Many people and about one in twenty dogs suffer from Dry Eye, also known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca. It is even more common in certain breeds, including the West Highland White Terrier, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, English Cocker Spaniel, English Springer Spaniel, Pug, Bulldog, Lhasa Apso, Shih-Tzu, Yorkshire Terrier and Pekingese. For these the risk may be doubled.
There are several possible reasons why the eyes may become dry, all associated with a reduction in natural tear production. The most common reason is an autoimmune disease. The pet’s own immune system attacks and irreversibly destroys the glands that produce the tears.
I once fell asleep with my contact lenses, that were not designed to stay in overnight, still in my eyes. When I woke up the discomfort in my eyes was horrid! It felt like my eyelids were lined with sandpaper and they were scraping the sensitive surface of my eye with each blink. I almost had to peel them off my eyeballs to see. I learnt the hard way how nasty this feels!
As our dogs cannot complain about how dry their eyes are feeling in the early stages of this disease, it can advance unnoticed until the dryness results in ulceration of the surface of the cornea, and potentially even perforation of the eyeball, which can cause irretrievable changes and even blindness.
If diagnosed, treatment involves daily eye drops for the rest of the pet’s life, as there is no perfect cure, but it is easy to diagnose. I recommend a simple Schirmer Tear test taking just a few minutes for all at risk breeds twice a year, and for any dog showing symptoms of an eye problem. If caught in the early stages we can slow down the autoimmune damage with an eye ointment that suppresses the immune system just in that area.
For July and August, we are offering a free of charge Schirmer Tear test to all our dog owners, especially those of at risk breeds. If your pet has not already had this done, call 01444 456886 to make an appointment. To read more about Dry Eye, go to dog-dry-eye.co.uk/about-kcs.