Chronic Dry Eye in Dogs

Chronic dry eye in dogs is also known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) and may cause redness and irritation. If left untreated, the condition can lead to vision problems or even vision loss.

Causes of Chronic Dry Eye

Chronic dry eye in dogs may be caused by a genetic defect of the tear ducts, which will make it impossible for the dog to produce an adequate amount of tears, however there are also other conditions that may lead to dryness of eyes:

  • Allergies that are not treated
  • Ocular infections
  • Eye injuries
  • Insects or other foreign materials stuck in the dog’s eyes
  • Hypothyroidism
  • An autoimmune disease that will affect the natural tear production
  • Canine distemper
  • Certain medications may have side effects such as dry eyes

Certain canine breeds such as the West Highland white terrier, the American Cocker spaniel and the Schnauzer are more at risk of developing keratoconjunctivitis sicca. Dogs of all ages may be affected by this condition.

Symptoms of KCS

If the dog is affected by keratoconjunctivitis sicca, he won’t be producing an adequate quantity of tears to keep the eyes wet. You may notice that the surface of the eye is not wet and there may also be some ocular discharges. The discharges are typically thick and brown-yellow in color. This discharge is made up of concentrated bacteria, debris, pollens and dust, which are normally eliminated with the natural tears. When there is a lack of tears to keep the eye clean, the accumulated substances in the eye will be secreted through a thick discharge. You will also notice additional symptoms such as:

  • Red, irritated eyes
  • A creamy white pellicle may form on the surface of the eyes
  • Impaired vision (the dog can easily get injured, as he won’t see clearly or in some cases, may not see at all)

Diagnosing Chronic Dry Eye

An ophthalmologist can perform the diagnosis, but a vet may also detect if there are problems with your pet’s eyes. A test indicating the tear production (the Schirmer tear test) is necessary to assess the dog’s condition. If the tear production falls under the normal established amount in canines, your dog is diagnosed with dry eye. The condition may be acute, which means that it will disappear within 7 days, but if the condition persists for over 2 weeks, the dog has chronic dry eye. If the dog has chronic dry eye, the vet may run a few tests to establish the possible underlying condition causing the lack of tear production.

Treatment Options for Chronic Dry Eyin Dogs

The treatment of chronic dry eyes often consists of antibiotics, as KCS is typically accompanied by a secondary eye infection. Eye drops should also be applied, to flush out the dust, pollens and bacteria from the eyes. Artificial tears may also be recommended. If the condition is a side effect of medication the dog takes, discontinuing the treatment will typically solve the dry eyes as well. In some cases, surgery will be needed to repair the tear duct.