How Corneal Ulcers Affect Dogs
Ulceration of the cornea is extremely painful. Corneal ulcers can appear suddenly or slowly. The dog may have a history of recent trauma (hit by car, kicked by horse, etc.). The most universal signs of corneal ulcers are squinting, excessive tearing and rubbing at the eye(s), either with their paws or often by rubbing their face on the ground. Affected dogs may be intolerant of light. Over time, dogs with corneal ulcers can become depressed, lose their appetite and become lethargic. Owners may notice that their dogs’ eyes are red and swollen, that their pupils are smaller than normal or that the eye surface seems cloudy. In more serious cases, corneal ulcers can actually rupture, causing a frightening discharge of pus and/or blood to come out of the eye.
Symptoms of Corneal Ulcers
Ulceration of the cornea is extremely painful. Corneal ulcers can develop suddenly or slowly, although acute onset is more frequent. Occasionally, there is a history of recent trauma (hit by car, kicked by horse, etc.), although most of the time the owner has not witnessed any traumatic incident.
The most universal signs of corneal ulcers include the following:
- Squinting (blepharospasm)
- Tearing and tear-staining around the eyes
- Rubbing at the eyes, either with paws or by rubbing and scooting the face along the ground
- Intolerance of light; shying away from bright light (called “photophobia”)
- Lack of appetite (anorexia; inappetance)
- Red, swollen eyes (corneal edema)
- Cloudy eye surface
- Small pupils (myotic pupils)
- Bloody discharge from eye
- Pus discharge from eye
- Corneal rupture
As corneal ulceration becomes more chronic, the signs of pain tend to decrease. The rubbing and pawing by dogs with corneal ulcers unfortunately can prolong or even prevent healing and can further damage the cornea. If you notice these signs in your dog, make a prompt visit to your veterinarian, who after examining your dog may refer you to a veterinary eye specialist (ophthalmologist).
Dogs At Increased Risk
There is no age or gender predisposition to development of simple or complex corneal ulcers. They are especially common in Boxers and other brachycephalic breeds with short noses, flat faces and broad foreheads. Other risk factors include dogs that are highly excitable, are prone to fighting (especially with cats) or are used for hunting or otherwise spend a lot of time outdoors romping through heavy brush. Dogs with bulging eyes also are at an increased risk, including the Pekingese, Maltese, Boston Terrier and Pug, among others. Refractory or indolent corneal ulcers tend to be seen more frequently in middle-aged to older neutered or spayed dogs, although they too can occur at any age or in any breed. Breeds that seem predisposed to developing indolent corneal ulcers include the Boxer, Samoyed, Dachshund, Miniature Poodle, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Wire Fox Terrier and Shetland Sheepdog.