If you have ever seen a corneal ulcer, then you know how alarming and ugly they can look. Don’t worry, they are not life threatening; but they are very painful and need immediate attention.
A corneal ulcer is a deep erosion through the epithelium and the stroma, the first two layers of the cornea. The fluid that absorbs from the tears into the stroma (the innermost layer of the two) will give the eye a cloudy appearance.
In both dogs and cats, trauma is the most common cause of corneal ulcers. Cat scratches and lacerations from sharp objects are two very common forms of trauma, but the possibilities are endless with our curious and energetic animals. They may also be caused by chemical burns, and bacterial or viral infections. Any animal can get a corneal ulcer but some may be more prone than others. Boxer dogs are predisposed to epithelial dystrophy, which is a weakening of the cornea, making ulcers a more common occurrence in that breed. Pets with endocrine diseases such as diabetes, Cushing’s disease, and hypothyroidism are also more prone to corneal ulcers.
The first thing you may notice if your pet has a corneal ulcer is that they want to hold that eye tightly closed. This is due to the fact that they are very painful and their instinct is to protect the eye. Often they are squinting, pawing at the eye, and can even have discharge from the eye as well.
Your vet will easily be able to diagnose an ulcer, most likely with the use of a fluorescein dye. The dye will be placed on the cornea and will adhere to areas of ulceration. The dye is not painful to your pet, but is critical in determining whether an ulcer is present. Sometimes there will just be an abrasion on the cornea, which is not as deep as an ulcer and will heal more easily. However, if not treated, these abrasions can quickly worsen.
Most likely, medication will be prescribed in the form of drops or ointment. These will need to be applied every few hours for the best results. Often, your pet will also need to wear a cone or Elizabethan Collar. This prevents your pet from rubbing or scratching the eye and making the ulcer worse. In some cases, surgery called debridement may be necessary to remove dead or poorly healing layers of the corneal tissue. Your veterinarian will be able to recommend the best treatment for your pet based on the severity of the diagnosis.