How to make sure that your dog’s eyesight is being properly cared for.
Just like us, dogs only get one pair of eyes to last them a lifetime, which means that taking care of your dog’s eyes is hugely important. A younger, healthy dog shouldn’t have too many problems, but there are quite a few everyday diseases and ailments to look out for.
One of the most common eye maintenance tasks you’ll have is cleaning around your dog’s eyes. Doing this on a regular basis is recommended as there is often a discharge in the inner corners of their eyes that most people probably refer to as ‘sleep’. It’s fairly normal for this to happen each night, and is generally a collection of dried out tears, dead cells, oil and mucus which should be clear or slightly brown. The tears are not because your dog is sad! They are a sign that your beloved companion is maintaining their own eye health, providing essential oxygen to the cornea, and removing debris from the surface of the eye. If the amount of your dog’s ‘sleep’ is fairly consistent, it’s a good sign that things are going well in the eye department. Use a saline solution and a soft material to wipe away the sleep, before it hardens and causes irritation.
Talking of sleep, do keep a lookout for how your pooch behaves when sleeping. Just like us, dogs have different stages, and depths, of sleep. Twitching eyes most often mean rapid eye movement dreams. Watching your dog’s body twitch as it dreams can be quite amusing, too. However, be aware that if your dog's eyes are wide open and apparently staring blankly, that this, together with involuntary sounds and body movements, could be signs of a seizure.
One way of telling whether your dog is experiencing eye problems that aren’t immediately noticeable to you, is if they’re rubbing their eyes with their forepaws, or showing other unusual signs of irritation in that part of their face. It could be something as innocuous as a misbehaving eyelash, but we recommend that you seek expert help from your vet at your earliest opportunity as eye conditions can deteriorate quite rapidly.
The most common ailment is likely to be conjunctivitis, also known as pinkeye, which is an inflammation of the membrane lining the eyelids and whites of the eyes. A sterile saline solution is a good thing to keep in your canine first aid kit, and rinsing can flush the eye. But this is a short-term relief rather than a cure if the eye is indeed infected. Conjunctivitis can also point to an underlying disease such as a bacterial, viral, parasitic or tick-borne infection.
Bloodshot eyes are also common, and can be caused by a number of factors, such as environmental irritants in the air, and allergens; by trauma when something like a small blade of grass, or sand gets into the eye; by corneal ulcers, or glaucoma. In other words, some causes are fairly minor, but some could need urgent medical attention.
Keep an eye out, too – if you’ll pardon the pun! - for things like cloudiness; what looks like a third eyelid; changes in eye colour; swelling around the eyelid; and even unequal pupil sizes. Again, these are signs that your dog needs to be examined by your vet. It’s also wise to check the inner lining of the eye: it should be a healthy pink, so if it’s white or red, there is something wrong.
Other diseases to watch out for include Cherry Eye, which looks the way it sounds – a red inflammation of the tear gland that is about the size of a small cherry. It might be less painful than it looks, but obviously needs immediate attention and treatment.
There’s also Blepharospasm, the technical term for involuntary twitches and blinks of the eyelid that humans also get. It’s not a disease as such, but quite possibly a symptom of something else. Don’t leave it unchecked.
Then there’s Ectropion, which is when the eyelid sags, or rolls outwards. This tends to be associated with breeds such as Bassets, Spaniels, and some of the bigger breeds, but it’s not exclusive to them. Entropion, on the other hand, is the opposite: the eyelid rolls inwards, on itself.
You can boost your dog’s eyesight with blueberries, which are in fact among the best ingredients for keeping your dog’s eyes healthy. Blueberries contain carotenoids, flavonoids and phytonutrients, plus zinc and selenium.
Something to worry about in all dogs, but particularly in older dogs, is blindness. If your dog bumps into the furniture, or even the walls, or has difficulty finding his food or toys, then it’s likely his vision is going. If he seems reluctant to make eye contact with you, or to jump on to the sofa; or if you sense a growing anxiety, these are tell-tale signs that all is not well with his vision. Get him checked.
Depression can grow out of this loss of eyesight. You’ll notice that your dog might seem less interested in the world around them, or in their food. Often they’ll spend unusual amounts of time sleeping and they no longer enjoy the things that kept them busy and alert. These are signs of depression to discuss with your vet.
You’ll probably be aware of the normal signs of ageing in your dog, one of which is deteriorating vision. This is to be expected. However, do watch for sudden changes in behaviour that suggest serious, acute deterioration. When in doubt, consult your vet.
Your beloved dog’s eyes are extremely precious. Wherever and whenever possible, err on the side of caution in caring for them.