Does My Pet have an Ocular Problem?

Kenneth E. Pierce, DVM, MS, Diplomate ACVO

As a pet owner we pride ourselves in enjoying the time and experiences we share with our loved ones. Being a responsible owner also means being able to identify when something is wrong with your pet. Some animals have a knack for being able to hide from their owners any evidence of illness or pain. At times determining if your pet has an ocular problem can be even more challenging. Here are a couple of key tips to use in determining if your pet is having an eye problem.

Discharge from one or both eyes may be one of the easiest signs to identify. The things you want to note are the color, frequency, and duration of the discharge. Ocular discharge can range in color from being clear, as seen with excessive tearing onto the face (called epiphora), to mucoid, which appears gray-white in color, to purulent (pus-like), which appears yellow to yellow-green. As you can imagine the change in color of the discharge can sometimes coincide with the severity of the disease.

It is not uncommon for your pets, just like in humans, to have a small amount of discharge from their eyes first thing in the morning. However, the discharge should not continue throughout the day or over several days. If there is continual discharge from your pet’s eyes then a number of causes may be at fault. Potential causes include an anatomical deviation of the tears onto the face rather than down its normal drainage system; the development of dry eye (decreased tear production – one of the most common causes); and ocular infection/inflammation affecting either the tissue around the eye or within the eye. Depending on the cause of the discharge medical and/or surgical therapies can resolve the problem.

Just imagine that your eye hurts or is irritated by something. One of the first things that you do is blink excessively or squint continuously in an effort to alleviate the pain. Your pet will do the same when there is a problem with their eye. The amount/degree of squinting may vary depending on the level of discomfort associated with the condition. You may notice that your pet only squints occasionally or that it is squinting all the time. At time the squinting can be severe enough to result in swelling of the eyelids (called blepharedema).

You may notice that your pet may start to rub the affected eye, when it normally leaves its eyes alone. The combination of rubbing and the inflammation associated with the eye condition may also result in swelling of the eyelids. Some pets tend to rub and some pets don’t. In pets that don’t, you may notice that your pet ducks its head when you try to pet their head or face on the side of the affected eye. This is called being head shy. Severe ocular pain, for example glaucoma which is high pressure within the eye, can cause this clinical sign.  Your pet may also try and bite you if you try to touch around the eye. This change in behavior is definitely abnormal and worth getting checked out.

Color change is by far the most common and obvious ocular change to identify. The normal eye is composed of a clear/transparent cornea in the front and a white non-transparent sclera towards the back. A tissue layer, called conjunctiva, covers the white sclera and is normally transparent to light pink in color.  Within the conjunctiva are numerous blood vessels. These vessels can change in size depending on the disease process.

Reddening of the eye is a common presenting complaint, as it is easily seen as an abnormal change to the eye. The change to redness is due to an increase in diameter and amount of blood vessels within the conjunctiva (conjunctival hyperemia), or the growth of blood vessels within the cornea (corneal neovascularization). There are numerous causes for reddening of the eyes. A couple of common causes include ocular infection (infectious conjunctivitis), allergies,   dry eye, inflammation (uveitis), or glaucoma. You may also notice red within the front of the eye. This can be blood within the eye. Some causes for bleeding within the eye can be either a bleeding abnormality, systemic hypertension, infection or a tumor.

Another common observation is cloudiness to the eye. This cloudy change can be fluid within the cornea, which appears blue-white in color, or inflammation within the eye. As the eye becomes more inflamed the view inside the eye can become very hazy looking. A focal blue spot on the cornea is commonly observed with a corneal ulcer, for example.

These are a few examples of changes to the eyes that can occur with multiple diseases. Knowing and identifying these changes can help you become an expert observer of an eye problem in your pet. If you see any combination of these changes to your pet’s eyes seek veterinary medical attention.

The material contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not to be used as a substitute for the advice of a veterinarian.

Is Your Pet Spending Too Much Time Around the Water Bowl?

Jason Pintar, DVM, Diplomate ACVIM 

Excessive water intake is a common problem in dogs and cats and is a frequent reason for seeing a veterinarian. Excessive water intake is almost always associated with excessive urination and vice versa, but some pet owners more easily recognize one symptom over the other. The medical terminology for this problem is polyuria (excessive urination) and polydipsia (excessive drinking). It is not always easy to recognize these symptoms as they sometimes develop slowly making a human observer unable to recognize the change. In dogs, owners sometimes only notice they have to fill the water bowl more frequently or they recognize the dog having urinary accidents in the house. Because normal cats tend to drink very little water, some owners hardly ever see them at the water bowl. When water intake increases, some cats visit the bowl several times a day or drink from unusual sources including the toilet, shower, or faucets. Larger clumps of litter may also be recognized in the litter box. Polyuria and polydipsia also needs to be distinguished from frequent, and usually small volume, urination with normal water intake.   This is typically the result of disease in the urinary bladder or lower urinary tract, and the approach to diagnosis is different.   Because it is not always easy to recognize these signs, an animal’s water intake can be measured to get a more accurate assessment. Normal dogs should drink no more than 1 ½ ounces of water per pound of body weight a day, and a normal cat should drink less than ¾ of an ounce of water per pound each day. In fact, most pets drink considerably less than these amounts.  

Polyuria and polydipsia are symptoms of many different diseases. The two most common causes in both dogs and cats are diabetes mellitus (frequently referred to as “diabetes”) and kidney disease. Kidney disease can have various causes including infection, congenital/genetic disease, toxicities, and age related degeneration. Some medications, including anti-inflammatory steroids, anti-convulsants, and diuretics, can also cause these symptoms. Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) is a common disease in older cats that can cause this and a rare cause in dogs. Less common diseases include elevated blood calcium, cushings disease (an adrenal gland disorder), and diabetes insipidus. Rare causes include tumors in the spleen or other organs, uterine infections, liver disease, and psychogenic polydipsia (a behavioral disorder).

Diagnosing the cause of polyuria and polydipsia can often require multiple tests. Veterinarians generally start by performing a physical examination and running basic blood and urine tests. Further investigation may be required depending on these results and could include hormone testing, X-rays, and ultrasound exams. Because polyuria and polydipsia is not a specific disease but rather a symptom of multiple diseases, there is no specific treatment for it. Instead, the treatment is directed at the particular illness.

If you are concerned that your pet drinking more water than normal or urinating larger volumes, then it is probably a sign of illness that should not be ignored. If you are unsure, then measurement of water intake over a 24 hour period is recommended. Unless directed by a veterinarian, it is important to never restrict your pet from access to water as this can cause some diseases to quickly worsen. As always, you should discuss your concerns with your veterinarian and follow his or her advice on appropriate testing and treatment.

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes and should not be substituted for the advice of a veterinarian.