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An ‘eye infection’ is not always just an eye infection. Full physical exams are the cornerstone of our veterinary care. No matter what the presenting complaint, we always do a full physical exam with every presenting problem. You may think that it is just an ‘eye infection’ but the eyes can often reveal many systemic diseases such as high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism, diabetes mellitus, cancer, feline leukemia or immunodeficiency and many others.
There are a few tests that, depending on the case, we routinely do on the eyes specifically. We can check your pet’s eye pressure (intraocular pressure) where we use a Tonovet device that pulses a very small probe onto the cornea (clear part of eye) that cannot be felt. We can also use a fluorescein stain to highlight scratches or ulcers. In addition, the amount of tears being produced can be measured by doing a schirmers test which is an absorbent paper strip.
Common eye problems in Dogs and Cats:
Corneal Ulcers-These are one of the major eye problems we see in both cats and dogs. This occurs when something scratches the clear part of the eye. It is a very painful condition so you will often see a red eye, squinting and excessive discharge. Cats may also get viral upper respiratory infections causing sneezing and red, swollen eyes. These infections are contagious and depending on the virus may stay with the cat for life (like herpes virus) and flare up off and on.
Conjuctivitis- This is sometimes called pink eye in people. The clinical signs can be very similar to those of corneal ulcers except with conjunctivitis the outer tissues of the eye become affected. We see this problem often caused by bacteria, viruses as well as allergies.
Retinal problems-High blood pressure or hypertension can cause the blood vessels at the back of the eye to bleed or form clots. The retina, which is where the eye receives visual signals and transmits them to the brain, can then start to peel back (retinal detachment) which results in permanent blindness. Hypertension can be a disease all on its own or it can be associated with other diseases such as hyperthyroidism in cats. This is why it is so important to monitor blood pressure in our pets.
Cataracts- This occurs when the lens of the eye becomes white or opaque and these are more routinely seen in dogs than cats. Cataracts can be hereditary or non-hereditary. Hereditary cataracts are the most common, and we see them in certain dog (Poodles, Labs, and Cocker Spaniels to list only a few) and cat (Persians, Himalayan) breeds. Non-hereditary cataracts are usually linked with metabolic diseases such as diabetes or can be associated with trauma. These are not to be confused with lenticular sclerosis. Those of you with senior dogs may notice that their pupils have become at little more ‘cloudy’ or blue particularly with reflected light instead of the normal black pupil seen at an earlier age. This is perfectly normal and due to aging of the lens.
Please make sure you have your pet examined by a veterinarian before applying medications as our pets are not ‘furry people’ and have very different diseases and drug tolerances.