Corneal Dystrophy in Dogs

Corneal dystrophy is defined as an inherited disease affecting the cornea. It occurs when the inner layer of the cornea stops functioning properly. Usually, clear eye fluid is pumped through that area to keep the cornea well lubricated. If this function stops, fluid builds up causing a cloudy haze. The disease is rarely painful. Only when the dystrophy causes the outer layer of the cornea to rupture causing corneal ulcers will the dog show any signs of pain.

Some people mistake corneal degeneration for corneal dystrophy. The key difference between then two is that corneal degeneration is not hereditary. The symptoms and disease are alike, but it can occur in any breed and is not inherited through family genetics.

Signs and Symptoms of Corneal Dystrophy

Key signs of this disease are the appearance of a grayish-white or bluish-white opaque covering over the center of the cornea. The cloudy covering is usually oval or round and appears in any layer of the cornea. The oval or round opaque covering is  the first noticeable sign. Seek veterinary care at this stage to start taking preventative measures to prevent corneal ulcers.

When too much fluid builds up in the cornea, the cornea may become inflamed and swollen. If the fluid builds up too much, the cornea can tear forming a corneal ulcer. If a dog reaches this stage, the eye becomes red and very painful. You'll notice the dog squinting or blinking a lot and the affected eye becomes very watery.

Replacing the Diseased Cornea

Most cases of Dystrophy of the Cornea are slowed by using a solution of sodium chloride to prevent the cornea from gaining too much eye fluid. When controlled, the condition advances slowly and doesn't affect the dog's daily life. If a corneal ulcer occurs, antibiotics may stop the swelling.

If blindness occurs, surgery may be required. The most common procedure is the penetrating keratoplasty. During a penetrating keratoplasty, the diseased cornea is replaced with a healthy cornea from a donor. A small round surgical device is placed over the diseased cornea and gently cuts the entire corneal area. Forceps are used to remove the diseased cornea and replace that area with the donated cornea. The healthy cornea is stitched into place. A dye is used to ensure the cornea has sealed properly and that no eye fluids are leaking out.

Following the surgery, antibiotic eye medications are given. The dog will wear an eye-patch while the cornea heals. A follow-up appointment will be required in a few days to ensure the eye is healing properly.

Breeds Commonly Affected by Corneal Dystrophy

Corneal dystrophy is most common in specific breeds of dogs because it is a genetic disease. Those breeds include:

  • Afghan hounds

  • Airedales

  • Beagles

  • Bichon Frises

  • Boston Terriers

  • Chihuahuas

  • Cocker spaniels

  • Dachshunds

  • German Shepherds

  • Italian Grayhounds

  • Mastiffs

  • Pointers

  • Poodles

  • Samoyeds

  • Sheepdogs

  • Siberian huskies

  • Whippets

Usually, the disease begins around four months of age, especially in Airedales and Sheepdogs, but some dogs may not show any signs until late in life. The progression of the disease seems to be faster in Airedales, Boston Terriers, Chihuahuas and Dachshunds. In these breeds, blindness from the disease is common.