Managing Dry Eye in Dogs

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.

Well controlled "dry eye" eyes are indistinguishable from healthy eyes!

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

Diagnosis:

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.
  • 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.

 

Treatment:
Before  it was known how to regulate tear production, the treatment for dry eye was to surgically transpose the parotid duct (which carries saliva from the parotid gland to the inside of the mouth) from the mouth to an area near the eye, so that saliva would keep the eye moist, comfortable and healthy when tears could not.

 

How cool/resourceful/creative were vets back in the day??  Not that veterinarians today are not, but before we knew about wonderful, non-invasive immune-modulating eye drops (substitute any of a myriad of present day drugs/procedures/supplies that make medicine simpler today), vets had to do what they had to do.

 

Treatment of Dry Eye Today:
-Eye drops.

 

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.

For that reason, as debilitating as dry eye can be if it is not treated (It can cause corneal scarring which can lead to blindness) and as much of a pain as it can be to give eye drops EVERY DAY, dry eye is a much simpler disease than it was even one generation ago.
If you have a dog with eye issues, get him or her to the veterinarian as soon as possible!  If you have a dog with dry eye, take heart!  Though it is a serious immune disease with potentially debilitating consequences if left untreated, diagnosis is straight-forward, treatment is simple and the prognosis is excellent.






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42 comments

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    April 23, 2012 4:11 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Sharon

    My dog suffers with dry eye he is on the medication that you mentioned. It hasn’t cleared it up but I think he is more comfortable when we do the drops. And they get used to it I have been doing it for years.

    Reply
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      January 15, 2013 9:30 pmPosted 1 year ago
      Anonymous

      what kind of drops do you use??

      Reply
  • April 23, 2012 4:15 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Anita

    I looked after a dog who needed eye goo putting in everyday, he was so used to it he just didn’t care when it was done, but without it he had really sore eyes.

    Reply
  • April 23, 2012 4:17 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Wendy

    My dog has dry eye and gets her cyclosporine drops daily…. The drops definitely help but after being outside for awhile you can tell her eyes really bother her.

    Reply
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    April 23, 2012 4:20 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Traci

    We think our border collies have it…..both have issues

    Reply
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    April 23, 2012 4:32 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Marta

    cyclosporine ointment once a day and Genteal severe eye drops throughout the day, with occasional saline wash if there is gunk to clear out – our little Ralph has been on this regiment for 7 years… poor little eye!

    Reply
  • April 23, 2012 5:24 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Sandra

    If this is ignored it could lead to blindness! :(

    Reply
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    April 23, 2012 5:32 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Judy

    Our vet prescribed Optimune ointment for our Pug, and we use it every day. He’s soooo much better with it, even though we still have to wipe his eyes occasionally. His eyes are healthy and moist, not dry and crusty. This ointment is wonderful.

    Reply
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      October 8, 2012 3:24 pmPosted 2 years ago
      Julie

      So did my vet, but its more of a cream and an absolute nightmare for one person to administer. I’m struggling to get any in her eye, even with 2 people (my neighbour). How do you manage?
      I’m going back to my vet for an eye drop

      Reply
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        January 12, 2014 5:31 pmPosted 9 months ago
        Anonymous

        My dog was revovering from eye ulcer when I rescued her, had her on viscotears, which my vet said were no good, eye was clear but still had dry eye and always will, been fine on maxitrol for 6 months, now ulcer has come back, now prescribed clorophenical, and Viscotears both to be given 5 times a day, what a job arthritis both hands ruby very active 2 yr old jack russell, no neighbour to help, daughter calls in when she can , friend does it twice a week, its a nightmare, must be easy way, love my dog to bits so ill do my best, just hope drops go in ….

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          March 17, 2014 7:29 amPosted 7 months ago
          Tatiana

          Hi anonymous sounds like a very similar situation to my poor molly she is a 7year old Maltese Xi have had since she was 2yrs old anyway she has had an ulcer in her left eye for the last 7 weeks, last week at the vet appt she suggested i try viscotears like you and went back to the vet a week later as planned now she has blood vessels in the ulcer appartenly that is good news it means the ulcer is starting to heal but it now means she has dry eye which is causing ulcer that is what my vet says anyway the viscotears only replace the tears that are not there she told me she wants to give me a new medicine to help the dry eye and the ulcer?

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            March 18, 2014 4:05 pmPosted 7 months ago
            Tatiana

            the vet has just prescribed cyclosporine and my little girl does NOT like it at all it must really hurt does anyone KNOW

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          June 29, 2014 2:54 amPosted 4 months ago
          Anonymous

          try putting the drops on your finger (clean) and wiping them in the dogs eye it is the only way i can put drops in my jack russell s eyes she runs away when the bottle is brought anywhere near her

          Reply
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      January 15, 2013 9:32 pmPosted 1 year ago
      jan

      How many times a day do you put the cyclosporine in his eyes? My pug has dry eye now, too.

      Reply
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        June 11, 2013 3:23 pmPosted 1 year ago
        Josie

        Hi Jan:

        My 16-year-old pug has been on eyedrops for half his life now… One drop in each eye, a.m. and p.m. They work well, but the condition itself, even with the drops can lead to blindness, which is what we are now faced with. Tough watching these little guys grow old…

        Reply
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    April 23, 2012 5:40 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Jules

    We just rescued a senior Cocker with dry eye. This is good info to pass on to his new family.

    Reply
  • April 23, 2012 6:15 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Deborah

    bless you cutie pie

    Reply
  • April 23, 2012 6:15 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Martha

    My dog has a severe case of this. Her right eye produces NO TEARS at all. She alway has a yellow puss substance up under her upper eyelid sand on the bottom of both eyes. I use damp, flat cotton balls to wipe any crust away from her eyelids and cornersof her eyes. Then I put 3 BIG drops of “GENTEAL” (a solution for human eyes my vet said to use. It’s much less expenpensive at WalMarts or Targets than in drug or big grocery stores) and leave it in for 1/2 hours. It not only soothes her dry eyes, but washes all down the yellow puss from under her eyelids to the corner of her eyes. It really cleans out the eyes of all of the puss. Then I take more damp, flattened cotton balls and can easily wipe all of the goop out of her eyes so that her eyes are perfectly clean. I pat dry softly outside of her eys so that their dry, then put a large drop of cyclosoporin into what is now each puss-free eye. All while I’m doing this to kept her calm and still (she’s such a sweet dog) I sing a soft song to her making it up as I go along, using her name, telling her I love her, and what a good girl she is. The soft sound of my singing voice puts her at ease as we go through the whole process of taking care of her eyes. I love this dog so much, I don’t care how many times a day I have to do the two-step process on her eyes. She means the whole world to me. When doing anything to your dogs eyes, try singing softly to him/her and see how it calms the dog down so there is no struggle at all to do the job.

    Reply
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    April 23, 2012 7:02 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Kim

    Our last Scottie used cyclosporin twice a day his whole life. He didn’t mind getting the drops at all.

    Reply
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    April 23, 2012 7:57 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Polly

    I have a Cairn Terrier and clean his eyes twice daily. He is so good about sitting and allowing me to clean his eyes. I believe the relief he feels makes him tolerant.

    Reply
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    August 12, 2012 4:24 amPosted 2 years ago
    Judith

    Our Shih Tzu has Dry Eye and our vet recommended we bathe her eye with cold tea. She is usually hard to handle but she has no problems with the tea as it must be soothing,

    Reply
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      July 12, 2014 11:43 amPosted 3 months ago
      Anonymous

      Why type of tea?

      Reply
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    November 22, 2012 3:45 pmPosted 1 year ago
    Anonymous

    I have a 5 year old 95 lb dobie that I have been treating with optimume and genticin and artificial tears and have noticed his eyes go back and forth with more goobers if he is out side playing in the grass and leaves with his freizbee and balls.Have worked at Vet clinic in the past for 28 years and never saw this problem in dobies.I have had 5 in the last 30 years,have seen other health probs but never dry eye in them, seen it in a lot of other breeds.

    Reply
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    January 14, 2013 7:36 pmPosted 1 year ago
    Anonymous

    My terrier/shitzu has just been diagoned with dry eye. He also had a corneal ulsa. The problem was initially with him not accepting any treatment from myself near his eyes, snarling and being defensive. I watched my vet who had a lithuwanian accent administer the eye ointment and my dog let her put the cream in. So, when I got home I put on a foriegn accent and a baby voice and he let me do the task. Since then he has been willing to let me do the drops and cream. Also not holding him atall helped as that just made him more defensive. I also found that when first wearing an elizabethan hat that also helped.

    Reply
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      January 21, 2014 10:37 amPosted 9 months ago
      Jen

      Is this for real? Your dog had an “ulsa”? Your vet had a “lithuwanian” accent that allowed your dog to out the cream in? So you went home and “put on a foreign accent”? How does that work? You put it on like a pair of pants? And just how did wearing the “elizabethan hat” help? Your dog was probably so busy laughing at you he forgot all about his eye problem!

      Reply
  • April 24, 2013 3:38 amPosted 1 year ago
    Olga

    Hi my friend! I wish to say that this post is amazing, nice written and include almost all significant infos.

    Reply
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    June 30, 2013 9:33 pmPosted 1 year ago
    Anonymous

    Have a dobie with dry eyes she get better for awhile but never totally clears up is there a treatment that does not cost a lot to correct it or make it better. She is about 6 years old and only develop this condition in the last year or so. Will this be a life long problem?

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    August 4, 2013 3:01 pmPosted 1 year ago
    Anonymous

    I have a Siberian husky 12 years old just developed dry eye in her left eye only my vet gave me the Cyclosporine drops to try. When I put them in her eye she starts rubbing her eyes like it burns a lot .l also make chamomile tea and wash her eye with it .Its very soothing to her plus I put cvs lubricant gel drops there great I also use them on my pug once in the morning and he’s good to go.

    Reply
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    September 5, 2013 7:26 amPosted 1 year ago
    Anonymous

    My beagle is 7 years and she has really bad dry eyes. She is high maintenance.

    Every morning I clean her eyes with make up remover pads dipped in warm water (the plain cotton ones, NOT scented. Just plain round white pads).
    Then I insert articifical tears (Genteal or something similar from the Chemist), then Tacrolimus in her eyes (2-3 times a day) and Isopto Carpine drops in her food (2 times a day).

    Her eye sight is affected. She almost walks into parked cars, but when we go for a walk she runs around like any other dog.

    Her eyes look disgusting first thing in the morning. They had a yellow puss over them and crusty bits. She is very patient and knows that I am trying to help when I gently clean her eyes.

    The vet suggests an operation (moving the saliva glands up to her eyes) but this would be expensive and I am not sure how effective it would be.

    Reply
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    September 9, 2013 10:41 pmPosted 1 year ago
    Anonymous

    My 6 year old shitzu has been diagnosed with dryeye. I am having so much trouble trying to get the cream in. She wont let me near her face. Its the same when she gets clipped as well. I dont know what to do as if she doesnt have the cream she will go blind and her eye is yellow and pusy

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      February 28, 2014 10:16 amPosted 8 months ago
      Anonymous

      Give her a treat and talk to her to be a good girl u will just have to clean her eyes it works with my shihtzu who also has a dry eyes everytime i clean her eyes and cut the hair around her eyes i just have a treat so she will let me…

      Reply
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    October 10, 2013 5:17 pmPosted 1 year ago
    sara

    I have a blue sbt (4yrs old) who has dry eye (amongst numerous other health problems), I used to buy all his medication from the vet on prescription which I have to say wasn’t for the faint hearted until I discovered I could buy most of it over the counter from the chemist at a much cheaper price!! So now his routine is eyes bathed in the morning with boiled water that has cooled down using individual cotton wool balls to remove any crust or discharge, then thro out the day I administer hypromellose eye drops (cant be up to 5 times per eye per day) and on an evening befor bed he has lacri-lube put in each eye. Sometimes he gets an infection which can only be treated with optimmune from the vet on prescription but that’s rare now we have our routine sorted :-)

    Reply
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    October 14, 2013 4:03 pmPosted 1 year ago
    OJ

    So sad to read about all the problems. My dog was getting up every morning with clear junk in the inner corner of one eye. Since it wasn’t both I thought it was just something in one eye. I would clean it out and next morn same thing. Then it was getting back in it in the middle of the day so I email my vet. She said to get rewetting drops at walmart. I just happened to have Systane drops in my cabinet and she said they were fine. Started putting one drop in every four hours next day no stuff in eye. Second day same thing. Third day went to just twice and she got a little stuff back but not much. So using 3 times a day. She doesn’t act like it bothers her in the least and may give her some comfort because I can say lets put drops in eyes and she will come to me. I am fixing to try Rugbys Artificial tears. If it is not as good will go back to Systane. There are a lot of lubricating drops at walmart that have the same exact ingredients as Systane but be prepared for hours of research just like I am doing now. PS: She did say if I do two drops in one eye wait for 5 minutes in between or the second one will not help.

    Reply
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    October 18, 2013 1:59 amPosted 1 year ago
    Anonymous

    My Cavalier King Charles spaniel was diagnosed with dry eye in early July. We have made countless visits to her vet. She is hard to medicate. Closes her lids and moves her head. I think we have made some headway in getting her well. The debris in her eye is more clear and her eye stays open longer. I am using an eyewash, tacrolimus and Optixcare several times a day and she sleeps in one of those cone things. She is a different dog. I miss the old dog very much.

    Reply
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    November 18, 2013 12:38 pmPosted 11 months ago
    lori

    i am going through this now with kyia. my sister and another person had her for the first 5 years and i beleive was not aware of dry eye, therefor never received any treatment. she was diagnosed at 9 yrs last year and i have the optimmune, the optixcare the isopto tears and the tobrex 0.3 percent. using different ones depending on her condition. she gets eye infections i feel when i dont keep up with a routine, because i never knew you needed one. only when they are inflamed, i thought you stopped treatment when the eye looked good. now i know. but i want to know, if it is an auto immune disorder, why can we not work on the immune system? her eyes have cleared up alot on certain foods, like raw, home cooked or orijen. as well as he skin, she stinks sometimes. gets ear infections and hot spots also. i write to shih tzu rescues for advice because they deal with these issues more than your average vet and have discovered different remedies that work for them that have to be cost affective for them
    . like gold bond powder for hot spots..works amazing.

    Reply
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    November 27, 2013 5:34 amPosted 11 months ago
    Anonymous

    My 9 year old border collie cross was finally diagnosed today with dry eye after 3 weeks of treatment and testing for his recurring eye problems.
    His eyes are red, inflamed and very sore and he has a yellow, thick discharge from his eyes. Mornings so far are the worst time of the day for this eye gunk.
    I have to treat his eyes with Cyclosporine drops twice daily and Ilium Chloropt eye ointment also twice daily for the rest of his life.
    Fingers crossed this works and his eyes get better.
    Thanks to everyone who has commented as I have never heard of this and reading other peoples stories makes me feel better informed of this condition and more prepared for what is to come.

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    December 12, 2013 8:05 pmPosted 10 months ago
    Peter

    We have 3 Cairn terriers and the 15 year old male has dry eye, we use the Optimune ointment on him daily. The 2 bitches don’t have any problems and are similar ages. We just picked up another 3.5g tube of this @$107, we don’t mind paying for meds for our dogs that comes to over $3000 a year but was wondering if there was a cheaper alternative to this particular ointment that was as successful.

    Reply
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    February 1, 2014 5:39 amPosted 9 months ago
    Anonymous

    We have a 3yr old Chinese crested with severe dry eye. Optimune every 8 hrs was not working. Now on tacrolimus,wait 5 minutes then apply optixcare eye lube, wait another 5 minutes then apply an artificial tear ointment. All of this is done every 6 hours-day and night. I love our dog dearly but is there anything else out there???

    Reply
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    March 8, 2014 12:15 pmPosted 7 months ago
    Anonymous

    My five year old west highland terrier has dry eyes .she is having antibiotics and optimune,it is clearing up fine.it has been just a week.is there something I can buy at chemist as this treatment will cost £60pound a month for rest of her hopefully long life.??

    Reply
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    April 17, 2014 12:18 pmPosted 6 months ago
    cq

    Our 7 year old carin terrier has developed dry eye and we are starting recommended treatment of tacrolimus, artifical tears, and mycitra cin/bacineopoly. My conceern is that he has been on atopica for 5 years which is a dose for up to 33 lbs and he weighs 24 lbs. In researching ingredients it looks like tacrolimus and atopica are both compounds of cyclosporine or very similar. I am afraid of the side effects of too much of this medication in his system. Also, the number of times recommended of the 3 meds for dry eye are almost impossible to administer. Tacrolimus 1 x day, artificial tears several times a day, mycitracin/bacineopoly 8 x day. The 8 x a day is not feasible and we don’t know if we can use tears and then ointments immediately afterwards. The expense is unreal; we are willing to do and pay whatever we can but wondering if some of this treatment could be simplified and also less costly. We do want our little terrier to maintain a good quality of life and not change into something that is unhappy or ill from too much medication.

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    June 5, 2014 10:34 amPosted 4 months ago
    Anonymous

    We have an 8 yr old weimeraner that we rescued 4 years ago. He was diagnosed by our vet, and later by a dog ophthalmologist, with dry eye. We were told this could possibly be due to his former bad beginning of being beaten around the head. He has, and continues to be treated daily with eye cleansing, cyclosporine drops 2 x day, etc. but it does not seem to be getting any better. The eye problems began about 2 years ago. He is a sweet boy and comes running for his eye treatments so it’s never a big deal to administer drops and cleaning. Any hope of this ever getting better?

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    July 14, 2014 1:11 amPosted 3 months ago
    Susan

    My 11 year old Cocker has dry eyes. She had the tests at the doctor but I can’t afford the once a day cyclosporin stuff. So she recommended Genteal. I hope this is enuf. She just got over bad conjuctivitis, and that antibiotic gel set me back quite a bit. I am unemployed.

    Reply

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