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Eyelash Problems in Dogs

Dogs with Eyelash Problems

Eyelash problems in dogs may not sound like a major problem, but they can certainly contribute to annoying ocular conditions that may even negatively impact a dog's vision. The problem occurs when the hairs (cilia) grow in abnormal ways. Some dog breeds are more prone than others in developing these ailments, hence why the breeder's role in selectively breeding specimens not prone to eyelash problems is important. Following is some information about eyelash problems in dogs from veterinarian Dr. Ivana Vukasinovic.

droopy eyelids

Eyelash Problems in Dogs 

Eyelash problems in dogs have a hereditary background although there is not an exact known underlying cause. Such problems appear to be associated with developmental problems during which the hair follicle (which is where the hair grows) is located in abnormal locations.

Certain breeds appear to be particularly predisposed to eye lash problems, and also facial conformation is an important key.

The most common dog eyelash disorders are ectopic cilia, trichiasis and distichiasis. These conditions are seen in all breeds and age groups, but, some breeds are more susceptible to these conditions, like Pugs, Bulldogs, Pekingese, etc. Following is some information pertaining several types of eyelash problems in dogs.

Ectopic Cilia in Dogs

The word ectopic means "out of the place" (growing) while cilium is hair. Ectopic cilia consists of the abnormal growth of one or more hairs through the conjunctiva which sometimes ends up making contact with the cornea (surface of the eye). This means that the eyelash comes from the underside of the upper or lower eyelid.

Ectopic cilia present itself with eye pain, very severe blepharospasms (abnormal movements of the eyelid), overproduction of tears, and rubbing the eye constantly.

Ectopic cilia are most commonly found in the following dog breeds: Lhasa Apso, Shih Tzu, Shetland Sheepdogs, Golden Retrievers and Dachshund breeds.

"Ectopic cilia hairs arise from the same location in the meibomian glands but they exit through the palpebral conjunctiva and are much more likely to cause corneal irritation and ulceration."~Dr. Heather Kaese, board-certified veterinarian specializing in opthamolgy.

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Thrichiasis in Dogs 

Trichiasis is an eyelash with growth pointed toward the eye, coming in contact with cornea and conjunctiva, basically a form of in-growth. This condition involves eyelash that arises from the normal site but is misdirected towards the eye. Trichiasis can be caused by a facial hair or an eyelash.

There are three types of trichiasis dogs may develop: media chantal affecting the corner of the eye, often seen in brachycephalic breeds, congenital where dogs already born with trichiasis and finally, acquired which is usually seen in breeds with skin folds, or in older dogs where the eyelid is not as strong as before.

The most common symptoms of trichiasis in dogs is eyelash growth pointed towards a dog’s eye which can be seen. Other symptoms include twitching of the eyelid (blepharospasm), overproduction of tears (epiphora), swelling, eye infection, corneal inflammation and even ulcers.

Dog breeds predisposed to trichiasis include the Bulldog, Pug, Pekingese and English Cocker Spaniel.

"Trichiasis is a condition involving abnormal deviation of normal eyelid hairs. I have seen this as a hereditary condition in some young dogs as well as an aging change due to loss of eyelid connective tissue in some older dogs."~ Mark Bobofchak, board-certified veterinarian specializing in opthamology.

 Distichiae of the upper and lower lid of a dog by Joel Mill

Distichiae of the upper and lower lid of a dog by Joel Mill

Distichiasis in Dogs 

Distichiasis is an eyelash (or more than one) that grows from an abnormal location on the eyelid, usually alongside the eyelid margin (arising from meibomian glands most usually). This condition is very similar to ectopic cilia, and it is usually hereditary.

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Distichiasis may causes a variety of symptoms such as the dog rubbing the eye, head tilting, blinking, sometimes abnormal tick of eyelid is visible, overflow of tears, enlarged blood vessels in the cornea and changes in pigmentation.

Distichiasis is typically found in predisposed dogs breeds. Dog breeds that are commonly afted usually include the English Bulldog, Retriever, Pekingese, Toy and Miniature Poodles, Shetland Sheepdogs, Cocker Spaniels and Miniature Long Hair Dachshund breeds.

Did you know? Many dogs (like the majority of cocker spaniels) have multiple distichia but they fail to develop symptoms and treatment is rarely needed. Distichia that result in bothersome symptoms are often due to shorter, stiffer hairs.


"Distichiae are aberrant hairs that arise from the meibomian glands and exit through the meibomian gland opening in the eyelid margin."~Dr. Heather Kaese, board-certified veterinarian specializing in opthamolgy.

At the Vet's Office 

Vet checks a dog's eye

Vet checks a dog's eye for eyelash problems in dogs.

If there is a possibility of any of the above-mentioned eyelash problems in dogs, it will be important to bring your dog to see a veterinarian. As seen, common symptoms of eyelash disorders in dogs include pawing at the eye, irritation, shaking head, tears, redness, etc.

Ectopic cilia can be seen with the naked eye during the eye examination, but more often it is detected by biomicroscope. When the dog has a diagnosis of round corneal ulcer that doesn’t show any cases of healing after proper treatment, the veterinarian will suspect on the ectopic cilia case.

When it comes to trichiasis sometimes it is possible for the owner to notice hairs growing toward the eye, but your veterinarian will more closely check for abnormal placement of the hair as well as the possible damage to the eye. Diagnosis is done by looking the eye, confirmation of the hair growing towards the eye with possible inflammation of the cornea, eye infection and possible ulcers of the cornea. There is no diagnostic test for this condition.

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Distichiasis diagnosis is done also by looking closely if there are some eyelashes emerging from the meibomian gland or if there is any hair touching the cornea. In more advanced cases, corneal scarring and hyperpigmentation are also present. Besides the thorough eye examination, diagnostic tests of fluorescein staining of the cornea together with tear production test are usually necessary to assess possible causes and degrees of corneal injuries as well as to rule out other possible causes.

 In mild cases, ocular lubricant gels can be helpful to soothe irritated eyes.

In mild cases, ocular lubricant gels can be helpful to soothe irritated eyes.

Treatment for Eyelash Problems in Dogs 

Treatment for ectopic cilia is similar as for other eyelash abnormalities, like plucking and electrolysis to remove the offending hair. Cryosurgery is less often, as well as surgical excision of the ectopic cilia (in cases of many hairs in an island of hair).

Trichiasis treatment is based on the minimization of contact of the hair with the eye. Different types of surgery options can be done to correct this condition, including Hotz-Celsus, CO2 laser ablation, cryosurgery, resection and excision. Basically, these processes are reduced to two methods – either destroying the hair follicles from which the hair grows, or removing the portion of the eyelid together with the lash and the follicles.

Treatment of distichiasis is necessary only in cases of chronically irritation causing conjunctivitis or corneal ulcerations. In mild cases, ocular lubricant gels can be very helpful, but, it is a lifelong therapy. If the problem occurs because of one or two hairs, plucking may be sufficient, but hairs do grow back so regular plucking is necessary. Other methods include electroepilation, cryotherapy, and Hotz-Celsus, and general anesthesia is necessary.

After all these treatments, special care is often necessary, including antibiotic ointments or drops, to prevent possible infections. Eyes must be kept clean. Even with all precautions, the owner must be observant of any changes and dog must undergo regular follow-ups examinations.

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