problems. Foreign bodies, irregularities and defects in the cornea are urgent problems and sometimes a significant emergency depending on the extent of the corneal damage. With severe injury, the cornea can lose anterior chamber contents and potentially eye function. A blow to the eye may trigger an episode of anterior uveitis without an initial indication of the trauma.



Evaluation involves observation of each of the important eye structures along with specialized tests like staining the cornea or measuring of tear production. Staining identifies areas of damage that penetrate through the outer layer of the cornea. Low tear production can result in eye problems. Some painful eye problems require a local anesthetic to allow evaluation of the eye.

Depending on the cause of the problem, treatment may include flushing with artificial tears or administration of topical antibiotics for bacterial infections and topical steroids for inflammation. Controlling infection and inflammation is vital for resolving a many eye problems. Severe inflammatory problems like anterior uveitis can require oral steroids as well as topical treatments. Other medications may be used to assist in management of the anterior uveitis. Lacerations of the eyelids, presence of foreign bodies, and some corneal lesions may require general anesthesia and surgery.

There are numerous other acute eye problems not described here. If you have questions about an eye problem your pet companion is experiencing, contact your veterinarian for advice.

Ron Carsten, DVM, PhD, CVA, CCRT was one of the first veterinarians in Colorado to use the integrative approach, has lectured widely to veterinarians, and has been a pioneer in the therapeutic use of food concentrates to manage clinical problems. He is also the founder of Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE). In addition to his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, he holds a PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology and is a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist. He practices integrative veterinary medicine in Glenwood Springs.


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