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Eye Injuries in Cats and Dogs

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If your dog or cat has an eye injury, it should get immediate attention.  Injuries to the eye are common in dogs and cats that spend time outdoors, fight, or ride with their head out of car windows.  Sticks, grasses, and grains of sand can rub into or against the animal's eye, causing irritation and injury.  This is especially a problem in breeds with bulging eyes or pushed-in faces, such as pug or Pekingese dogs and Persian cats. Cats that fight are also prone to eye injury.  Serious blows to the face, such as being hit by a car, can cause deeper eye damage.

Irritation from dirt, debris, and dust can cause eyes to become red from congested blood vessels in the eyelids and tissue surrounding the eyeball, a condition known as conjunctivitis.  Irritation can also lead to secondary bacterial infection in your cat and dog.  Inflamed eyes tend to weep, or may produce a thicker whitish or yellowish fluid that is often a sign of bacterial infection.

Light mages enter the eye through the clear outer surface called the cornea.  Scratches on this sensitive outer portion are very painful, and affected pets will tend to squint and rub at the eye.  Left untreated, such scratches can develop into ulcers.  Superficial corneal ulcers may heal relatively quickly, but deeper or infected ulcers tend to scar and become discolored, permanently interfering with the passage of light and compromising vision in the affected eye. 

Blows to the head can bruise the eyeball, which may bleed internally.  Such damage can predispose pets to glaucoma by blocking the passage of fluid out of the eyeball.  Sharp blows may also detach the retina, which is the nerve-rich area at the back of the eye.  The retina is responsible for translating light images into vision, so retinal detachment can seriously impair vision. 

Your veterinarian will examine the eyes for signs of irritation and may use an ophthalmoscope to look for splinters or deeper damage.  Your vet may also want to check the cornea for scratches using a special fluorescent dye that can outline scratches and ulcers on the cornea.

Irritated eyes are usually treated with antibiotic drops or ointments that soothe the eye and fight infection.  Corticosteroid drops can also calm irritation and inflammation but should not be used in the presence of corneal ulcers.  Periodically rinsing your pet's eye with eye wash can remove debris and speed healing.  Warm compresses applied to the outside of the eye are also soothing.

Deep scratches or ulcers on the cornea need to be protected until they can heal.  In these cases, treatment may include temporarily sewing the eye closed or sewing the third eyelid to the upper lid.  These surgical procedures cover the eye like a patch, protecting it from further damage.  Your vet may also prescribe topical drops that relax the muscles of the eye, relieving painful spasms that often accompany corneal damage.


What pets are most prone to eye injury?

Eye injuries are common in dogs and cats that that spend time outdoors, fight, or ride with their head out of car windows.  Pets with bulging eyes or pushed-in faces, such as Pekingese dogs and Persian cats, are especially at risk.

How can I tell if my pet might have an eye injury?

Eyes that are irritated and inflamed often appear red and may have a watery or pus-like discharge.  Pets often hold the eye closed and may paw or rub at the eye.

How are eye injuries in pets treated?

Topical antibiotics can be applied to soothe irritated eyes and fight infections.  On rare occasions, corneal damage may require surgically sewing the eye closed to provide temporary protection during healing.

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