Media – Crusty Eyes are Painful & Dry

woman gazing at dog

 She’d Feel Better if She Could Cry

One of my dogs has a crusty discharge from her eyes. It doesn’t wipe away, and when I pull it off, the skin underneath is red and sore. After reading your column on rabbits recently, I wondered if it could be mites, but if there’s such a thing as dog eye mites, the net won’t tell.

Dr. Nichol:
We get serious competition from the Internet. Dr. Google expounding on eye mites would make for fake news. There are worms, called Thelazia, that can live beneath the eyelids but these are rare in dogs. Most likely your pupster’s eyes are dry, leading to inflammation, a smoldering bacterial infection, and a sticky discharge.

Dry eye, as it is often called, also goes by the impressive-sounding medical moniker, keratoconjunctivitis sicca or KCS for short. Most cases result from inadequate tear production from the lacrimal glands and third eyelid, the pink structure at the inside corner of a dog’s or cat’s eyes.

Tear production can be influenced by problems in far flung areas of the body. Diabetes, low thyroid hormone, and over-active adrenal function, along with certain medications and infections can cause KCS. But most cases result from trouble with the local immune system that surrounds the eyes.

I worry about dogs with KCS. Their eyes are painful partly because of secondary infections resulting from poor tear flow. Long term, the cornea of the eye can accumulate a dark pigment that leads to blindness. Dry eyes aren’t fun for anybody. Your girl’s crusty eye discharge bothers her and makes her unattractive as a prom date. She needs help to control her pain and prevent vision loss.

Your veterinarian will do a simple and quick Schirmer tear test to measure your dog’s tear production. If KCS is confirmed Optimmune topical ointment, or tacrolimus drops can control the immune-mediated cause of her dry eyes. Other topical medications may also be necessary but she is likely to do just fine. You’ll need to get up-close and personal with your dog to administer these treatments but there is no need for social distancing. Snuggle all you want, elbow bump not required.

Each week Dr. Jeff Nichol makes a short video, blog, or a Facebook Live to help bring out the best in pets. Sign up at no charge at Dr. Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). You can post pet behavioral or physical questions at or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.