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A Guide To Dry Eye / Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) in Dogs

Aimee Labbate
  • Aimee Labbate

  • RCVS: 700039


What is dry eye in dogs?

Dry eye, or keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), is a painful condition where the tear glands stop working properly, and no longer produce the tears that lubricate the eyes. This causes the eyes to dry out, making them sore and inflamed and at risk of corneal ulceration.

What causes dry eye in dogs?

There are two main causes of KCS, they are:

  • Immune-mediated dry eye – this is the most common form and occurs when the dog’s immune system starts to attack the tear glands, destroying them.
  • Certain breeds are predisposed to developing this form of KCS including Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Pugs and West Highland White Terriers.
  • Neurogenic dry eye – this form can occur when there is damage to the nerves that control the tear glands. This form tends to be temporary, with the nerves usually healing with time.

In addition, certain hormonal problems (e.g. hypothyroidism) can occasionally cause dry eye, as can certain medications.

What are the symptoms of dry eye in dogs?

The symptoms can include:

  • Sticky eye
  • Red eye
  • Eye looks cloudy
  • Discharge from the eye (can be dried around the eye)
  • Cornea lacks the normal shine
  • Dog rubbing at the eye
  • Recurrent eye infections
  • Closing the eye or blinking more than usual
  • Corneal ulcers

If you have any concerns about your dog’s eyes, then please contact your vet.

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How is dry eyes in dogs diagnosed?

Dry eye is relatively easy to diagnose. Your vet will place small strips of paper under your dog’s lower eyelids – these absorb the tears that are produced, and so they can measure the tear production over a given period of time e.g. 30 seconds. Dogs with KSC have a lower tear production than normal.

How is dry eye in dogs treated?

For most cases of dry eye (e.g. the immune-mediated version) treatment must be life-long. It will include medicated eye drops to help improve tear production. The most commonly used medication is cyclosporine (‘Optimmune’) – this works by stopping the immune system from further destroying the tear glands. It works best when it is started early in the course of the disease, when there is still some functional tear gland tissue remaining.

You dog is also likely to be prescribed artificial tears to help to lubricate the eyes – they need to be given several times a day.

Antibiotic eye drops may need to be given from time to time, as dogs with dry eye are more at risk of developing eye infections.

The eyes are prone to forming sticky discharge around them so will need to be kept clean to prevent the skin from getting sore. Your vet can show you how to wipe the fur around your dog’s eyes with cotton wool soaked in warm water to keep them clean.

In severe cases that do not respond to medical treatment, there is a surgical procedure than can be performed by specialist vets. It involves re-routing the duct from one of your dog’s salivary glands into their eye, so that their saliva then lubricates their eye! While this can be successful, the saliva can be irritating to some dog’s eyes, so is only ever done as a last resort where other treatment hasn't worked.

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