Corneal ulcers are a common condition of the eye in dogs.
Most commonly caused by trauma to the surface of the eye.
Short nosed breeds with more prominent eyes are more prone to ulcers e.g. French Bulldogs, Pugs, Boxers
Can be painful and require veterinary treatment to manage and treat.
Without treatment, ulcers can deteriorate quite quickly and even lead to the loss of an eye.
What is the cornea?
The cornea is the clear membrane at the front of the eyeball. It is made up of three layers: the outermost layer is called the epithelium, next is the stroma, and finally the Descemet’s membrane. The total thickness of the cornea is around half a millimetre.
What is a corneal ulcer?
A corneal ulcer is when the first layer of the cornea (the epithelium) has been eroded away, exposing the stroma. This can lead to fluid accumulating in the stroma layer causing a cloudy appearance to the area. Ulcers can vary from shallow to deep, and the deeper they are, the more risk there is that the eye might burst.
Corneal ulcers are most commonly caused by trauma to the surface of the eye. Rough play with other dogs, cat scratches and running through undergrowth can often lead to ulcers. They can also be caused by chemical irritation to the eye.
Less commonly, they can be due to infections or underlying diseases. Infections can be viral or bacterial. The condition Dry Eye can make affected dogs more prone to ulcers (see our Dry Eye article). Some dogs may have extra eyelashes that grow towards the cornea and cause trauma, leading to an ulcer.
What signs should I look out for?
Signs of discomfort, such as:
Holding the eye shut
Rubbing the eye
A red, bloodshot eye
An obvious dip or crater on the front of the eye
How are corneal ulcers diagnosed?
Your vet will likely examine the eye with an ophthalmoscope and put a dye called fluorescein onto the surface of the eye. This dye only sticks to areas of ulceration and so is a very good method of identifying ulcers.
How are corneal ulcers treated?
Treatment usually involves applying eye medication to the affected eye several times a day. These can include antibiotic drops to prevent secondary infection, lubricating drops to keep the eye moist and/or corneal repair gel to accelerate healing. Your vet may also prescribe oral anti-inflammatories especially if the ulcer is very painful. They may recommend your dog wears a cone to stop them rubbing at the eye and potentially doing further damage.
Uncomplicated ulcers should heal within 1-2 weeks, but it is very important that the healing progress is regularly assessed by your vet. Occasionally ulcers do not heal with eye drops alone and may require further intervention. This may include surgery, and in some cases referral to a specialist eye vet.
What is the long-term outlook if my dog has a corneal ulcer?
The majority of uncomplicated ulcers will heal with treatment and will have minimal impact on your dog’s health or vision long term.
Some deep or more complicated ulcers may leave a scar once healed, but the sooner your dog gets treatment, the better the outcome.
If you have any concerns about your dog’s eyes, the vets at MyDogDoc would be happy to help. Book a consultation to chat your concerns through.