Eye care is an integral part of your dog or cat’s wellness regimen. A proactive approach to your pet’s vision care can save you and your pet a great deal of pain and possibly a trip to the emergency room or veterinary ophthalmologist. The steps you take to keep your pet’s eyes healthy and safe will help to preserve eye health and vision long into their senior years.
The first step in proactively caring for your pet’s vision is feeding them a high moisture, meat-based, species-appropriate diet rich in naturally occurring antioxidants. Carotenoids are antioxidants that lower inflammation in the body. Foods high in carotenoids can help protect the cells in the eye. These foods include blueberries, broccoli, eggs, carrots, cold water fish (haddock, sardines, cod, tuna and salmon), kale, pumpkin, sweet potato, tomato, and bilberry. In addition to feeding naturally occurring antioxidants, supplements can also be added. Supplemental Omega 3 essential fatty acids, like those found in krill, sardine, anchovy, or squid oils, will cross the blood-brain barrier to nourish the eyes. Other vitamins and antioxidants that support eye health include Vitamin E and C, lutein, and zeaxanthin (or astaxanthin). Turmeric is a powerful antioxidant; its anti-inflammatory properties help prevent oxidative damage and delay the development of cataracts.
The next step is a daily check of your dog or cat’s eyes. When observing, look for any changes, such as squinting or holding the eye(s) closed, tearing, redness, discharge, and rubbing or pawing at the eye(s). There should not be any build-up of discharge that requires regular cleaning. The following symptoms may signal a problem and a visit to the veterinarian.
- Red eyes signify inflammation. Engorged blood vessels tell you that blood is being rushed to the eye to bring oxygen and nutrients to help fight disease. Red eyes can signal such problems as Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS, or dry eye), “cherry” eye (a visible tear gland), glaucoma, entropion (eyelids rolled in, rubbing on the cornea), and ectropion (droopy eye lids).
- Rubbing, squinting and light sensitivity can be caused by itchy eyes, painful eyes, foreign bodies, tumors, increased pressure in the eye, or an eye injury stemming from a corneal ulcer/abrasion or blunt trauma, entropion (eyelids turn in causing eye lashes or hair to cause irritation to the eye), or eyelashes growing in the wrong direction (Distichiasis and Trichiasis).
- Bulging eye(s) is a serious condition that needs immediate attention. Bulging eye(s) is a sign of high pressure within the globe of the eye. The high pressure can be caused by glaucoma or a tumor behind the eye or on the surface of the eye or eyelid. Bulging eyes can also signal an injury. If not treated quickly, these conditions can quickly cause blindness.
- Excessive tearing can occur as a result of allergies, pain from corneal ulcers, foreign bodies, or increased pressure. Blocked tear ducts may also result in excess tears spilling over onto the face.
- Cloudy eyes indicate swelling in the cornea. Swelling in the cells of the cornea shows there has been damage to the cornea. Cataracts appear as a white opaque filling of the lens in the center of the eye. They block transmission of light and cause blindness. Cataracts are generally seen as an old age disease, but can be congenital or secondary to diabetes mellitus. Surgery for cataract removal may be an option.
- Green, yellow, or mucoid discharge indicates an infection. Mucous will be produced when there are not enough tears, or the eye is dry.
- Dilated or unequal pupils can be diagnosed by placing a bright light in front of your pet. If the pupils do not constrict in bright light, this is an indication that vision is being lost. This can be secondary to hypertension (heart or kidney disease, hyperthyroidism in cats) or inflammation like SARDS (Sudden Acquired Retinol Degeneration Syndrome) or PRA (Progressive Retinol Atrophy). Unequal pupil sizes can be an indication of an eye problem or a neurologic problem and should be checked as soon as possible.
- Confusion, or bumping into things shows that your pet is having trouble finding their way around should have the eyes checked. Sudden blindness can be an indication of a more serious disease, like lymphoma.
- An elevated (or visible) third eyelid indicates inflammation where the eye is trying to protect itself. This can also be seen in animals that are very thin and have lost the fat that pushes the eye forward in the socket. This is particularly noticed in old, thin cats with chronic kidney disease or untreated hyperthyroidism. Horner's syndrome, which is a disease of the nerves supplying the face, can also result in an elevated third eyelid.
While waiting for an appointment with your veterinarian or the local emergency service, use a gentle drop or gel to moisten and soothe the eye. Products like Genteal or Refresh do not contain petroleum like most eye gels and ointments. Eye problems should not wait days to be seen. Insist on an immediate appointment or take your pet to an emergency clinic.
The final recommendation is to do your research regarding genetic predispositions to eye disease in your dog or cat. Different breeds are prone to different eye problems. In dog breeds for example, English Springer Spaniels are prone to developing glaucoma and cataracts. Collie breeds can develop a range of severities of Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA) which is an incurable condition that effects the retina, choroid and sclera. Boston Terriers and other short-nosed (brachycephalic) breeds are prone to “cherry” eye, as well as excessive tearing. Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is an inherited condition in Abyssinian and Persian cats. Himalayan and Burmese cats can inherit eye defects such as entropion and corneal sequestrum (dark areas of dead tissue in the cornea). These examples are by no means exhaustive. The point is to understand the symptoms of the disease so that it can be diagnosed, monitored and treated in its early stages.
Paying attention to your pet’s eye health can prevent eye diseases from becoming a serious problem. The sooner you notice an issue and act, the better chance there is to treat it with more resources and possibly reverse the problem. If in doubt, do not wait to get your pet to a veterinarian. Your pet’s vision depends on it!