Dry eye - what you need to know

Dry eye or Keratoconjunctivitis sicca is caused by a deficiency of aqueous tear film over the surface of the eye and in the lining of the lids.

This results in severe drying and inflammation of the cornea (the transparent front part of the eye) and conjunctiva (the clear membrane that covers the white part of the eye).

Dry eye is rare in cats but is relatively common in dogs, particularly Cocker Spaniels, Bulldogs, West Highland White Terriers, Lhasa Apsos and Shih Tzus. Females may be more likely to suffer from dry eye than males.

How to spot dry eye in your pets

The symptoms of dry eye include the following – contact your vet if you’re concerned about your pet.

  • Excessive blinking
  • Swollen blood vessels in the eye
  • Swelling of the tissue that lines the eyelids and surface of the eye
  • Prominent ‘third eyelid’
  • Discharge of mucus or pus from the eye
  • Ulceration and colour change in the cornea
  • Severe disease can lead to impaired or complete loss of vision

How is dry eye diagnosed in pets?

If you’re concerned your pet may have dry eye, your vet will carry out a Schirmer tear test. This measures tear production and the amount of wetness on the eye – a low amount indicates dry eye. A non-invasive dye that shows details of the eye under blue light can be used to examine your pet’s eye for abrasions/ulcerations.

How do I treat my pet’s dry eye

You can use artificial-tear medications and lubricants to replace your pet’s tears – these are prescribed by your vet. You’ll need to clean your dog’s eyes before you administer the medication, keeping them free of dried discharge.

It’s a good idea to discuss costs with your vet before you start any treatment.

How do I avoid dry eye reoccurring in my pet?

If the dry eye is related to problems in the immune system, it will usually require life-long treatment. Other types of the disease may only require treatment until your pet’s tear production returns.

If you’re thinking of adopting a pet with dry eye

Make sure you review the clinical history of your new pet and ask for more details on how the disease has been treated. You’ll need to sign a disclaimer to confirm you’ve been made aware of the condition. Any pet who’s had treatment is likely to have pet insurance exclusions, so it’s worth discussing potential on-going costs with your vet.

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