Dogs, cats and other pets generally live their lives with great enthusiasm and wild abandon when it comes to running through bushes, climbing trees or scrummaging through hay in their hutches. And when compared to the number of times people are seen for a scratch on their eyeball, pets do this sort of thing relatively often. So, what does a scratch on the eye mean and how serious can it really be?
Well, if your pet is fairly lucky, he or she may be left with a bit of conjunctivitis – inflammation in the eye which makes it appear red, watery and they sometimes may squint a little. If the scratch goes a little deeper, they may end up with a “Corneal Ulcer” (a term that gives many people the shivers) or even a perforation into the front part of the eye right through the cornea.
So what is the cornea?
The cornea is the transparent tissue that is found on the front of the eye – the area that we look through and through which one can see the colour of the iris. It works with the sclera (the white of the eye) to hold the eyeball together (without them the eye would be a blob of watery jelly). It also assists the lens in directing light to focus on the retina on the back of the eye, so that we can see objects around us.
Despite its really important function, it’s remarkably thin – around half to one millimetre! It consists of a single layer of cells on a membrane on the outside, some tightly packed dehydrated collagen fibres in the middle and another single layer of cells on a membrane on the inside. It has nerve supply but no blood vessels and receives its nutrients from the surrounding tissues and oxygen directly from the air – it’s a pretty special little organ!
What happens when the cornea is damaged?
If an animal gets a scratch on its eye, what sometimes happens is that the top layer of cells is scratched off and disrupts the surface of the cornea. This allows tears to come into contact with the underlying collagen fibres which then begin to absorb fluid and swell giving the cornea a ‘cloudy’ appearance – they’re no longer dehydrated and transparent. This is a Corneal Ulcer.
If the injury goes right down to the inner single layer of cells or even perforates the cornea, the damage is significant and poses a serious risk of losing the eye.
So what can be done for an injured eye?
Firstly, if your pet has a sore eye, get it checked out as soon as possible. Many ulcers are not visible to untrained eyes and your vet will do a special test using a fluorescein dye to highlight any areas where the corneal cells have been disrupted. If your pet does have a corneal ulcer, she will prescribe appropriate medication and will demonstrate how to apply it. Your pet will need follow-up appointments to ensure it is healing well.
Occasionally ulcers healing may be delayed, in which case your vet may recommend surgery or referral to a veterinary ophthalmologist. Most importantly, follow your vet’s directions with regards to medication and call if your pet’s condition appears to be deteriorating in any way – she’d much rather hear from you sooner than later!
If you have any concerns regarding your pet’s eyes, please contact your vet to make an appointment.
To book please call 0481 527 678 or online we’ll be happy to help your pet ‘see clearly’ again!