Corneal Ulcers in Pets: Catching Signs and Getting Treatment

If you see your pet exhibiting signs of distress, it could be caused by pain or excessive discomfort. Commonly, a change of behavior signals this. A cat or a dog may keep pawing its face or start rubbing its head on furniture or carpet. When you see these odd activities, pay attention.

Be attentive, and see if your pet is squinting or blinking more than usual. If there is redness, swelling, or yellowish/bloody ocular discharge, this can indicate a corneal ulcer. It might be time to visit the vet.

What is a corneal ulcer?

Before we can answer the question, we must first learn how the cornea is. The eye’s cornea is a thin transparent membrane on the front part of the eye. The cornea has three layers–the epithelium on the outside, the stroma in the middle, and the innermost layer called Descemet’s membrane.

When the epithelium is damaged, this is referred to as an abrasion or erosion. If the damage reaches the stroma, this is the condition that is called a corneal ulcer. This condition is excruciating, and prolonging it may cause more trauma to the eye.

If the ulcer reaches the next layer, this may cause a more severe condition called a descemetocele. Should Descemet’s membrane rupture, the liquid inside the eye leaks. This causes the eye to collapse and may cause irreversible damage. Before the eye reaches this level of damage, treatment must be done.

What are the causes of corneal ulcers?

Most of the time, trauma is the factor. Skidding on rough ground or a scratch during a fight may injure the cornea. In some cases, chemicals, abnormal hair growth, or dry eyes may be the cause. Bacterial or viral infections or even parasites may also cause the problem here.

However, for some breeds, epithelial dystrophy or weak corneas are genetic. Brachycephalic breeds of dogs are prone to it due to the structure of their eyes. Pets with endocrine disorders may also be victims.

What kind of treatment is needed?

If you suspect damage to the cornea, bring your pet to a cat and dog eye veterinary clinic. To confirm if the case is a corneal ulcer, a test using a fluorescein stain is performed. An orange-colored stain is placed on the cornea and turns green when it adheres to the ulcers.

Superficial abrasions can be treated with medication. Ophthalmic antibiotic eye drops and ointments can quicken the healing process but must be applied frequently.

For severe corneal ulcers that do not respond to medication or if a descemetocele has formed, veterinary surgery is needed. Conjunctival tissue is transposed over the affected ulcer. Then the vet surgeon may suture the third eyelid to protect the eye. After the recommended healing time, the pet must be brought back to the vet to ensure that the ulcer has healed.

Is surgery always successful?

Normal healing is not always achieved after surgery. Sometimes, dead or dying cells build up around the ulcer. This is referred to as indolent corneal ulcers and is more common in older pets. To resolve this problem, surgical removal of these cells is necessary.

A procedure called keratectomy is performed by putting the animal under general anesthesia. The surgeon makes tiny grooves on the stroma using a tool called a diamond burr. This procedure stimulates the abnormal cells to self-heal, and the perforation allows new epithelial cells to attach.

The Final Note

If ever you notice your cat or dog exhibiting symptoms, do not hesitate to get it checked by the vet. Always follow the veterinarian’s advice in such circumstances because corneal ulcers are always progressive and aggressive. Quick action can save your pet’s eye.