Eye problems in pets

Eye problems in pets

In this article we look at some of the more common eye conditions that can affect pets.

Written by Dr Joanna Melville MRCVS


The term “conjunctivitis” means inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the clear membrane that lines the pink eyelid and the whites of the eye. Eyes may look inflamed and red, and may also have a yellow or green discharge. Conjunctivitis can be caused by several factors, including infection, irritants or allergies. We will examine your pet’s eye closely to look for any potential causes. Treatment usually consists of medicated drops to ease any inflammation and infection.  Cleaning the eyes daily with cooled boiled water can also help.

Eye ulcers

Eye ulcers occur when there is damage to the surface of the eye itself (the cornea).  There are multiple causes of eye ulcers, including a physical injury such as a scratch, lack of tear production, or foreign bodies.  Certain breeds are particularly prone to ulcers, including brachycephalic breeds such as pugs which have bulging, prominent eyes.  Eye ulcers can be acutely painful; you may notice your pet’s eye watering more than normal,  your pet may blink excessively or keep the affected eye closed.  You may see us using a green dye to detect any damaged cornea.  Treatment may consist of a combination of drops to prevent infection and to help the cornea to repair itself.  Eye ulcers need to be monitored closely – an ulcer that becomes infected and/or deep can be potentially very serious and may result in loss of an eye.

Dry Eye

Dry eye (also called keratoconjunctivitis sicca or KCS) occurs when the eyes don’t produce sufficient tears. Tears are incredibly important in maintaining a healthy eye – an eye that isn’t adequately lubricated can become damaged, sore and more prone to infections.  Dry eye can also lead to loss of vision as the cornea becomes cloudy, thicker and less transparent.   Dry eye affects some breeds more than others and is usually caused by the immune system attacking itself (“autoimmune condition”).  Affected dogs often have sticky, sore, cloudy eyes.  Dry eye is confirmed using a simple test to measure tear production. Affected dogs require life-long medication which can be expensive. Many will also need artificial tears on an ongoing basis. In a few dogs medical treatment is not successful and surgery is sometimes required.

Tears are incredibly important in maintaining a healthy eye – an eye that isn’t adequately lubricated can become damaged, sore and more prone to infections


Entropion is a condition where eyelids roll inwards, causing eyelashes to rub on the surface of the eye, resulting in soreness and damage. Breeds with excess facial folds such as Shar Peis or Bulldogs are more commonly affected. In some cases temporary corrective surgery is required as a puppy, followed by more permanent corrective surgery once fully grown.  


Cataracts are commonly seen in older animals. The eye may appear cloudy and white, although not all cloudy eyes are caused by cataracts.  Cataracts will result in a loss of vision, and can be secondary to other illnesses such as diabetes. Cataract surgery is available for pets, and we can arrange referral to an ophthalmologist for this.

dog with cataracts
Dog with cataracts (photo courtesy of RVC)


Glaucoma is a condition where the pressure inside the eye increases.  Pets typically have severely painful, red eyes.  Glaucoma can be primary, or secondary to other diseases within the eye such as a luxated lens.

To diagnose glaucoma a special machine called a tonometer is used. Treatment consists of special drops to reduce the pressure within the eye.  If the glaucoma is severe, emergency treatment is required and referral to an ophthalmologist may be needed.


Blindness is not always immediately apparent – even with poor eyesight, pets may learn to walk around a familiar environment and avoid obstacles.

There are many causes of blindness, ranging from injuries to the eye to age-related changes such as cataracts, or retinal disease such as progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) and sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome (SARDS).  Some of these diseases are genetic in nature, and screening programmes are available for certain breeds.

In addition, retinal detachment can occur secondary to other underlying diseases, for example systemic hypertension (increased blood pressure).

Blind eyes are not necessarily painful, and many animals can adapt very well to having limited vision by using their other senses effectively.  However, it is important to remain vigilant for any changes, in particular any redness or pain that develops.

If this article has raised any concerns for you please get in touch with us directly and we’d be happy to help.

(Image of pug courtesy of Mark Mingle, Unsplash)

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