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Top 5 Most Common Eye Conditions in Pets

Animals are known for their superior senses, and when one is compromised by disease, their wellbeing and overall function is threatened. Your pet’s eyes do much more than scan the backyard for squirrels and watch for the mailman—they allow your furry friend to move confidently through the world. Prompt, expert treatment of eye conditions is paramount to preserving your pet’s vision, and quality of life. Fortunately, VRC’s ophthalmology department, led by our board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist, has experience in treating a spectrum of ocular conditions—from simple corneal ulcers, to challenging diseases. Here we highlight the five most common eye conditions in pets, so you can watch for warning signs, and alert your family veterinarian if you suspect your pet has an ocular problem.

#1: Corneal ulcers in pets

A corneal ulcer is an abrasion, scratch, or deeper wound on the surface of your pet’s eye. In dogs, corneal ulcers are often caused by ocular trauma, such as a scratch from another animal, or when a dog rubs its own eye. In cats, corneal ulcers commonly develop secondary to a herpesvirus infection, which also causes upper respiratory signs. Eye conditions that cause chronic corneal inflammation, such as keratoconjunctivitis sicca (i.e., “dry eye”) or abnormal eyelash growth, can also cause a corneal ulcer. Corneal ulcers are painful, and signs often include:

  • Redness
  • Squinting
  • Tearing
  • Ocular discharge
  • Cloudy-looking cornea


Corneal ulcers are diagnosed by applying a temporary stain that adheres only to damaged corneal areas. Most corneal ulcers are superficial, and resolve quickly with eye medications; however, deeper ulcers threaten to cause eye rupture, and may require longer, more intensive treatment, and possibly surgery, to preserve vision. 

#2: Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) in pets

KCS, commonly referred to as “dry eye,” is a condition that involves inadequate tear production, or poor quality tears that do not properly lubricate the eye surface. The dry cornea becomes easily traumatized and inflamed, leading to signs that may include:

  • Redness
  • Thick, mucousy ocular discharge
  • Squinting
  • Cloudy-looking cornea 


KCS is most often caused by immune-mediated tear gland destruction, but other causes are possible, including:

  • Drug reactions
  • Prolapsed third eyelid gland (i.e., “cherry eye”)
  • Third eyelid gland excision
  • Infectious, congenital, and endocrine diseases

KCS is common in dogs, with some breeds at higher risk, including Cavalier King Eye Conditions in DogsCharles Spaniels, English Bulldogs, Lhasa Apsos, Pugs, Shih Tzus, and West Highland White Terriers.

Prompt diagnosis and treatment is important, as uncontrolled KCS can lead to corneal vascularization, pigmentation, and scarring, which can limit your pet’s vision. Treatment is life-long, and involves eye medication to stimulate tear production, and reduce inflammation. 

#3: Cataracts in pets

A cataract is an opacity of your pet’s normally clear lens that interferes with the lens’ ability to properly focus light on the retina. Sometimes only part of your pet’s lens can be affected, but if the entire structure, or a large portion, becomes opaque, the formed light beam cannot reach the retina, causing poor vision. You may notice your pet’s eye changea cataract appears as a white spot or haze in the eye’s center. 

Most cataracts are hereditary, and affect high-risk breeds, such as:

  • Bichon Frises
  • Boston Terriers
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Fox Terriers
  • Havanese
  • Miniature Schnauzers
  • Poodles
  • Silky Terriers 


Cataracts can also develop secondary to injury, inflammation, or systemic diseases, such as diabete mellitus. 

A cataract is diagnosed through a thorough eye exam by a veterinary ophthalmologist. Unfortunately, no medical treatment is available to slow or reverse cataract formation, and only surgical lens replacement will restore an affected pet’s vision.

#4: Glaucoma in pets

Your pet’s eyes are filled with fluid (i.e,. aqueous humor) that is constantly produced and drained. Glaucoma results when a buildup of fluid, typically from impaired drainage, increases intraocular pressure. Excess pressure on the delicate retina, which houses vision receptors, can rapidly lead to irreversible blindness, making glaucoma a medical emergency. Glaucoma is painful, and pets may exhibit these characteristic signs:

  • Ocular redness
  • Tearing
  • Eye enlargement
  • Cloudy-looking cornea
  • Pawing at the eyes


Glaucoma is typically inherited, and is most often seen in high-risk breeds, including:

  • Basset Hounds
  • Beagles
  • Chinese Shar-Peis
  • Chow Chows
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Great Danes
  • Jack Russell Terriers
  • Norwegian Elkhounds
  • Samoyeds
  • Siberian Huskies

Glaucoma can also develop secondary to ocular problems that interfere with fluid drainage, including trauma, anterior lens luxation, ocular inflammation, advanced cataracts, and intraocular masses. Glaucoma can affect one or both eyes, depending on the cause.

Glaucoma is diagnosed by measuring the affected eye’s intraocular pressure. If glaucoma is secondary to an underlying problem, treatment of the primary condition may normalize the pressure; however, most cases involve life-long management, including eye medication, and monitoring by a veterinary ophthalmologist. Despite treatment, some dogs become blind in the affected eye(s), and may require surgical eye removal (i.e., enucleation) to relieve chronic pain.

#5: Eyelid conformational abnormalities in pets

As some pets grow, their eyelids develop incorrectly, becoming disproportionately too short or long, which can lead to secondary eye problems. Entropion is a condition where a pet’s eyelid rolls inward toward the cornea, causing chronic irritation and secondary ulcers. This condition is hereditary in some dog breeds, particularly those with prominent skin folds, such as Chinese Shar-Peis and Chow Chows. Entropion requires surgical correction of eyelid position and length, and chronic irritation relief. 

Ectropion causes the eyelid margin to droop away from the eye surface. Without constant contact between the eyelid and the cornea, tears roll off, and the cornea becomes abnormally dry, dull-looking, mucousy, and more susceptible to irritation and ulcers. Ectropion is also breed-related, and pets with loose facial skin, such as Bloodhounds, have a higher incidence. Ectropion treatment involves surgery to shorten the eyelid margin. 

If an ocular condition threatens your pet’s precious vision, act quickly, and contact your family veterinarian or the VRC emergency service immediately. After initial evaluation, if your primary veterinarian determines your pet will benefit from the expertise of a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist, contact us to schedule an appointment. 


Meet Our New Neurologist!

Gaemia Tracy, DVM, Practice Limited to Neurology is the newest addition to the VRC team.

Dr. Tracy worked at a large veterinary emergency and referral hospital in New Jersey before joining VRC in 2020. Dr. Tracy’s interests include IVDD treatment and management, Atlantoaxial instability management, management of inflammatory CNS disease, and seizure management.

Click here to learn more about Dr. Tracy!

Neurology Services at Veterinary Referral Center (VRC)

Your pet’s nervous system, composed of her brain, spinal cord, and nerves, is a highly sensitive network that conveys critical information throughout her entire body. Its proper function plays a role in almost every body activity, from blood pressure maintenance and breathing, to eating and walking. If your pet develops a neurologic problem, she will need prompt treatment by a veterinary team with extensive neurologic experience. Your family veterinarian can treat many of your pet’s medical problems, but complex neurologic conditions often require the advanced equipment and expertise only a veterinary referral hospital can offer. 

What is a veterinary neurologist?

You have likely visited a medical specialist, such as a dermatologist or orthopedist, and your pet likewise sometimes needs the experience of a veterinary specialist. Similar to human medicine, veterinary neurologists focus on diagnosing and treating diseases of the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves that originate from the brain and spinal cord to innervate the body’s muscles. VRC’s veterinary neurologist, Gaemia Tracy, DVM, Practice Limited to Neurology, is available to treat the most complex neurological conditions, and has special interests in managing intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), atlantoaxial instability, inflammatory CNS disease, and seizures. 

What neurologic conditions does VRC’s neurology department treat?

The neurology department at VRC can treat a variety of medical and surgical neurologic conditions, including:

  • Seizure disorders — Epilepsy is the most common seizure disorder to affect pets, but many other conditions, such as toxicity, brain tumors, and trauma, can cause seizures. Seizure disorder management involves diagnosing the underlying cause, and identifying medical treatments to control seizure activity.
  • Movement disorders — Movement disorders, such as paroxysmal dyskinesia, cause spontaneous, uncontrollable muscle movements and stiffness, similar to seizures. Our neurology department will determine if your pet’s abnormal movements are due to seizures, or another cause, and design an appropriate management plan. 
  • Neuromuscular diseases — Your pet’s muscles cannot contract without stimulation from her nerve cells, and if a neuromuscular disease interferes with communication between her nerves and muscles, she may experience weakness, or inability to perform normal functions, such as walking. Advanced diagnostics allow us to identify rare neuromuscular diseases, and offer treatment.  
  • Brain tumors — Brain tumors can be benign or malignant, and often require coordinated medical and surgical treatments for management. Although surgical resection is typically warranted, medications are often also needed, to treat side effects, or prevent cancer spread.
  • Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) — Pets with long, low backs, particularly dachshunds, can experience back problems related to a “slipped disc.” IVDD causes symptoms ranging from mild back pain to complete paralysis, and severe cases must be treated immediately, to prevent life-long paralysis. 
  • Spinal fractures and luxations — The individual vertebrae composing your pet’s spinal column can become misaligned or fractured, which can place abnormal pressure on her spinal cord. Spinal surgery is often necessary, to relieve damaging pressure, and prevent long-term complications.


What advanced diagnostics can VRC use to diagnose neurologic conditions in pets?

Thorough diagnosis of a neurologic disease or injury often requires advanced diagnostic and imaging techniques. To help us diagnose the most challenging neurologic conditions, we maintain the most up-to-date diagnostic equipment and techniques available, including:

  • Digital X-ray — X-rays are more often used to diagnose leg fractures, but they are invaluable when diagnosing neurologic problems, such as spinal fractures and luxations. 
  • Computed tomography (CT) — A CT is a type of X-ray machine that produces detailed body images in thin, cross-sectional slices. CT scans provide more accurate detail than traditional X-rays, by providing two- and three-dimensional images.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) — An MRI uses powerful magnets, instead of radiation, to also produce slice-like images of body areas. The highly detailed images offer the best analysis of nervous system structures, including the brain and spinal cord. VRC has the only on-site MRI in the area. 
  • Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis — Commonly referred to as a spinal tap, CSF collection allows us to analyze the fluid circulating through your pet’s brain and spinal cord, for abnormal cells, cancer, and infectious organisms. Veterinary Neurology


What clinical signs indicate nervous system disease in pets?

Since the nervous system plays a role in so many body functions, nervous disease signs are varied, but commonly include:

  • Incoordination
  • Muscle tremors
  • Pupil asymmetry
  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Head tilt
  • Back pain
  • Paralysis 
  • Seizures 

If you think your pet may have a neurologic condition, or is not acting like herself, have her evaluated by your family veterinarian immediately, or bring her to our emergency room, if your veterinarian is closed. Some neurologic conditions progress quickly, and can be fatal, if not treated promptly.

If your family veterinarian suspects a complex neurologic condition in your pet, contact us. Our neurologic team will partner with your veterinarian, and you, to provide the best care possible, and the best chance of recovery, for your best friend.


After Suffering From A Fractured Spine, This Puppy Learns To Walk With Help From A Rehab Nurse

On March 14th, 2020, little Sharkie was rescued from a puppy mill and brought to VRC. He was unable to walk and could not stand without falling over. After running diagnostics, it was discovered that Sharkie was suffering from a fractured spine. Luckily, VRC’s Physical Rehabilitation nurse, Ash, took Sharkie in as a foster and started working with him to gain his strength and learn to walk.

Over the course of several weeks, Sharkie has grown much stronger thanks to Ash’s rehabilitation skills. From cones and cavalettis to an underwater treadmill and tennis balls, Sharkie is mastering it all.

Update (5/21/2020): Nurse Ash officially adopted Sharkie and welcomed him into her home!