Dry eye (or keratoconjunctivitis sicca as we so fondly know it) is an insidious disease seen in middle aged to older dogs.
 
The reason for writing about it is to alert people to the problem as, if it is treated when not very advanced, it will respond well to treatment. If untreated it can cause vision loss and discomfort and, the later the diagnosis, the poorer the response you may get.
 
So what is dry eye?
It is a syndrome where a dog loses its ability to produce tears.
 
So why is this such a worry, so what if they can’t cry in sad movies?
The tear film is being produced continually and it lubricates the cornea (the clear part at the front of the eye). If this area stays too dry certain changes occur. The cornea tends to scar and pigment develops in it thus not allowing light to enter the eye normally. As the pigmentation increases, the ability to see reduces until they can become blind.
 
However, in the earlier stages the symptoms we see tend to be milder, such as redness of the eyes. Sometimes they will have a thick discharge that often seems to sit on the eyeball itself rather than being pushed or flushed to the corner of the eye. They are more prone to corneal damage (remember the eye can’t flush foreign material off itself if they can’t produce adequate tears). The eyes would also feel itchy so they may rub them as well.
 
Treatment includes lubricating the eye and using drops which tend to stimulate tear production. (Actually, the medication tends to stop the dog from damaging the tear producing tissue which then leads to them regaining normal tear production). If there is a lot of corneal scarring or the tear production is zero and the tear producing tissue is completely destroyed, then treatment is less successful.
 
To test for dry eye is a simple procedure where we put a piece of blotting paper in the eye and see how much tear production there is over a minute.
 
So, if you have a dog that tends to get recurring red eyes, especially when the eyes do not look watery; or has a thick discharge on the eyeball; it is worth mentioning this on your next visit. Early diagnosis and treatment will always give the best outcome.
Rosalie