Dr. Corinna Goodine: Corneal ulcers in pets

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The cornea is the clear, outermost layer at the front of the eye. It needs to stay clear and healthy in order to have normal vision. There are many things that can cause the cornea to lose clarity in our pets, with corneal ulcers being one of the most common causes.

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A corneal ulcer is a result of some sort of trauma to the cornea that removes the outermost layer of cells on the surface of the eye. Trauma can be from anything that scratches or pokes the eye; things like cat scratches with the nail scraping the surface, thorns, sharp objects around home or really anything that comes in contact with the delicate eye. Animals with inadequate tear production can also have corneal ulcers due to the surface of the eye being too dry.

Eye ulcers can occur in any breed of animal, although those with large eyes and a short nose are predisposed. Bulldogs, Shih Tzus, Boston Terriers, and Boxers are a few breeds that corneal ulcers occur in more frequently compared to other breeds.

Signs that your pet may have a corneal ulcer include squinting, increased tearing, pawing at the eye, or rubbing its face. Changes to the eye itself can include redness, or a white/blue haze to the normally clear cornea.

If your pet is showing any signs of eye discomfort, a prompt veterinary visit is recommended. The eye a very delicate structure, and if treatment is not initiated quickly, conditions can quickly worsen.

A corneal ulcer is diagnosed by a close examination of the eye by your veterinarian. A special stain is applied to the eye, which highlights the ulcer when blue light is shined on the eye. Corneal ulcers are often treated with a short course of antibiotics and sometimes a pain relieving medication. Uncomplicated eye ulcers typically heal within five to seven days. In some cases, healing can take several weeks to months; in these cases special procedures may be done to the surface of the eye to try to encourage the eye to heal. These special procedures may include rubbing the non-healing cells off the surface of the eye, gentle scraping of the surface of the eye, or a temporary contact lens.

Prognosis for recovery with simple corneal ulcers is excellent, with the eye healing completely. Some more longstanding or severe ulcers can leave a small white scar on the eye, although vision is rarely impaired. In worst case scenarios, the corneal ulcer continues to erode through the cornea and can lead to the eye rupturing. If the eye ruptures, then removal of the eye is necessary.

If you ever notice any abnormality with your pet’s eye, contact your veterinarian immediately. Prompt treatment of any eye disease is recommended to give the eye its best chance for recovery.

Dr. Corinna Goodine was born and raised in the Fort St. John Community and discovered her passion for veterinary medicine at an early age. In June 2015 she completed her dream of becoming a veterinarian and graduated from The Western College of Veterinary Medicine. She is excited and enthusiastic about joining the veterinary team as a mixed animal practitioner with special interests in beef cattle and small animal medicine and surgery.

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