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Dry eye in pets

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Dry Eye is a common problem in certain breeds of dogs. Tears form a clear film over the surface of the eye that serves to lubricate, nourish, and protect the cornea.  Insufficient tears result in a condition known as "dry eye," or keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS).  Dry eyes are prone to damage and infection.

Dry eye is most common in certain breeds, including the Shih Tzu, Lhasa Apso, Pug, English Bulldog, Cocker Spaniel, West Highland White Terrier, Miniature Schnauzer, Miniature Poodle, and Pekingese.  Dogs with "pushed-in" faces and bulging eyes (eg, Pugs and Boston Terriers) are especially at risk because sometimes their eyelids don't completely cover the surface of the eye, allowing the center of the cornea to dry out even when tears are sufficient.

Pets with dry eye often have repeated eye infections.  The eyes may appear red and irritated, and a thick, sticky discharge often accumulates every day.  If left untreated, the cornea may scar, leading to decreased vision and possibly blindness.

Your veterinarian can test your pet for KCS using the Schirmer tear test.  In this test, the edge of a small strip of special filter paper is placed inside the lower eyelid, and tear production is measured as moisture progresses down the strip.  Your veterinarian can also test for damage to the cornea by using a special stain on the surface of the eye.

Treatment for KCS includes frequent use of artificial tears to replace the natural tear film.  Antibiotics are often needed to treat secondary eye infections.  Some pets may also benefit from topical or oral medications that can increase natural tear production.  In some cases, the tear ducts are blocked and need to be flushed to restore the natural flow of tears.

 

Q&A

What is “dry eye?”

Dry eye, also known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), is a condition caused by insufficient tear film, so that the cornea dries out making it prone to damage and infection.


What dogs are most at risk?

Dry eye is most common in certain breeds, including the shih tzu, Lhasa apso, pug, English bulldog, cocker spaniel, West Highland white terrier, miniature schnauzer, miniature poodle, and Pekingese.  Dogs with “pushed-in” faces and bulging eyes (eg, pugs and Boston terriers) are especially at risk because their eyelids don’t always completely cover the surface of the eye, allowing the center of the cornea to dry out even when tears are sufficient.


How can I tell if my dog has dry eye?

Pets with dry eye often have repeated eye infections.  Your veterinarian can test specifically for KCS using the Schirmer tear test, which measures how far tears advance down a strip of filter paper.  


How do you treat dogs with dry eye?

Treatment for KCS includes frequent use of artificial tears to replace the natural tear film, and topical antibiotics are often needed to treat secondary eye infections.  Some pets may benefit from topical or oral medications that can increase natural tear production.  


 

Credit: Written and reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhDand Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS
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