Dry eye or keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) is a relatively common disease of dogs that causes decreased tear production. It is most often an immune disorder in which the components of tears are available, but production is interrupted by the dog’s own immune system, resulting in dry, itchy, crusty eyes. The lacrimal glands (tear producing glands) become inflammed and unable to produce as many tears as the eyes need to keep the cornea lubricated.
Causes of Dry Eye in Dogs:
- Immune disorder (most common)
- Drug reaction
- Removal of gland of the third eyelid to treat “cherry eye” (rarely done anymore, because of the risk of developing dry eye)
- Other less common things can cause dry eye as well.
lacrimal – pertaining to tears
kerat/o – cornea (the clear outer covering of the front of the eye)
conjunctiv/a – conjunctiva (the soft tissue surrounding the eye)
itis – inflammation
sicca – dry
If your dog has any abnormal eye discharge, squinting, eye redness or other signs of discomfort or abnormalities, see your veterinarian right away! Eye issues are at least as urgent as any other health concern for several reasons…
- Eye disease is often uncomfortable (as with dry eye) or outright painful.
- Eye issues can progress rapidly.
- Eye disease can be a symptom of a larger problem.
- Eye diseases can result in blindness – Sometimes this is unavoidable, but sometimes (as is the case with dry eye) the progression of the disease can be slowed or stopped all together and sight can be protected.
Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam and one or more eye tests…
- A Schirmer tear test is the diagnostic test of dry eye. A thin strip of paper is folded and placed on the cornea. (Yes, that is as annoying as it sounds, but dogs are surprisingly good sports about it!) By measuring the amount of tears wicked up onto the paper in a minute, we can determine whether enough tears are being produced.
- A complete eye exam with an ophthalmoscope will probably be done to look for concurrent or related problems.
- A fluorescein test may be done to look for corneal ulcers.
- Other tests may be needed to diagnose or rule out dry eye and diagnose any concurrent problems.
Usually dry eye is treated with daily or twice daily cyclosporine drops or ointment or tacrolimusdrops or ointment. Much less cool/resourceful/creative, except that it is better all around…for the pet, for the family, for the veterinarian who has to say “Drip these drops in the eye,” instead of spending hours on a complex face-rearranging, spit-in-the-eye surgery.