Eye Health and the Senior Dog
Just like us, dogs eyes change as they age, these changes can be concerning for pet parents as they may notice a difference in the appearance of their dogs’ eyes. Let us explore some of the most common issues in the ageing dog eye so we can know what to look out for.
Lenticular or Nuclear sclerosis is commonly mistaken for cataracts; it is a condition which causes the eyes to have a blueish or hazy appearance. This cloudy appearance is the result of ageing fibers in a dog’s lens becoming compacted. To diagnose Lenticular Sclerosis your vet will use a lens with a light called an opthalmoscope, this allows the vet to look into the back of the eye to assess the overall health and whether the changes seen are due to the sclerosis or cataracts. The good news is, if your dog does have Lenticular or Nuclear Sclerosis it is not painful, it does not cause blindness and it doesn’t greatly impact their vision; no treatment is necessary.
Cataracts are another common issue many dogs face as they age. These are caused by proteins in the lens part of the eye clumping together forming a haze or cloudiness. While cataracts can form in any dog without underlying issues there is usually a genetic component involved, it can also be related to disease such as Diabetes Mellitus (sugar Diabetes). They are not painful, but they do cause vision loss and can lead to blindness. Currently surgical intervention is the only way to remove the cataracts, but you can provide supportive care to help your dog as their vision changes. This may involve eye drops prescribed by your veterinarian, or sunglasses for your dog to reduce the Sun’s glare helping them see more clearly. If the cataracts have progressed to near-blindness or blindness, the supportive care would be the same as for a dog who is blind. Things like, keeping surroundings familiar, wearing a bell, and talking to your dog more often can help reassure them as their vision deteriorates.
Glaucoma is a painful condition where pressure builds up in the eye due to insufficient fluid drainage. It can come on very suddenly and progress fast if acute, whereas chronic Glaucoma progresses more slowly. Symptoms to look out for are watery eyes, discharge, lethargy, loss of appetite, a cloudiness appearing on the cornea, blindness and swelling. If Glaucoma is suspected your vet will measure the pressure in the eye with a tonometer to determine if there is pressure building. They may prescribe drops to helps with the pain and swelling as well as other pain control, in many cases surgery will be the best option by removing the affected eye. Dogs do extremely well after surgery and are able to resume their lives with the pain and discomfort gone. It can affect the other eye in the future, so it is best to consistently monitor their remaining eye with regular checkups.
Dry eye also known as KCS (Keratconjunctivitis Sicca), is a condition which most commonly affects middle to older age dogs but can be seen at any age. With this condition the ability to form tears is impaired which results in dry eye which is quite uncomfortable. It can be caused by a multitude of factors including hypothyroidism, Immune diseases, and some medications like Sulfa type drugs. Some of the signs to look out for are dry red eyes, discharge that is thick and yellow and squinting or blinking excessively. It is diagnosed by your vet performing a Schirmer tear test on your dog’s eye to measure the amount of tear production. It can be treated with eye drops, usually two types, one which is a lubricant to use as needed and another which is a cyclosporine eye ointment twice daily into the affected eye(s). Supportive care such as gently cleaning the eyes a few times a day may also be advised by your veterinarian. Going forward, with routine management and daily care, your dog can live a happy comfortable life with this condition.
You can aid your dog’s overall eye health by maintaining a balanced diet and looking out for any changes in appearance or behavior. Some breeds can be more likely to develop these conditions, you may want to talk to your vet about supplements that promote healthy eyes. Early intervention will give your dog the best chance going forward, and if you do notice changes in your dog’s eye(s) make sure to have them checked.
Emily Charlton is a lifelong animal lover drawing on more than 12 years experience in a veterinary clinic.