The health of our pet’s eyes is extremely important. Healthy eyes of dogs and cats are moist and clear. If you notice a change in your pet’s eyes or vision, don’t hesitate to have your pet seen by a veterinarian.  Some eye conditions can be very painful and discomforting, while others can lead to vision loss or blindness.  Below are some of the most common ailments associated with a pet’s eyes and vision.

Abnormal Tear Production
‘Tear staining’ is a common problem with particular breeds of dogs (e.g., Poodles and Cocker Spaniels), and can get unsightly if not taken care of. Tears are bactericidal, which means they kill the bacteria that can cause infections of the eye. Normally, tears flow across the surface of the eye and quickly drain through the tear duct. This discoloration at the corners of the eyes is caused by normal tears that spill out and lay on the surrounding hair. For breeds that tend to have tear or saliva stains, you could clean hair in affected areas at least weekly with a tear stain remover product or a baking soda/white vinegar paste. Leave paste on for about three minutes and comb out with a fine tooth comb.
Chronic dry eye is a condition in which the tear ducts do not produce enough tears, or the ducts become blocked, therefore, not allowing enough tears to be secreted to coat and condition the eye. Without treatment, dry eye syndrome can lead to bacterial infections or corneal irritation and damage. Treatment is typically non-invasive and involves applying saline drops several times daily.  Surgery may be required to correct blocked or narrow tear ducts.

Infection
Eye infections are not only uncomfortable for your pet, they may become chronic or lead to permanent eye damage if not treated promptly. An eye infection in your pet can be caused by a number of factors, such as:
• a foreign object or irritant in your pet’s eye
• allergens
• a congenital defect of the tear ducts
• bacteria and/or viruses.
Symptoms of eye infection include:
• swollen or red eyes or eyelids
• crusty eye discharge
• watery clear, green, yellow, or reddish eye discharge
• squinting or excessive blinking
• cloudy iris (the colored part of the eye)
• pawing or scratching at the eyes

Eye Infection Prevention
Eye infections are more likely to affect pets with a weakened immune system. Protect your pet by providing a well-balanced diet of quality pet food, including sufficient protein. Limit stress on your pet’s immune system from chemicals, air pollutants and obesity.
Simple hygiene also helps prevent irritation and infection.  Keep all hair out of your pet’s eyes since scratches to the cornea can result from contact with hair. Keep eyes clear of mucus at all times as mucus often harbors bacteria that may lead to infection. Use a sterile eyewash and/or eye wipes to keep eye area clean.  Apply a protective ophthalmic ointment under the top lid to protect the eyes before bathing, facial cleanings, and insecticide treatment.

Veterinary Care
If your pet experiences symptoms of eye infection for longer than 48 hours without improvement you need to take your pet to a veterinarian. Obviously, if your pet is in pain or you suspect eye damage, immediate care will be needed.

Cataracts
Cataracts are common in older dogs and rarely in older cats. You might notice a milkiness in your pet’s eyes as they age. A healthy lens is transparent and used for focusing to enable clear, sharp vision, and through the lens adjustments enable dogs or cats to see things clearly, up close and far away. If you have an older dog and it’s eyes appear a bit hazy or opaque it may be normal. This can be a normal change due to aging. Your veterinarian will be able to distinguish if this is age-related clouding which is called ‘nuclear sclerosis,’ or if it is caused by cataracts
Although the exact cause of cataracts in dogs or cats is not known, chemical changes within the lens may contribute to cataract development. Other factors such as genetics, congenital defects, eye infection, trauma to the eye, nutritional deficiencies, exposure to heat or radiation, toxins, eye disorders or diabetes may also be associated with cataracts.

Glaucoma
Glaucoma is typically increased pressure within the eye, and affects animals in the same way that it affects humans. Cells inside the eye produce a clear fluid called “aqueous humor” that maintains the shape of the eye and nourishes the tissues inside the eye. The eye is constantly producing more aqueous humor, and draining the excess to maintain the proper balance and eye pressure. Most cases of glaucoma occur when the drain becomes clogged, resulting in the increase in eye pressure. A sudden rise in pressure can damage the retina and the optic nerve.  The damage is permanent and irreversible, resulting in partial or total vision loss.
Glaucoma is classified as either primary or secondary in animals.  Primary glaucoma is an inherited condition, and is the most common cause of glaucoma in dogs, particularly American Cocker Spaniels, Basset Hounds, Chow Chows, Shar Peis, Labrador Retrievers, and Huskies. Primary glaucoma is rare in cats.  Secondary Glaucoma occurs when other eye diseases cause decreased fluid drainage. Common causes of secondary glaucoma are inflammation inside the eye (uveitis), advanced cataracts, cancer in the eye, lens subluxation or luxation, and chronic retinal detachment. Glaucoma in cats is usually secondary to chronic uveitis.
Determining if your pet has primary or secondary glaucoma is important because the treatment needed and the prognosis for vision is different for each type. Veterinary ophthalmologists are able to determine the type and cause of glaucoma in your pet.

Symptoms of glaucoma include:
• an enlarged pupil that doesn’t constrict normally in bright light.
• Red, teary and cloudy eyes
• Dilated pupil
• Cloudiness in the cornea
• Pain, which may be exhibited by:
o Squinting
o Holding the eye closed or keeping the third eyelid up over the eye
o Crying out, if eye is bumped
o Rubbing eye with a paw, or rubbing face against furniture and carpets.
o Personality changes, such as depression, lethargy and sleepiness

Treatments
The treatment your doctor recommends will depend on the type of glaucoma your pet has. It may include: eye drops or pills to reduce the fluid pressure, surgery treatments-ranging from laser treatment to removal of a blinded eye-or a combination of both.
The important thing to remember is that immediate medical attention is needed in order to preserve your pet’s eyesight, if you suspect that it has glaucoma. At the same time, though, you can support your pet’s vision by giving it nutritional support.

Retinal Degeneration
Retinal degeneration refers to a number of progressive eye diseases that lead to blindness. When the disease comes on slowly it is referred to as Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA). Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration (SARD) can also develop spontaneously without any previously perceptible signs.
Retinal degeneration is commonly believed to be an incurable genetic condition. Some studies relate the condition to inadequate nutrition in both dogs and cats and specifically taurine deficiency in cats. Because it is an inherited disease, retinal degeneration is more likely to appear in certain breeds.

Symptoms
• dilated pupils
• more visible eye shine from the back of the eye
• walking into objects
• unwillingness to jump up onto objects
• reluctance to go outside
• poor vision in dim light or darkness.

Since this condition so often results in blindness it is important to be aware of your pet’s needs as the condition progresses. Cats generally adapt fairly well to life with diminished sight since they rely so heavily on their senses of smell and hearing. Dogs can cope with a loss of sight as well, but you should ensure that the home environment stays consistent and uncluttered; your dog can walk into furniture that has been moved or trip on unaccustomed objects left on the floor. Scent the areas at the top and bottom of household stairs with air freshener or other natural fragrances so that your dog can orient himself. Be sure that your dog still gets enough exercise as he may be more timid when outdoors than he once was and might be more prone to obesity due to inactivity.
Studies that do cite other potential causes of retinal degeneration besides genetic factors indicate that
• Afflicted pets benefit from the DHA and DPA compounds in Omega 3 fatty acids
• Cats require supplemental taurine
• Complementary Care such as supplements CoQ10, antioxidants, and herbs that support eye health can be beneficial. Eyebright and bilberry are two herbs integral to holistic cataract treatment.

Monitoring your pet’s eyes closely is the best possible prevention. Do not hesitate to contact a veterinarian if you suspect something is wrong. Your pet’s eyes are too valuable to take any chances.

Works Cited:
Natural Eye Care, Dr. Marc Grossman; http://pets.naturaleyecare.com/
Eye Care for Dogs; Drs. Foster & Smith, Inc., Dr. Marty Smith, DVM. http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=2+2092&aid=279

Love, The PetsWell Team

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