Untreated, dogs with dry eye, otherwise known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), are at risk for blindness. Therefore, as trivial as the term “dry eye” might sound, the condition warrants immediate veterinary attention.
What is Dry Eye?
Adequate tear production is essential to eye health. Tears do more than just lubricate the surface of the eye and wash away irritants; they are also the main source of nutrients to the surface of the cornea – the clear tissue that covers the outer surface of the eye. Tear production can drop for any of a number of reasons, including:
- abnormal anatomy
- prior surgery to remove a prolapsed third eyelid gland (i.e., cherry eye)
- a side effect of certain medications (e.g., sulfa antibiotics)
In most cases of KCS, however, no underlying cause can be identified and the disease is related to an abnormal immune response that destroys the glands around the eye responsible for producing tears. Some breeds like the English Bulldog, Cocker Spaniel, West Highland White Terrier, Lhasa Apso, and Pug have an increased incidence of dry eye, indicating that genetics may play a role.
Diagnosis, Treatment and Prognosis
Eyes tend to respond to most issues in a similar manner – they become red, weepy, and painful – and this holds true for dry eye. Dogs with KCS may also develop recurrent corneal ulcers, an accumulation of mucus around the eye, blood vessels that invade the cornea, abnormal corneal pigmentation, and vision loss. Most cases of KCS can be definitively diagnosed by measuring the amount of tears that the eye can produce when stimulated to do so. This easy and non-painful procedure is called a Schirmer Tear Test. Veterinarians will also apply fluoroscein stain to the surface of the eye to check for corneal ulcers.
Most cases of dry eye in dogs respond to medical treatment, particularly if it is started earlier rather than later in the course of the disease. Two drugs, cyclosporine and tacrolimus, both of which are applied to the surface of the eye can reduce inflammation and stimulate tear production. Artificial tears for dogs, topical antibiotics, and other pet medications may also be prescribed. If a dog fails to respond to appropriate medical therapy, surgery to redirect a duct carrying saliva from the mouth to the surface of the eye is also an option.
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