Corneal Ulcers In Dogs – Causes, Symptoms, Treatment
Many pet owners are unaware of the severity of eye complications in our canine friends.
While we know how important it is to protect our eyes from harm, our dogs lack the understanding needed to shield their eyes from potential injury.
Not only can sudden injuries cause damage to a dog’s cornea, but so can underlying eye conditions that lead to chronic irritation.
To help you better understand the severity of corneal ulcers in our canine companions, let’s get into the details of this painful eye condition below.
Understanding The Cornea In Dogs
Before we discuss the facts on corneal ulcers in dogs, it’s important to have a basic understanding of what the cornea is in the first place.
The term cornea refers to the transparent membrane that makes up the front surface of the eyeball, acting as a window to the rest of the eye.
The cornea is made up of three different layers including the epithelium, the stroma, and the Descemet’s membrane.
Each of these layers are clear, so it’s impossible to see each individual layer with the naked eye.
These layers will need to be stained to be examined appropriately by your vet, and to allow them to search for evidence of corneal injury.
What Is A Corneal Ulcer In Dogs?
A corneal ulcer is essentially a severe wound on the cornea of the eye.
Ulcers on the cornea will erode through the epithelium and into the stroma, potentially leading to the cloudy appearance of the eye as a result.
You may not be able to see the corneal ulcer itself by simply looking at the eye, but you can see the injury when the eye is stained and examined thoroughly.
Corneal ulcers can continue to spread if they face continual irritation, leading to the possibility of erosion into the Descemet’s membrane.
If this occurs, a serious eye complication known as a descemetocele can form.
This condition can lead to eventual rupture of the Descemet’s membrane, causing the fluid of the eye to leak out.
If this occurs, most dogs will need to have the eye removed.
Corneal Abrasions vs. Corneal Ulcers
When discussing corneal injuries in dogs, you may hear the terms ‘abrasion’ and ‘ulcer’ used to describe the severity of the injury.
Though some may use these terms interchangeably, they are vastly different when discussing the severity of the wound.
A corneal abrasion is not as severe as a corneal ulcer, and typically involves a superficial scrape to the outermost layer of the cornea.
An abrasion has not yet eroded into the stroma, which in turn sets it apart from an actual ulcer.
Though an abrasion may not be as severe, they should still be taken seriously and treated with immediate care.
Abrasions can easily worsen without appropriate treatment, leading to the development of a corneal ulcer in the end.
How Do Dogs Get Corneal Ulcers?
Unfortunately, our dogs are more at risk of corneal injury than we are.
Whether it’s due to risky behavior or a lack of awareness with eye safety, our canine friends can easily injure their eye in their day to day lives.
While there are many potential causes of corneal ulcers in dogs, the leading cause is trauma.
Trauma To The Eye
Trauma to the eye can include pawing at the eye, rubbing their eye on the ground, being scratched by a cat, poking their eye with a sharp toy, running through vegetation, and anything in between.
The eye region is fragile, so it’s actually quite easy for our pups to damage the tissue.
The development of a corneal ulcer in dogs often comes in stages.
While the ulcer can occur due to sudden trauma, many ulcers develop when a dog continues to irritate an abrasion that is present.
Any discomfort of the eye will cause a dog to paw at and scratch their eye in search of relief, leading to even more damage to the corneal tissue.
As a result, a corneal ulcer will develop.
Another potential cause of corneal ulcers in dogs are chemical burns.
These can easily occur when our dogs get any type of irritating substance in their eye, ranging from dog shampoo to household cleaners.
Dogs will typically rub their eye aggressively due to the pain, leading to significant damage to the corneal tissue.
This can not only cause a corneal ulcer, but it can lead to a descemetocele as well.
Other Underlying Eye Conditions
The last potential cause of corneal ulcers in dogs are underlying eye conditions that cause chronic irritation.
These conditions can include bacterial infections, dry eye, epithelial dystrophy, and even cataracts.
The eye conditions in themselves can cause irritation to the cornea, but the self mutilation from constant scratching is often what causes the most damage.
Are Corneal Ulcers Painful In Dogs?
Ulcers are known to be extremely painful for our canine companions.
Not only is the ulcer painful in itself, but so is the irritation that develops due to the dog’s constant scratching and pawing at the eye.
This is why so many ulcers will worsen if the pet owner does not seek veterinary care, as the dog will continue to mutilate the area due to the pain they are experiencing.
Symptoms Of Corneal Ulcers In Dogs
Due to how painful corneal ulcers can be for a dog, you will typically notice evidence of discomfort around the eye region.
To help you better spot a developing eye injury in your pup, let’s list a few of the common signs below.
Some of the most common symptoms of corneal ulcers in dogs include:
- Redness of the eye
- Pawing at the face or eye
- Rubbing their face on the ground
- Increased blinking
- Cloudy appearance of the eye
- Avoidance of bright light
- Noticeable pinpoint spot on the eye
If you notice any of the above symptoms in your dog, we suggest reaching out to your veterinarian for guidance.
Eye injuries can progress quickly, so it’s important to seek medical care as soon as possible.
Diagnosing Corneal Ulcers In Dogs
The best way to diagnose a corneal ulcer in dogs is by having your veterinarian perform a fluorescein stain of the eye.
This involves administering a bright green stain to the eye, which in turn causes the stain to pool in an ulcer if one is present.
When the veterinarian turns off the light and shines a UV light on the eye, the ulcer should become visible.
Your veterinarian should also perform an in depth eye exam to help them rule out the presence of other eye conditions.
Your vet may also use a tonometer to test the pressure in your dog’s eye, as well as performing a Schirmer tear test if they think dry eye is the cause of their ulcer.
Every case will vary, so we suggest following your vet’s guidance when determining the best diagnostic plan.
Treatments For Corneal Ulcers In Dogs
The standard treatment plan for corneal ulcers in dogs will vary based on the severity of their corneal injury.
To help you better understand the options available to your dog, let’s break down the different treatment tools.
Antibiotic Eye Drops
Antibiotic eye drops are essential for preventing bacterial growth while your dog’s ulcer is healing.
These options are typically short lasting, so you will need to apply the drops anywhere from 4-6 times per day.
Atropine Eye Drops
Atropine eye drops are one of the most effective ways to decrease your dog’s eye pain.
These drops will help to stop spasms of the ciliary muscle in the eye, leading to significant relief as the ulcer heals.
These drops will typically be administered twice a day.
Some veterinarians will prescribe artificial tears to help lubricate the eye as the ulcer heals.
This is believed to help provide relief in some dogs, especially if the eye is further irritated due to dryness.
If your dog’s corneal ulcer is extremely painful, they may benefit from the use of NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs).
These can be taken orally 1-2 times per day, and can be discontinued once the pain has diminished.
Wearing an e-collar is one of the most important tools when dealing with corneal ulcers in dogs.
Recovery will only occur if the dog does not further irritate the eye, so the inability to paw at the region is crucial.
It’s important to keep the e-collar on at all times, as even a moment of freedom can lead to further injury to the cornea.
If your dog has a severe corneal ulcer that will not heal or has caused damage to other portions of the eye, your vet may need to refer you to a veterinary ophthalmologist for further care or surgery.
As long as you follow the treatment plan recommended by your veterinarian, most straight forward corneal ulcers will resolve in 3-10 days.
Just be sure to not only follow the home care instructions that your vet prescribes, but to also keep up with any follow up appointments as well.
What If I Don’t Treat My Dog’s Eye Ulcer?
If you do not seek out veterinary care for your dog’s eye ulcer, the ulcer may continue to worsen to the point of causing permanent eye damage.
Not only can a severe corneal ulcer cause devastating impact to the health of the eye, but the pain of the ulcer can become unbearable.
The sooner you treat your dog’s corneal ulcer, the easier it will be to receive affordable and effective treatment.
The longer you wait, the more involved their treatment options will become.
Will My Dog’s Eye Drops Burn When I Administer Them?
Most dogs will not experience pain when you administer their eye drops.
They may squint and appear irritated in the moments after you apply them, but they should return to their normal selves within seconds of using the drops.
If you think your dog is in even more pain after applying their eye drops, we suggest reaching out to your veterinarian for guidance.
We should also note that some dogs will begin to drool after their eye drops are administered.
The tear ducts in a dog’s eye will drain into the back of the nose, and in turn into their mouth in some cases.
This will cause some dogs to drool a bit due to the taste, as some of these eye drops can be extremely bitter.
If this happens, there is no need to worry.
Why Won’t My Dog’s Eye Ulcer Heal?
If your dog’s corneal ulcer will not heal, this could mean that they require specialized care from a veterinary ophthalmologist.
Some dogs will develop severe eye infections, erosion into the Descemet’s membrane, and rare complications due to underlying illness.
It is not normal for a corneal ulcer to progress when receiving appropriate medical care, so this could be evidence of a more involved eye complication.
If your vet ever suggests specialty care, we suggest following this route as soon as possible.
Corneal ulcers are a painful eye condition that can lead to permanent damage if they are not addressed quickly.
We suggest reaching out to your veterinarian at the first sign of eye discomfort in your pup, as this will offer your dog the best chance at a full recovery.
My name is Amber. I am a dedicated animal lover that turned my passion into my career. I am a Licensed Vet Tech with 10 years of experience in veterinary medicine, but I recently took my career online to help spread accurate information on animal care. With how vast the online world is, I have a strong desire to ensure that the reader always walks away with helpful pet advice. With the experience I’ve gained from my time in this field, I have been able to travel the world, offering my services to as many animal rescues as I can find. If I am not at my laptop, or back home visiting family, you can find me somewhere in the world, cuddling every furry friend that I can find! Read more about us here.