Wellness Special Feature
by Dr. Ann Gratzek, DVM
Dogs have many of the same eye problems as people but can’t explain their problem like people can. As an observant and caring guardian, you can minimize any discomfort and ensure prompt diagnosis and treatment by observing your dog’s eyes closely and taking your dog to see his vet as soon as you spot any signs of trouble.
Prevention, however, is preferable to dealing with a situation after it becomes a problem.
First of all, consider adopting a mixed breed from your local shelter or rescue organization. Mixed-blood dogs have a decreased incidence of inherited eye problems, specifically cataract and retinal degeneration. If you are going to get a pure breed, do your homework and choose a line where the breeder performs pre-breeding genetic screenings on parents. These screenings may be a screening exam or DNA testing to look for specific inherited problems.
Once you have adopted your wonderful dog, you can do the following to keep his eyes healthy:
· Keep your dog out of foxtail-infested fields. Foxtails are like one-way rockets that can migrate into the tear ducts, embed in conjunctiva and migrate behind the eye causing destruction and pain. It is not a bad idea to flush the eyes with an over-the-counter saline solution after a romp through the woods.
· Use a petrolatum-mineral oil-based lubricant before baths and grooming to prevent eye irritation. This is an over-the-counter prep and can be purchased at the drugstore or from your local veterinarian.
· Keep your dog free of fleas and ticks. These can carry systemic disease that can affect vision.
· Have cataracts evaluated early in the course of the disease process, especially in diabetics. Surgery can be very successful for cataracts, but success rates drop dramatically over time.
· Do not start treating a problem before you know what it is, or wait before seeing your vet. Eye problems that have not cleared up quickly are not likely to go away without medical attention.
How do you know when your dog needs to see a vet? Dogs do not necessarily whine or cry when they have eye pain. They may sleep more, be reluctant to take walks or stop wagging their tails. Indications of trouble are squinting in one or both eyes, excessive tearing, a blood shot eye, a bulging or sunken eye, a change in appearance of the eye (especially a sudden bluish appearance), a decrease in vision, and sometimes constant rubbing or fixation on an eye.
General veterinarians are trained in basic eye care but may choose to refer to a veterinary ophthalmologist if the problem is complex, challenging, unusual or requires special equipment
Not all eye problems can be cured. In these cases, the goal is to maintain a healthy and happy and pain-free pet. This may necessitate removing an eye, sometimes even both eyes. However, blind dogs continue their daily business--comforting their guardians, going on walks, enjoying interesting scents and memorizing their environment.
Dr. Ann Gratzek is a boarded ophthalmologist and has been a member of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists since 1993. Her practice is limited to medical and surgical diseases of the animal eye. She sees patients in Santa Cruz on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, and in Monterey on Wednesdays. She can be contacted at 831-477-7799