Eye (Corneal) Ulcers in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

As the common saying goes, a dog is a man’s best friend. These lovely friends add something special to an otherwise boring life dotted with stressful situations, shattered dreams, and unfulfilled potentials. Unfortunately, they suffer from illnesses just like we do, one of which is eye ulcers.

It’s important to know what this type of ulcer is and the notable symptoms your dog will display so that you can get them immediate veterinary care.

Table of contents:

What is an eye ulcer in dogs?

Eye or corneal ulcers in dogs is the extensive damage to the corneal epithelium, the clear, outermost layer of the eye. Corneal ulcer forms when the damage reaches the stroma where fluid accumulates giving the eye a cloudy appearance.

In case the damage goes beyond the stroma and reaches Descemet’s membrane, a condition called descemetocele forms. It refers to the protrusion of Descemet’s membrane through the damaged corneal stroma.

Descemetocele is a serious condition and if the membrane ruptures, the liquid inside the eyeballs leaks out and the eye collapses. The damage will be irreparable at this stage.

Causes of eye ulcers in dogs

There are several potential causes of eye ulcers in dogs. Some are common while others are not. The causes include:

a). Trauma

Trauma can occur in many ways including lacerations from a cat scratch or contact with a sharp object or blunt trauma resulting from the dog itself rubbing its eyes on items in the house such as the carpet.

b). Chemical burn

Chemical burns from irritants such as shampoo, drywall dust, soaps, and alcohol cause damage to the cornea. You should take greater caution when bathing your dog to ensure these irritants do not get into their eyes.

c). Eyelid abnormalities

Ectopic cilia and entropion are eyelid abnormalities in dogs. Ectopic cilia refer to eyelashes with abnormal growth often causing irritation and damage to the corneal tissue.

Entropion is a condition characterized by the inward folding or inversion of the eyelid. As a result, the eyelashes will rub against the cornea causing abrasion and damage.

d). Dry eye

The condition is also called keratoconjunctivitis sicca and causes ocular discomfort and damage to the cornea. It results from an insufficient amount of tears or poor quality of tears.

e). Eyelid tumors

Eyelid tumors in dogs can be common, especially as they grow older. Most eyelid tumors are benign but irritate the cornea.

f). Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a condition that causes a build-up of pressure and fluid in the eye and affects approximately 1.7% of dogs in North America. It happens due to the excessive production of fluid or when not enough of it gets drained.

This leads to an increase in eye pressure (intraocular pressure), which can cause multiple issues, including corneal ulcers and damage to the optic nerve and the retina.

g). Bacterial and viral infections

Bacterial and viral infections can also occur in dogs. Common symptoms of ocular bacterial and/or viral infections include weeping eyes, watery eyes, yellow/green/white discharge, excessive blinking, redness, and squinting.

Predisposing factors

These are factors that predispose or increase the probability of a dog suffering from eye ulcers. They include

  • Epithelial dystrophy: The weakening of the cornea. The condition can be genetically inherited in some dog breeds such as Boxers.
  • Keratoconjunctivitis sicca: Dryness of the eye caused by low production and quality of tears. The result is the dryness of the cornea.
  • Endocrine disorders: Include hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, and diabetes mellitus.

Symptoms of eye ulcers in dogs

Notable symptoms of eye ulcers in dogs include:

  • Excessive squinting or blinking
  • Pawing of the eye
  • Excessive tearing
  • Cloudy corneal appearance
  • Light sensitivity
  • Ocular redness (congestions)

Corneal ulcers in dogs can be very painful. That’s why you may notice other symptoms that may indicate your dog is in pain.

Diagnosis of corneal ulcers in dogs

The vet can diagnose if a dog has eye ulcers in different ways. They include:

a). Ocular examination

This is the preliminary mode of diagnosis. The vet will do a thorough examination and evaluation of the cornea, conjunctiva, and eyelids looking for the symptoms and/or potential causes of the ulcers.

b). Fluorescein stain test

Minor corneal abrasions are invisible to the naked human eye. Your veterinarian will need to do a fluorescein stain test, which involves applying a fluorescent dye to the cornea and observing under special ophthalmic lights and filters.

c). Tonometry test

This test measures the intraocular pressures. The results help veterinarians to assess if the dog could be suffering from glaucoma.

d). Schirmer tear test

The test measures the production of tears. This help to rule out dry-eye or keratoconjunctivitis as the possible cause.

e). Corneal cytology

Also called cornea culture, the vet will take tissue samples for culture and cell study. This test is mainly used if a bacterial infection is suspected to be the cause.

Treatment of eye ulcers in dogs

Treatment for corneal ulcers in dogs varies depending on the cause and severity of the condition. Superficial eye ulcers may be managed with eye drops, ointment, and topical antibiotics.

Antibiotics do not last long and should be applied frequently while ointments can last a little longer. Your veterinarian will recommend the ideal times to use antibiotics or ointments and how long each application can last.

Severe eye ulcers may require surgery and/or bactericidal and fungal antibacterial antibiotics. Your dog may need long-term medical and/or surgical management if the cause is dry eye, corneal dystrophies, or corneal neoplasia.

Ask your veterinarian if the cause of the ulcer can be addressed. For example, if the cause is something like entropion or ectopic cilia, correcting this will prevent future recurrences. This saves you a lot in medical bills and time spent in veterinary clinics.

Prognosis for corneal ulcers in dogs

The prognosis depends on how severe the condition is and whether the dog is suffering from any other eye infection. Superficial ulcers are easy to treat and manage with antibiotics and therapy. The dog can recover within a week.

Unfortunately, severe corneal ulcers may need advanced treatment options including surgery. It requires to be closely monitored and the prognosis is sometimes hard to determine. A large part of it will rest on factors such as the severity of the condition, underlying causes, secondary infections, and the dog’s response to treatments and therapy.

FAQs about eye ulcers in dogs

Let’s now have a look at a few of the common questions about eye ulcers in dogs.

a). What are the signs a dog has an eye ulcer?

You can tell a dog has an eye ulcer if you notice excessive squinting or blinking, excessive tearing, a cloudy appearance of the cornea, pawing of the eye, eye redness, and heightened sensitivity to light.

b). Can a dog’s eye ulcer heal on its own?

Superficial eye ulcers in dogs may heal on their own. However, your veterinarian will recommend the use of topical antibiotics to reduce the risk of further damage to the eye and also secondary infections. A severe corneal ulcer will not heal on its own and may even require advanced medical treatments.

c). How long does it take for eye ulcers in dogs to heal?

Superficial corneal ulcers can heal within a week and in no more than 2 weeks. However, severe eye ulcers will take time to heal, some taking up to a month to achieve full recovery.

Final thoughts

Eye ulcers in dogs are quite manageable and can be treated to full recovery if you take immediate action early. Seek veterinary assistance for your dog if you notice any of the symptoms highlighted above. Late intervention might mean your dog might not recover fully.