An eye or corneal ulcer in dogs can be traumatic for pet owners and cause discomfort for the dogs themselves. The dog’s cornea, comprising the surface epithelium or corneal epithelium as the outermost layer, next the corneal stroma, and then connective tissue, can be affected by these ulcers. These ulcers can impact any of these corneal layers.
A corneal ulcer causes the cornea in the dog’s eye to erode, causing a dent. This dent may be present on the top layers or in the deeper layers of the cornea. Corneal ulcers are mostly seen in dogs with bulging eyes – typically brachycephalic dogs – such as pugs, Boston terriers, bulldogs, Pekingese, etc.
Let us study everything there is to know about corneal ulcers in canines.
Causes of Corneal Ulcers in Dogs
According to vets, a corneal ulcer typically occurs due to trauma. Here are some other causes of corneal ulceration in dogs:
In dogs with bulging eyes – such as most dog breeds with squashed-in noses- the eyes are susceptible to trauma caused by rubbing the eyes (self trauma), foreign particles, or even dog fights.
Similarly, branches, protruding objects, etc. can be a cause of superficial corneal ulcers or deeper indolent corneal ulcers in these breeds.
Dog breeds like pugs, Boston terriers, Shih Tzu, Boxers, West Highland Terrier, bulldogs, Cocker Spaniels, Pekingese, etc. are at a greater risk of traumatic corneal ulcers.
Chemicals or Household Cleaners
Dogs are usually sensitive to harsh household cleaners. Shampoos, floor cleaners, and detergents can irritate the corneal epithelium and result in eye rubbing. This can cause superficial ulceration in the dog’s cornea.
Both bacterial infections and viral infections can trigger dog corneal ulcers. In general, bacterial causes of corneal ulcers in dogs have a more dramatic and clearer presentation than viral causes.
Likewise, secondary infections due to the following canine eye issues can be a cause of dogs corneal ulcers:
- Dry eye – also known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca, dry eye can result in decreased tear production or lack of tears in dogs. This can cause irritation and redness with constant paw rubbing.
- Abnormal eyelash growth – the eyelash may grow inward and cause ulceration.
- Entropion – some breeds are prone to this condition which causes the lower eyelid or the third eyelid to roll inward. This can cause ulceration as well.
- Ulcerative keratitis – this is an inflammation of the outermost layer of the cornea.
Some breeds genetically inherit epithelial dystrophy and eye issues. These could cause ulcers on the corneal tissue. Breeds typically affected are Cocker Spaniels, Boxers, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, etc. That is why it is important to buy your dog from a good breeder who won’t breed dogs affected with epithelial dystrophy,
Endocrine and Neurological Issues
Some conditions that affect the hormonal gland or endocrine gland and nerves can prevent a dog from blinking normally. These conditions can also affect tear production and result in canine corneal ulcers. Some conditions increase the intraocular pressures in the dog’s eye.
Examples include diabetes, Cushing’s disease, and hypothyroidism.
Symptoms of Corneal Ulcers in Dogs
Most corneal ulcers could result in symptoms like:
- Excess blinking
- Eye redness
- Discharge – yellow, white, green, pus-like
- Eye-watering or excessive tearing or weepy eye
- Visible ulceration
- Swollen eyelid
- Constant eye pawing
- Keeping the eye shut
- Pain or hiding
If left untreated, the affected dog could become blind. In some cases, the deep corneal ulcers may even burst or rupture.
Types of Dog Eye Ulcers
According to experts, dog eye ulcers can be of two types:
- Indolent corneal ulcer – these are superficial ulcers that are usually caused due to trauma. The symptoms include squinting, weepy eyes, redness, holding the eye shut, discharge, rubbing the eye, etc. They may not respond to topical antibiotics as the layers of the epithelium do not adhere well to the stroma underneath. This can result in complicated corneal ulcers or deep ulcers due to poorly healing layers.
- Melting ulcers – A melting ulcer is an extremely serious eye infection caused by Pseudomonas or Beta-haemolytic Streptococcus bacteria.
Treating Corneal Ulcers in Dogs – How Can I Treat my Dog’s Corneal Ulcer at Home and Facilitate Healing?
Please take your pet to the veterinarian’s office for an exact diagnosis and the underlying cause of the corneal ulcer.
They may order some extra tests like the fluorescein dye test (fluorescein stain test) or the Schirmer tear test and prescribe one of the following for your dog corneal ulcer.
- An Elizabeth collar – Also called a buster collar, this will prevent your pet from pawing its affected eye. This is essential for the healing process of corneal ulcer in dogs and to prevent further corneal abrasion.
- Eye drops – these may be topical antibiotics or antiviral drops to prevent ulcers caused by bacterial and viral infections and prevent even more corneal ulcers. Some dogs with keratoconjunctivitis sicca may need lubricating eye drops for keeping the eyes moist. Continue using the antibiotic drops even after the corneal ulcer is completely healed for corneal protection. Antibiotic therapy is a must for the normal healing of a healthy cornea.
- Pain medications – if your dog is in pain, hiding, or showing a lack of appetite, your vet may prescribe non-steroidal pain meds for corneal ulcer.
- Oral antibiotics – this is needed if a bacterial infection is the cause of indolent corneal ulcers. The best antibiotic medicine for treating dog corneal ulceration is neomycin-polymyxin-bacitracin or neomycin-polymyxin-gramicidin. These can speed up the corneal ulcer healing process.
- Surgical therapy- While you can treat uncomplicated ulcers at home, if the corneal ulcer isn’t healing, then surgery may be the only option for complicated ulcers. This may include superficial keratectomy which includes the removal of the very thin layer of the cornea. It could also include diamond burr debridement for stromal ulcers. Dogs with vision loss may benefit from corneal graft.
FAQs on Dog Corneal Ulcer
Can a Dog Recover from Corneal Ulcer?
Yes, most dog corneal ulcers are treatable if caught early. Please see your vet if you notice your dog pawing its eye, or having abnormal discharge, or redness. If caught early, medicines, eye drops, and some preventive measures can prevent blindness in your pet.
What is the cost of diamond burr debridement?
Indolent corneal ulcer treatment is diamond or carbide burr debridement. It can cost almost $1000 with follow-up.
How serious is a corneal ulcer in dogs?
Depending on the underlying cause, corneal ulcer heals or does not heal. If left untreated, corneal ulcers can cause partial or complete blindness in dogs. So, please see your vet right away as soon as you notice the above signs of ulceration or other eye issues in your pal.
How long do eye ulcers last in dogs?
Superficial corneal abrasions or ulcers can last for 5-7 days in most dogs. Antibiotic eye drops can speed up the healing so the ulcers heal quicker, but it depends on the underlying cause.
How to prevent corneal ulcers in dogs?
Protect your dog from indolent ulcers by preventing trauma to the outer surface or corneal surface. Your veterinary ophthalmologist can also prescribe eye dogs to reduce the possibility of eye ulceration in the dog’s eye.
Are eye ulcers painful for dogs?
Yes, some dogs may indicate pain when suffering from dog eye ulcers. They may have lethargy, hiding, or tail tucked in. Some may squint or keep their eye shut all the time.
Do steroids help corneal ulcers in dogs?
Steroids are not the first line of treatment as they may worsen the ulcer or stop it from healing. That is why doctors may recommend a fluorescein dye test before beginning steroid treatment.
Conclusion – Dog Eye Ulcers
Dog eye ulcer can be serious if left untreated. If you suspect your pet has a corneal ulcer, please see your vet immediately.
Early intervention can show good results and can prevent your dog from complicated eye issues including blindness. In rare cases, surgical intervention can prevent dog’s eye ulcer from spreading.