Eye injuries and conditions
Last week I was keen to see Terror again. The feeling is not mutual, but Terror has never told me why.
Terror is a fawn-coloured, proud male Pug with a typical black muzzle. He is about two years old and in his prime.
I’ve seen Terror on and off for a variety of minor problems since he was a puppy. This time, one of his eyes was very badly injured; it had happened about 10 days earlier and he was due for a check-up.
Pugs have become very popular in Malta over the past few years, and it is nice to see a large number of these beautiful dogs around. Several Maltese Pugs have been shown abroad with great success.
What is interesting about Pugs is that they are a very ancient breed originating from China and their genes have been important in the development of successive breeds such as the Pekinese, the King Charles Spaniel, and even the English Bulldog. Pugs are always full of character, and it is a good thing that they come as a toy breed… but, please, don’t tell them I said so.
There are a number of eye problems that these pets can suffer from and it is very important that they are dealt with in the right way. As you can imagine, with some eye conditions, time is of the essence and may make a huge difference on the outcome.
Another thing to remember is that pets’ eyes are certainly one area where treatment by their owners can be very dangerous; whenever a pet has an eye problem, one should immediately have it seen to by a veterinarian.
With Terror, the problem was a scratch on his eyeball. Scratches on the eye are very typical of small breeds, such as Pugs and Pekinese, because they have large protruding eyes. This type of eye shape is prone to injuries when they explore dense foliage, or when they get into a scrap with other dogs or cats.
Scratches on the eyes are very painful and one of the most visible symptoms is eye-twitching. This twitch should alert the owner that something is wrong and that the pet needs to be taken to the vet.
Thankfully, there are some very effective medications for this type of problem, but the treatment needs to start as soon as possible.
Cataract is a condition whereby the eye lens loses its transparency and becomes white and opaque. Cataracts are typical of older dogs and develop very gradually. Luckily, old dogs with cataracts still manage to get around the house and familiar places extremely well, mostly due to their acute sense of smell.
In rare cases when cataracts occur in young dogs, veterinarians will look for medical causes such as diabetes.
Glaucoma is a condition that causes the whole eyeball to increase in size. This is very serious and requires specific medical treatment. The liquid in the eye, called humor, is not a stagnant liquid; it is continuously drained and replenished. Whenever this balance is altered due to impaired drainage of the humor, the pet can get glaucoma.
Conjunctivitis is an eye inflammation which causes the pet to have watery and bleary eyes. This could be caused by dust or smoke irritation.
Pets with long fur, especially poodles, can suffer constant eye irritation due to the hairs around the eye continuously entering it. When this occurs, it is wise to have the fur around the eye area trimmed, or have the fur on the head tied back.
An important infectious conjunctivitis in kittens is that caused by a bacterium called chlamydia. This is very common when there are many cats living together, especially in colonies. When not treated early, their eyes may become permanently damaged, or one or both eyes lost altogether.
Entropion is a condition most commonly seen in breeds such as Pointers and Dalmations. This occurs when the lower eyelid is overgrown from birth, and folds into the eye.
The continuous presence of hair and skin in the eye causes a constant irritation and so may be considered another cause of conjunctivitis. Entropion is a condition which very often can be resolved surgically with great success.
Foreign bodies can also get lodged in the eye. I have seen a number of cases where grass seeds get lodged deep under the eyelid and are not immediately visible.
One can imagine the huge discomfort such large foreign bodies cause, as well as the need to urgently remove them.
Although many have heard about the nictitating membrane or the third eyelid they are not sure of its purpose. The third eyelid is a fold of skin in the corner of the eye closest to the nose which is found in dogs, cats and some other mammals.
This membrane, which is also typical of birds and reptiles, is there to provide added protection and moisturising of the eye. Many cat owners have seen this, as it typically protrudes in cats when they are not feeling well.
Dog owners who have come across this membrane are mostly owners of English Bulldogs, which frequently suffer from an inflammation of the third eyelid and need to have it surgically removed.
This is, by no means, a full chronicle of all the things that can go wrong in the eye. One could also mention chronic inflammation of the cornea, which needs special treatment to prevent blindness, as well as problems with the inner eye such as retinal detachment, which can happen in both dogs and cats.
Understanding eye problems in dogs or cats could go a long way to help controlling or resolving them.
Terror did come in last week, and despite protesting to his owners over the past 10 days, I am glad to report that his eye was well on its way to a full recovery.
Dr Martin Debattista is a veterinary surgeon.