Thursday, March 22, 2012

How to Identify and Treat a Pet’s Minor Eye Injury

By Langley Cornwell

My neighbor was running her errands last week. As always, her dog was along for the ride, hanging out the passenger side window enjoying the wind in his face. They are inseparable; I’ve rarely seen her without her trusty companion at her side. This particular day was mild but very windy. Late in the afternoon I received a panicked phone call. Her dog was pawing at his eyes, pacing the floor and panting. He wouldn’t eat his dog food at all, and was only mildly interested in his CANIDAE TidNips™.

Her dog was in obvious discomfort and she didn’t know why. Not sure what to do next, she wanted me to come over and take a look. After observing her dog’s behavior and discussing how they spent the day, we concluded that her dog had debris in his eye from the car ride. Because her dog was so uncomfortable and it was after hours, we thought she should take him to the emergency veterinarian clinic. When they got there, our layman’s diagnosis was confirmed; he had a corneal abrasion, a scratch on the very outer lens of his eye.

How Will I Know?

According to her vet, minor eye injuries are a common occurrence in dogs and cats. In fact, all types of pets are prone to eye injuries including small animals like guinea pigs and mice. The problem is, when your pet is showing signs of minor eye injury distress, it’s often hard to identify his ailment. Thus, many owners do not know when it’s appropriate to take their pet to the vet.

Dogs and cats get minor eye injuries from many different circumstances including riding in a car, playing with other animals, from pine needles, or even from hay or woodchip kennel flooring.

If your pet is acting uncomfortable and you cannot identify the cause, the source of his distress may be corneal abrasions or another minor eye injury. Look for the signs: if your dog or cat is squinting, blinking rapidly or keeping his eye closed, that may be the problem. Other common indications of an eye problem include tearing, bloodshot eyes, avoiding bright lights and pawing at the eye area.

What Should I Do?

If your dog or cat is squinting, blinking rapidly and/or avoiding bright lights, there is probably a foreign object in his eye. Keep your pet calm and talk in a soothing voice. It’s important for you to remain calm under the circumstances, because your pet will know if you are anxious and your anxiety will add stress to the situation. As you talk soothingly, gently lift the upper eyelid and look for debris lodged underneath. Do the same with the lower eyelid. Be careful not to force or slide your pet’s eyelid open because you don’t want to drag the foreign object over his fragile cornea. Instead, softly pull the eyelid away from the eyeball.

If you see something in there, Pet MD recommends flushing it out with room temperature water. If that doesn’t work, try to gently ease it out with a damp cotton swab. This will be especially difficult with cats and nervous dogs but give it a try; the object may flush out easily. If you can’t remove the object quickly and easily yourself, don’t risk further damage to your pet’s eye. Cover the eye with a bandage and take your pet to your veterinarian immediately.

If your dog or cat has bloodshot eyes, is squinting or tearing up excessively, he may have a scratch on his eye. First lift the lids and check for debris. If you don’t see anything, cover the eye with a clean damp cloth and bandage the cloth to your pet’s head. If you have one, put on an Elizabethan collar. If you don’t have one, bandage the dog or cat’s paws and dewclaws so they cannot continue to scratch at the eye area. Go straight to your veterinarian.  

Other indications of a minor eye injury include a watery, green or yellow discharge coming from your pet’s eyes. These symptoms may indicate a foreign object trapped under the eyelid, abnormal eyelash growth, blocked tear ducts, an eyelid defect, an eye infection or allergies. In all cases, seek professional advice. Your vet will be able to treat the problem and tell you how to manage a pet with an injured eye once you get home.

Don’t take chances with your pet’s vision. Even the most minor eye injury can develop into an infected wound which can result in your pet losing his eyesight.

Photo by Robert Degennaro

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell


  1. Good information. Doesn't happen too much around here, but good to know what to do when it does.

    Love the picture!! :) Beautiful!

  2. That is some great information. We have been lucky so far and haven't had that happen. Thanks for the good advice.

  3. This is all good stuff. Thanks so much :)

  4. Good information, Langley! We came back once from vacation to find our cat Sammy squinting and pawing at his eye. We took him to the vet the next day, and it turned out he had a corneal abrasion. We caught it fairly early, so after 2 weeks of eye drops, he was okay.


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