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Ocular Discharge in Dogs – Could Your Pet Have Dry Eye?

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Michele Edelmann, VMD, DACVO
Garden State Veterinary Specialists


It is not uncommon for our canine companions to have occasional mild ocular discharge or crust, especially in the morning after a night’s sleep. However, ocular discharge that occurs throughout the day is often overlooked as an important sign of ocular disease.

There are several treatable disorders that may manifest with signs of increased ocular discharge. One of the most common is dry eye disease.

What are normal tears for?
Tears are critically important for maintaining a healthy, clear cornea, which is the outer layer of the eye. Tears provide nutrition to the cornea, and remove metabolic waste products. The eye must be continuously bathed in a thin layer of healthy tears. During times of injury or irritation, for instance if dust gets on the cornea, the eye will reflexively increase production of tears to help flush out the debris. There are three basic components to a normal/healthy tear film in animals: aqueous (water), lipid (fat), and mucins (mucus).

What is dry eye? What are the common signs?
Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) is the medical term for the condition commonly known as dry eye. In dogs, this is often an immune-mediated condition, where the immune system wrongfully attacks the tear glands, usually leading to decreased amounts of watery tears. To compensate for this deficiency, the eye may overproduce lipid or mucinous tears. This is typically seen as increased sticky, mucous discharge from the eye(s), which may need to be cleaned away several times a day. The discharge may be white, brown, yellow or green. Dogs with dry eye often have a history of corneal ulcers. With severity and chronicity, corneal cloudiness and redness will develop.

What are possible complications of dry eye?
In addition to being uncomfortable, dry eye can lead to serious ocular problems. If untreated, dogs with dry eye are predisposed to secondary bacterial infections (“pink eye”), painful corneal ulcerations, and corneal scarring which can be blinding.

What is the treatment?
Most cases of dry eye respond very well to twice-daily topical medication called Cyclosporine. This medication locally suppresses the immune system to result in increased production of tears within 4-6 weeks of therapy. It can take up to 4-6 weeks of diligent twice daily dosing until the medication begins to improve tears. This topical therapy must be continued lifelong to maintain control of the disease. Application of water-based lubricants can help provide 10-15 minutes of symptomatic relief from dryness, but does not increase tear production like medication.

How can dry eye be diagnosed?
A consultation with a veterinary ophthalmologist is recommended. A tear test can be performed to measure the amount of tears produced per minute in each eye. The ophthalmologist will also utilize a slit lamp biomicroscope to examine the eyes and determine if changes are consistent with dry eye.


This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for the professional advice of your veterinarian.

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