Q: Our dog has had chronic problems with his eyes for the past couple of years. He has had at least three infections and recently developed an ulcer on one of the eyes that took quite a long time to heal. Do you think he could have allergies causing his eye issues or is he just prone to infections?
A: It sounds like your dog has responded to treatment in the past when he has had issues with his eyes, so that gives us at least some clue to the problem. You didn’t mention whether he has had his tear production measured. This is a simple test that measures tear production on a small paper strip. The strip is placed on the cornea just under the lower eyelid and a measurement is taken after one minute to check how far the tear fluid has wicked onto the paper. If this level is very deficient (meaning almost no tears wicked onto the paper), it tells us that your dog likely has keratoconjunctivitis sicca, commonly known as dry eye.
Dry eye in most dogs is a lifelong condition once they develop it, as they are not producing enough tears from the lacrimal (tear) gland. This causes the cornea to be more “sticky” than normal which allows bacteria and dirt to stay on the surface of the eye, rather than be constantly washed off. So dogs with dry eye frequently have red, irritated and even infected eyes.
If your dog does prove to have dry eye, you will need to start him on daily eye medication. There are a couple of different types of medication, but both do essentially the same thing. They will stimulate the lacrimal glands to produce more tears, while also providing some direct lubrication for the surface of the eye. For most dogs this will be sufficient to treat their condition, but a few may need additional treatment with artificial tears as well. Just follow your veterinarian’s recommendations and your dog’s eyes should be better in a very short time.