Technically known as Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), dry eye is a condition of the eye that is caused by poor tear production. The inadequacies of the tear ducts to produce tears may be due to many reasons including injury to the tear glands, infections of the gland, or damage to the nerves in these glands. Dry eye has also been related to immune problems but often there is no apparent cause and tear glands simply do not function properly. Dry eye can actually be quite a serious condition. If untreated, your pets are likely to suffer from chronic eye infections and there is an increased chance of scarring of the cornea. This scarring will affect vision and it is even possible for blindness to occur in cases where a corneal ulcer develops.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
The most prevalent symptom of dry eye is a thick, yellow discharge from the tear ducts. Also, since tears function to cleanse the eyes and prevent bacterial infection, pets with dry eye will be more prone to infections of the eye as bacteria is permitted to grow. In addition, the normal function of tears is to remove and prevent dust and debris from building up in the eye but pets with dry eye will be more likely to have particles build up in the eye. This can lead to problems with vision and a fair amount of discomfort along with dryness.
Diagnosing dry eye involves the use of an absorbent strip known as a Schirmer tear test strip. This strip would be placed on the eye by a veterinarian and then tear production is measured based on the amount of tears on the strip. If lower than normal levels of tears are found on the strip, dry eye can be diagnosed.
When the cause of the dry eye can be determined, treatment for the cause is the first course of action. For example, in cases where dry eye has been caused by some kind of bacterial infection in the tear gland, a course of antibiotics to clear up the infection will likely eliminate the dry eye. In addition, certain prescription drugs, like sulphonamides, can cause dry eye. If your pet is taking such a prescription, you should consult your veterinarian and discuss terminating these prescriptions.
In cases where the cause of the dry eye is unknown, it is best to take more of a management approach to your pet’s dry eye. For example, certain ointments or drops like cyclosporine have shown promise for treating dry eye. In cases where ointments are ineffective, veterinarians will often recommend artificial tear solutions.
In more severe cases of dry eye, your pet’s only option may be surgery. Transplantation of the salivary duct into the eyelid allows saliva to act as tears. Though this treatment is very rare and is only used in extreme circumstances it has been an effective option. Regardless of the severity of your pet’s case of dry eye, it is important to take this condition seriously to prevent unwanted and often irreversible damage to the eye and cornea.