What is a corneal ulcer?
The cornea is the transparent layer covering the front of the eyeball – it is a bit like a windowpane. If it is damaged, then a corneal ulcer can form – these are very painful for the dog and can be very serious in some cases. Some dogs are prone to them developing, with brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds being particularly at risk. These include Pugs, French Bulldogs, Shih Tzus and Boxers.
Corneal ulcers vary from being very shallow and minor, to being much deeper and more serious. Some are deep enough that there is risk of rupture of the eye – these cases must be managed very carefully indeed.
What causes corneal ulcers?
There are various possible causes of corneal ulcers, they include:
- Trauma – this is the most common cause and includes a cat scratch, running into undergrowth etc. The trauma could also be a chemical burn affecting the eye.
- Something stuck in the eye – if there is something in the eye like a grass seed or splinter then this can cause damage to the cornea. Foreign items can become lodged under the third eyelid.
- Dry eye – in this condition the cornea can become dry, sore and inflamed due to a lack of tear production. Certain breeds are predisposed including Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Pugs and West Highland White Terriers.
- Infection – ulcers can be caused by bacterial and viral eye infections.
- Eyelash problems – sometimes eyelashes grow in the wrong place or at the wrong angle – these can scratch the cornea and cause ulceration.
- Entropion – this is a condition in which the eyelids are turned inwards, meaning the eyelashes can rub on the cornea causing ulceration.
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What are the symptoms of a corneal ulcer?
The symptoms can include:
- Red eye
- Squinting or closed eye
- Discharge from the eye
- Dog rubbing at the eye
- Obvious crater on the surface of the eye (with deep ulcers)
- Dog under the weather and not themselves
If you have any concerns about your dog’s eyes, then please contact your vet – corneal ulcers are painful and can be very serious.
How are they diagnosed?
Corneal ulcers are relatively easy to diagnose. The vet will put some special dye into the eye that will stick to any areas of damage and they will then shine a UV light into the eye to show up the dye. The vet will then be able to assess the size and depth of the corneal ulcer to decide what treatment is needed.
Treatment of corneal ulcers
Most corneal ulcers will heal within a week with appropriate treatment – this normally includes antibiotic eye drops or ointment, plus anti-inflammatory pain relief. The dog will also need a buster collar to prevent self-trauma.
With deep ulcers more intensive treatment may well be needed, including very frequent drops in the eyes. Occasionally, surgery may be needed if an eye has been badly damaged or an ulcer is not healing. Referral to an eye specialist (ophthalmologist) may be needed in some cases.