Canine Dry Eye – Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

by Cate Burnette. RVT

The condition known as “dry eye” – or keratoconjunctivitis sicca – causes inadequate tear production in dogs. Injuries to your dog’s tear glands through infection or trauma, nerve damage from infections or some medications, a genetic predisposition, or an autoimmune reaction to the body’s natural tears can all attribute to the disorder. Whatever the reason, your dog’s tear glands can simply cease to function at their normal levels causing her massive eye irritation, possible infection, and pain.

What are the symptoms?

Dogs with “dry eye” develop a thick, yellowish discharge. They may squint and their eyes appear red and inflamed. You may see your dog continually rubbing or wiping at her eyes. Without tears to combat normal bacteria, the overgrowth of bacteria on the eye causes infections. Additionally, inadequate lubrication allows pollen, dust, and other foreign particles to accumulate on the eye producing irritation and itching.

Without veterinary treatment, your dog can suffer from chronic, painful eye infections. Constant irritation of the cornea often results in severe scarring and corneal ulcerations that may lead to eventual blindness.

How does my vet diagnose “dry eye?”

Before making a diagnosis, your vet will probably want to measure the actual amount of tears being produced to determine how dry the eyes really are. To perform the test, called the “Schirmer Tear Test,” a small strip of treated paper is inserted just inside the lower eyelid in the outer corner of the affected eye for 60 seconds. This is not painful to your dog. At the end of the 60 seconds, the height of the moistened area on the strip is measured. A height of 15mm or more is normal. Anything less than 10mm is indicative of “dry eye,” and a height of 5mm is considered severely dry.

What is the treatment?

If your veterinarian can find a cause for the “dry eye” diagnoses, treatment will be aimed at eliminating it. Antibiotics may be prescribed to combat infections and if other medications are causing the issue, then those drugs should be stopped and others substituted. Typically, because the origin of “dry eye” remains unknown, therapy is aimed at replacing the tears through daily medications.

Veterinarians most commonly recommend cyclosporine ophthalmic ointment or drops to treat this condition. When cyclosporine is not effective for some patients, vets will suggest using another daily preparation called tacrolimus. Over-the-counter artificial tear solutions are also sometimes recommended in conjunction with both these medications.

With very severe cases of “dry eye,” a veterinary ophthalmic surgeon transplants a salivary duct into the upper eyelid area allowing your dog’s natural saliva to lubricate the eye. This procedure is rarely used, but provides another option for dog owners.

To help your affected pooch even further, you can always use convenient, pre-moistened organic eye pads to combat the discharge associated with “dry eye.” Because they are infused with colloidal silver, these anti-bacterial eye pads can help fight off infections and remove tearing residue around the eyes.

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1 Comment

  1. I’m greatful to have discovered the information you’ve posted concerning red tear stains. I have 3 long hair dogs. Benzo, a 9yr.old male Maltese Terrier, Sir Wedgwood, an 8yr. old Shitzu and Sable is a 12 months female Shitzu.

    Benzo has been with me 9 months. He was formerly a member of my adult daughter’s family. He began to have tear staining 6mos after being in my home. Sir Wedgwood has been suffering with his eyes watering and tear staining for more than 2years. It is tremendously effecting his front paws to include a need to chew the pads.

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