Ophthalmic Emergencies in Pets

Eye emergencies in petsWe’ve seen a spate of eye issues the last few weeks, and there seems to be a universal hesitance on the part of our clients as to what to do about the typical sore, red eye. Most eye emergencies are not true emergencies, but more a matter of discomfort for the pet.

Before we get into home treatments for routine eye issues, we should say that there are a couple of eye injuries that are true emergencies, and which warrant a trip to the ER if our clinic isn’t open.  The two most common true eye emergencies are: 1.) Cuts or penetrations of the corneal surface, and 2.) Traumatic proptosis.

Anytime the eye is cut or an item penetrates the cornea (the glass globe that forms the front of the eye), this should be considered an emergency. The sooner we get to see a damaged eye the better our chances of preventing infection and further injury, and potentially saving the eye. Smaller lacerations and focal penetrations can often be sewn closed, and larger wounds can sometimes be managed with grafting techniques. But time is of the essence.

Traumatic proptosis is when the eye is displaced forward of the eyelids, or colloquially, when the eye is popped out of its socket. In larger breeds with deep set eyes this is very uncommon. However, for the smaller breeds, and especially those with short muzzles, such as shih tzus, Lhaso apsos, Pekingese, etc., this is a very common occurrence.

Once the eye is forward of the eyelids there is no way it can be replaced without sedation and surgery. The surgery isn’t complicated or difficult, but again, the sooner it’s performed the better the chances for success. When the eye is proptosed forward, the eyelids can’t blink over it, and it dries out very quickly. Getting the eye replaced and the lids closed on top of it prevents further damage, which happens rapidly.

Other than these two traumatic injuries, most other eye problems can wait to see us the next day. If your pet exhibits any ophthalmic difficulties, or if you think her eye is sore, some things you can do at home to give her relief include:

  • Flush with normal saline. Routine contact lens saline flush that contact wearers use to clean their lenses is by far the best thing to use to flush an eye. It’s osmotically correct for the eye, doesn’t sting, and can do no harm. It helps to flush out any foreign bodies, and moisturizes and soothes the eye. You can flush as often as you like to keep the pet comfortable.
  • Warm compresses.  Use a regular, clean washcloth soaked in warm water (use a bowl or the sink basin, and fill it with water as warm as you can stand it if you put your whole hand in it). Apply the compress gently to the effected eye for 10 minutes or longer. Again, this soothes the eye and helps to increase blood supply to the area.
  • Keep the pet in a dark area. Many eye issues are accompanied by photophobia, or aversion to light. In those cases just dimming the lights or keeping the pet in a dark room can help to relieve some discomfort.
  • Commercial eye lubricants such as Articial Tears and Genteel are generally safe for any eye condition and can be used to keep the eye lubricated and provide additional comfort.

Things to avoid in eye emergencies include any over-the-counter eye medication to “get the red out.”  These preparations are typically vasoconstrictors, and usually do more harm than good.

Likewise, putting anything in the eye, such as using a Qtip or similar object to try to wipe out the eye should be avoided. And at the first possible opportunity get the pet it to us to look at the eye so we can diagnose the problem and formulate the best course of action.