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Help, My Dog Has a Scratched Eye

Dog Has a Scratched Eye

If your dog has a scratched eye, you may be rightfully concerned considering that a dog's eye can sustain significant damage from a scratch. Scratches to a dog's eye may sometimes occur as a result of an encounter with a cat, from walking in the brush or during play time with another dog. If your dog has a scratched eye, therefore your best bet is to see the vet as a scratched eye in dogs can lead to complications and some may even be serious. Here is some information about eye scratches in dogs by veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec.

Picture of dog corneal ulcer

Picture of dog corneal ulcer. Notice the green dye adhering to the scratched surface.

My Dog Has a Scratched Eye

It is no secret that many humans find large eyes more attractive than smaller ones. As a result of this preference, we selectively bred many dogs to have more prominent eyes than their wolf ancestors. This change has increased the risk of eye diseases and especially of problems due to trauma to the cornea.

The cornea is a smooth and transparent layer of the eye that allows light rays to pass through to the lens and reach the retina. The cornea also acts as a barrier that protects the delicate internal structures of the eye. Any change or damage to the surface of the cornea can diminish the dog’s eyesight.

Some problems of the cornea are insidious. They cause no pain and the dog does not complain. Other corneal damages and conditions, cause pain and consequently can be diagnosed earlier. One of the most common and attention-seeking conditions regarding the cornea are: corneal erosions (abrasions) and corneal ulcers.

To understand the difference between erosions and ulcers, one must understand the corneal structure. Simply put, the cornea consists of three layers: epithelium (thin layer consisting of several layers of cells), stroma (supportive tissue) and Descemet’s membrane (basal membrane).

Corneal erosions (abrasions) can be defined as superficial damages to the cornea that affect only few layers of the epithelium. On the flip side, corneal ulcer can be defined as deeper damages that go through the entire epithelium layer and affect the stroma, too. In other words, corneal erosions affect only the outermost layer of the cornea, while corneal ulcers affect both the uttermost layer and the middle layer of the cornea.

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Causes of Eyes Scratches in Dogs 

When a dog has a scratched eye consider that there are several causes of corneal abrasions and ulcers in dogs: trauma (either blunt or penetrating) is the most common cause and includes rubbing in the carpet, cat scratches, close contacts with sharp objects etc.

Drying of the cornea due to tear deficiency, primary eye conditions (such as epithelial dystrophy – an inherited weakening of the cornea), eyelid deformities that cause incomplete closing of the eye, infections (bacterial and viral), systemic, endocrine conditions (diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease), paralysis of the facial nerve, foreign bodies, burns caused by chemical irritants (shampoos, house dust).

Because of their short noses and prominent eyes, the following breeds are at higher risk of developing corneal erosions and ulcers: pug, boxer, bulldog, Boston terrier, pekingese and shih tzu.

Symptoms of Eye Scratches in Dogs 

dog squinting eye

A dog squinting

Corneal ulcers and erosions in dogs manifest with reddening of the white portions of the eye, eye swelling, increased tear secretion and tear staining around the eye (watery eye), smaller pupils, squinting, eye rubbing (with the paws or of the ground), light sensitivity (photophobia) discharge from the eye (the type of discharge depends on the severity of the case) and blurring of the eye (cloudy appearance).

Since corneal erosions and ulcers are quite painful, affected dogs may also show: depression, lethargy, weakness, anorexia (loss of appetite) and abnormal behavior.

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In more serious cases, the cornea may rupture leading to pus and blood leakage from the eyeball. Another severe complication is a secondary bacterial eye infection. Both of the mentioned complications can cause permanent damage that usually results in irreversible, partial or complete blindness.

At the Vet’s Office

Vet checks a dog's eye

If your dog has a scratched eye, see your vet

If you suspect your dog has a scratched eye or that something is going on with your dog’s eyes, it is of imperative importance to make a prompt visit to the vet. More often than not, what seems as a simple corneal defect can turn out to be serious issue.

If your dog has a scratched eye, it is also important to never use human eye products on your dog. Most human eye drops contain corticosteroids and if corticosteroids are applied on a damaged cornea they promote further destruction. Make an appointment at your vet and let him decide what should be done. Depending on the dog’s condition, your vet may refer you to a specialized veterinary ophthalmologist.

Diagnosis is based on the dog’s history (retrieved by talking with the owner), the presenting clinical signs and the results retrieved by examining the dog. Before performing an eye examination, the veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination.

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The eye examination includes inspection of the eye, assessing the dog’s vision and visual reflexes and certain eye test. The most conclusive diagnostic test for detecting corneal erosions and ulcers is application of topical fluorescent dye. Once the dye is applied, the damaged areas pick up the dye and make it easy not only to visualize the defects, but to access their depth too.

dog keeping one eye closed

Dog Scratched Eye Healing Time

The goal of the treatment for a scratched eye in dogs is to eliminate pain, prevent progressive loss of corneal tissue, resolve any existing infection, promote corneal tissue regeneration and minimize corneal scarring. However, the exact treatment depends on two factors: what caused the condition and how severe are the sustained alterations.

Usually, erosions and superficial, simple ulcers can be treated with prescription eye ointments (broad-spectrum antibiotics to reduce or prevent infections) and eye drops (atropine, to alleviate the pain) on an outpatient basis. If needed, oral anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed.

Deeper, complex and refractory ulcers require either soft collagen-made contact lenses or surgical approach. Dogs with corneal erosions and ulcers should wear Elizabethan collar to avoid additional damage caused by excessive scratching.

If your dog has a scratched eye, as long as the problem is addressed promptly and adequately, the prognosis is good. Corneal erosions usually heal in 1 to 3 days, while non-complicated ulcers in 4 to 7 days. In some complicated cases, eye ulcers in dogs won't heal easily.

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About the Author

Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia. She is a certified nutritionist and is certified in HAACP food safety system implementation.

ivana crnec

She currently practices as a veterinarian in Bitola and is completing her postgraduate studies in the Pathology of Domestic Carnivores at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia. Ivana’s research has been published in international journals, and she regularly attends international veterinary conferences.

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