Distichiasis in Dogs: Irritation from Eyelashes

Distichiasis is an inherited disease seen often in purebred dogs. There are some breeds that are naturally more susceptible to this condition. These breeds would be:

  • American cocker spaniel
  • English bulldog
  • Lhaso apso
  • Shih tzu
  • Minuature and toy poodle
  • Shetland sheepdog
  • Golden retriever
  • Chesapeake Bay retriever.

Distichiasis is when there are extra eyelashes. This extra growth develops deep within the glands, instead of on the skin surface of the eyelid. The eyelash then grows along the gland duct, exiting along the surface of the eyelid. These eyelashes can then rub against the cornea, which causes irritation and tearing. In some rare cases distichiasis can also cause corneal abrasions.

How To Detect Distichiasis

The abnormal hairs caused by distichiasis cause the eyes to become irritated and inflamed. The eyes will often become red or develop a discharge. You may notice the dog squints or blinks often, which would look similar to a human with something foreign caught in their eye. Your dog may rub his eyes or face against objects in the house, such as a chair or desk. There are severe cases where the cornea appears to look blue in hue. This is caused by the cornea becoming ulcerated, but it can also be caused by excessive rubbing of the dog's eye on objects. All of these symptoms vary due to the size and placement of the eyelash causing them.

Diagnosing Distichiasis

Distichiasis is diagnosed by observing the eye(s) in question. If there is a lash identified then you must find where it is emerging from. A thorough eye examination can assist with both of these, and it will also rule out any other diseases or conditions plaguing your dog. There are actual tests specialized in finding distichiasis in a dog.

The first one is a Schirmer tear test, which is done to show if the eye is producing the correct amount of tears.

The second is a fluorescein staining of the cornea. This is done to check if there are any abnormal abrasions or ulcers located on the cornea. You should test your dog the moment you notice something wrong with its eye.

Treating And Managing Distichiasis

Treatment usually begins with an oily lubricant being applied to the eyelashes. This is done to protect the cornea from any further damage developing. There are some cases where surgery is required to remove the eyelashes causing the condition, and they will often kill the hair follicles of those eyelashes to inhibit further growth. Repeated growing of the eyelashes after surgery is common, so numerous surgeries may be needed.

A different treatment would be the application of liquid nitrogen to the offending hair follicles. This allows for easy removal of the hair, and the hair removal is usually permanent. This treatment is much more dependable than the first, but it is also much more expensive than normal surgery. This procedure can range from a thousand to two thousand dollars. There is no one treatment that completely works, because hair follicles are actually quite difficult to kill.