Eye emergencies in dogs and cats

1st December 2017


Eye problems in dogs and cats are common with many of them being chronic in nature; some however are real emergencies and need urgent attention.

Understanding the differences between these conditions is important, so we thought a short article to explain what needs to be seen straight away would be helpful.

Some breeds are more susceptible to problems than others, with short nosed dogs and cats being perhaps the most common. Pugs, Boxers, Shi-tzus, Shar-Peis, Chihuahuas and Persians are all regular patients we see with urgent eye complaints.

If your pet's eye looks painful, uncomfortable and abnormal, don't delay. Call us straight away for some advice and book an appointment on the same day.


Look out for these eye emergencies

1. Corneal Ulcer

These are probably the most common acute eye condition we see and occur when the outer cell layer of the surface of the eye is damaged and eroded. They are often caused by a scratch or injury to the corneal tissue from a blade of grass, a bramble or dust and wind. Some ulcers are caused by the tear flow across the eye being compromised and the surface of the eye becoming too dry.

Many ulcers can be treated with eye drops alone, whilst some require some form surgery. In extreme cases the ulcer deepens and erodes so much that the cornea can actually rupture causing the eye to collapse.

2. Bulging eye (proptosis)

If you own a Pug, Bulldog, Shih-tzu or indeed any brachycephalic breed (with a short nose and flat face), you’ve got to be particularly aware of this condition where the eye can bulge forwards with the eyelids trapping the eye ball out of the socket. It’s referred to as 'proptosis' and is a true emergency. Don’t hesitate to call us immediately if you see this.

Unfortunately, even with our care the animal may lose the eye. It all depends on how long the eye has been out of the socket and how much damage the eyeball has sustained. The muscles, nerves and blood supply to the eye can all be permanently injured. If we are in time, the eye can be replaced under an anaesthetic and the eyesight saved.

3. Corneal tear

We tend to see this kind of injury in cats, particularly unneutered cats as a result of sharp nails being sliced across the cornea during a fight. It can also occur in exuberant dogs running though bushes resulting in a sharp object in the undergrowth puncturing the cornea.

Look for an animal keeping its eye completely shut and refusing to let you have a look. The condition is extremely painful and needs immediate surgery to save the eye.

If you spot these signs call us straight away.

4. Lens luxation

This is when the focusing lens within the eye slips out of position and moves forwards in front of the iris. In some breeds such as the Bedlington Terrier, Border Collie, Fox Terrier, Jack Russel Terrier and West Highland White Terrier the lens can spontaneously luxate. Other breeds can also develop the problem as a result of an injury, particularly in road traffic accidents.

Compared to the normal eye, a lens luxation can look like a very dilated pupil with a large black centre. It can also have a bluish or whitish appearance. It tends to be painful and can lead to blindness in the eye if untreated.

Treatment involves surgery to remove the lens to save the eye. This is a difficult diagnosis and may require a referral to an eye specialist. Our vets will be able to help make the diagnosis and point you in the right direction.

5. Acute Glaucoma

Glaucoma occurs when the pressure in the eye increases. It’s painful and leads to secondary changes including blindness. Both eyes can be affected though it tends to develop in one eye first. Look for a discoloured and inflamed eye with a red appearance. There may be discharge and blinking (blepharospasm) indicating pain. At Bollington Veterinary Centre we see it more frequently in certain breeds such as the Cocker Spaniel, Basset and Shi-tzu.

Acute glaucoma needs to be seen by a vet and treated immediately, so if you are worried don’t delay.

Glaucoma can be treated with eye drops and tablets to manage and reduce the fluid pressure in the eye.

6. Pupils of different sizes (anisocoria)

If one pupil is a different size compared to the other, our vets at Bollington Veterinary Centre will need to take a look. We need to determine whether one eye is abnormally large or small. There are a number of conditions that might cause this including infection, cancer, trauma and inflammation. We would consider this problem a medical emergency so if it appears suddenly, call us straight away.

7. Blindness

Sudden blindness is an emergency situation. There are all sorts of conditions that can cause this including a retinal detachment, a brain tumour, loss of blood flow to the brain and high blood pressure.

Cataracts can also cause blindness, but they tend to develop slowly and cause a visible cloudiness of the lens.

We need to see these animals urgently to make a diagnosis.

Our vets may run blood and urine tests, perform an ultrasound examination of the eye or refer to a specialist for a CT or MRI scan.

8. Retinal haemorrhage

This is where bleeding of the blood vessels in the retina occur leaving a blood clot within the eye. You’ll see the eye looking cloudy or red inside.

We tend to expect this problem in animals with;

  • High blood pressure – old cats with chronic kidney failure and hypertension
  • Immune-mediated diseases – dogs and cats with thrombocytopaenia and haemolytic anaemia
  • Cancer – usually a tumour within the eye
  • Trauma – particularly after road traffic accidents
  • Diabetes – chronic changes to blood vessel walls allow spontaneous bleeding
Worried about you pet's eye? Call us now