In order to understand what causes droopy eyelids in dogs, it helps to understand the main function of the dog's eyelids. Under normal conditions a dog's eyelids efficiently protect the eye, but when their anatomy is faulty they can cause damage. Some dogs are born with abnormal eyelids, while others acquire problems through injury or disease.
Why is My Dog's Eyelid Droopy?
Following are several possible caused of droopy eyelids in dogs. For an accurate diagnosis and treatment, please see your veterinarian.
Entropion in Dogs
This is a condition in which the eyelids roll inward. Entropion is inherited in certain breeds (Bernese Mountain Dog, Bloodhound, Bulldog, Cocker Spaniel, Chow Chow, Golden Retriever, Great Dane, Labrador Retriever, Great Pyrenees, Saint Bernard, Chinese Shar Pei) but it may also develop from scarring injuries to the skin around the eyes or after prolonged eyelid infection (blepharitis).
Squinting or blepharospasm, also causes the eyelids to roll inward, but this problem is temporary. Rolled-in skin irritates the eyes, causing excess tear production and inflammation. There is also increased risk of injury to the cornea and general eye infection.
How is entropion diagnosed? A vet can tell the difference between entropion and squinting by putting a drop of local anesthetic on the eyes. The drug relaxes squinting but it does not alter true entropion.
Entropion is corrected surgically. A crescent of skin is removed from the eyelid and then the eyelid is drawn into a more normal position.
Ectropion in Dogs
This eyelid defect is opposite of entropion. The lower eyelids are everted (turn outward), causing the pink conjunctiva to be visible and more susceptible to inflammation, injury or contact with debris. In a nutshell, in dogs with ectropion, the lower eyelid rolls away from the eye.
The causes of ectropion in dogs can be categorized as: congenital – common in certain breeds, due to selective breeding that favors certain physical characteristics.
· Acquired – includes underlying issues like: facial nerve paralysis, scarring due to injury, neuromuscular disease, hypothyroidism, chronic eye tissue inflammation or infection and corneal ulceration due to untreated infection.
Some dog breeds are born with ectropion of the lower lid. Such dog breeds include Hounds (Basset Hound, Bloodhound), Spaniels, Bulldogs and heavyweight giant breeds (Saint Bernard, Mastiff and Newfoundland). These breeds are particularly prone to ectropion simply because they have loose facial skin and are lacking proper eyelid support.
Ectropion may also develop either as a natural part of the aging process or as a result of the skin losing its elasticity. Therefore, mild ectropion is fairly common among older individuals. It should be mentioned that hunting dogs, after a hard day’s work, may occasionally and temporarily show signs of ectropion.
A dog with ectropion on its lower eyelid will show the following signs and symptoms:
Protruded bottom eyelid (which results in exposed tissue below the visible part of the eyeball)
Excessive tearing which leads to brownish staining of the fur below the affected eye
Accumulation of thick, mucoid discharge along the eyelid margin
Excessive pawing at the eye
Redness of the eye
Pink eye (recurring bacterial conjunctivitis)
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Pain and discomfort.
At the Vet's Office
If your dog develops a droopy eyelid, you may be wondering what happens when you take him to the vet. As in any other case, the vet will start the examination by performing a thorough and full body checkup.
Then, the vet will focus on examining the eyes. The ophthalmoscope is one of the most important diagnostic aids. This handheld device illuminates and magnifies a part of the eye, enabling your vet to see otherwise invisible changes.
A well-trained veterinarian can easily diagnose ectropion. The physical changes of the eyelid are enough to set the diagnosis.
If your dog is affected, examine the eyes daily and cleanse the exposed conjunctiva with cotton balls dipped in tepid saltwater or with a proprietary eyewash solution. This is not a solution.
Instead, this is a temporary way of minimizing the side-effects and preventing further complications. Meanwhile, make sure you make an appointment to the vet’s office and schedule a corrective surgery.
Extremely mild cases of ectropion can be treated with eye drops and ointments. Their goal is to lubricate the eye and prevent drying of the cornea and conjunctiva.
Most cases of ectropion require surgical correction. The goal of the surgery is to decrease the droop by providing proper support for the lower eyelid. If the condition is advanced (there is a lot of swelling and inflammation around the eye), the vet may suggest splitting the correction in two smaller procedures.
If there are additional underlying causes, the patient will require further treatment based on the exact cause. For example, dogs with eye infections will need local antibiotic drops and ointments.
When giving eye medicines make sure the medicine actually reaches they eye. More often than not, this part of the job requires team effort. While one person holds and reassures the dog, the other administers the medication. Speak calmly to your dog and tell it sit where it cannot back away – for example, in a corner. If the dog is small, you can lift it up onto a table.
When applying ointment or drops to the eye, make sure that the medicine container does not come in contact with the eye at any time. The container could possibly damage the eye surface. In addition, it may carry dirt or other contamination, which could cause infection. Always praise your dog and give it a food or toy reward after applying eye medicines.
Always, follow the instructions on the medicine container. Make sure that you dispose of unused medicine according to the instructions on the packaging.
With prompt and proper treatment, the prognosis for ectropion is very good. In most cases the surgery is successful and only a small number of cases require surgical overcorrection. To monitor the condition, the vet will likely advise frequent check-ups.
If the treatment onset was delayed and there is corneal scarring present, the dog will have to adapt to living with visual deficits.
It is important to mention that dogs with congenital entropion should not be bred because they are likely to pass the condition on their offspring.
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.