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Dog Eye Injuries can be a Vet Emergency

Eye injuries in dogs and cats are common and are usually caused by trauma (such as a fight with another animal), a foreign body in the eye, infection, an inability to form lubricating tears, or an abnormality in the eye. 


Presentations for these include squinting, pawing the eye or face, watery eyes, a discharge from the eye, the eyes can look red or inflammed, the pupil size may be abnormal, or the pet simply appears uncomfortable or in pain. But when is this an emergency and when should pet owners seek veterinary help?

Most injuries that appear superficial occur to the cornea. This is the outer layer of your pet’s eye. There are many very thin layers to the cornea and the seriousness of the injury depends on how many of the layers have been damaged. Injuries to the outermost layer can heal quickly with medication in little time. However, the deeper the injury, the greater the chance of scarring or blindness which often requires surgery to prevent further damage.

When damaged, your pet’s eyes can deteriorate rapidly. In the cases or a foreign object in the eye or ocular disease, delayed treatment can result in irreversible blindness if veterinary help isn’t immediate. The eyes won’t repair themselves without intervention so we recommend a check-up with your pet’s GP (or after hours veterinarians when they are closed) for early diagnosis and treatment.


Biggie is a 7-year old Chihuahua. His owner noticed he was keeping his left eye closed and monitored him closely through the evening. The eye was flushed with water every hour and Biggie didn’t appear to be in any discomfort. The only noticeable sign was that he wouldn’t open his left eye.

The condition didn’t improve by the next morning and Biggie’s GP was closed so he presented to Perth Vet Emergency (PVE) for a consultation with an after-hours veterinarian. Dr Penny Seet examined Biggie and noticed he was a little uncomfortable. He still wasn’t opening his eye and there was mild ocular discharge. All other examinations appeared normal.

Dr Seet suspected Biggie had a corneal oedema (cloudiness) of the left eye. She examined the eye with fluorescein dye. In this process, a medical staining agent is applied to the eye just like eye drops and examined under an ultraviolet light. The colourant stains any dead, degenerated or damaged cells allowing the veterinarian to see the extent of the damage.

The fluorescein staining showed Biggie had a moderately deep corneal ulcer – the injury was to more than one layer of the cornea – so the eye was examined further. Thankfully the anterior chamber of the eye (the fluid space between the cornea and the iris) had not been damaged. Biggie’s eyes were flushed repeatedly. The cause of the injury was unknown so both eyes were flushed to be on the safe side.

Had Biggie’s eye been further damaged, he would have required a referral to a veterinary ophthalmologist for further examination which would likely have resulted in surgery. But within the hour, Biggie was discharged from PVE with pain relief, medication to help lubricate the eye, as well antibiotics to alleviate any infection. His owners also received a medical report with a more detailed report forwarded to his GP to update them on the findings prior to his re-check with them in 3 days. 

No doubt you have friends with stories about their pets who have been squinting and, “it came good on its own in a couple of days.” But taking a gamble on this can have dire consequences.


Some eye injuries requiring emergency attention include:

Foreign Body – Grass seeds are a common culprit of this condition. They can cause corneal ulceration and if not removed appropriately, they can rupture the eyeball requiring surgery.

Corneal Ulceration – When the cornea is injured. As mentioned above, the more layers that are injured the more severe the treatment to repair them. Pet’s eyes can deteriorate rapidly and if left untreated, the eyeball can rupture.

Uveitis – A very painful condition where the inner chambers of the eye are inflamed. This is commonly seen after trauma or can be caused by infection, and can progress to Glaucoma if untreated.

Glaucoma – This is increased pressure in the eye causing the eyeball to stretch. It is extremely painful and can result in irreversible blindness if not treated appropriately.

Daisy the Pug - Photo: SPCA Florida
Proptosis – The eyeball popping out of the socket. This is common in brachycephalic breeds - those with bulging eyes, short snouts and shallow eye sockets—like Shih Tzus, Pekingese, Pugs, Lhasa Apsos and Boston Terriers. Treatment requires emergency replacement and suturing of the eyelids together. 

Neurological issues – Seizures, nystagmus (flicking of the eyeball), unchanging or unresponsive pupil size, or head tilts can be signs of very serious ailments involving the eyes. In these instances, immediate veterinary attention is required.


With prompt diagnosis and treatment, most eye conditions can be successfully treated. In some instances, delayed treatment can result in irreversible damage and on occasion blindness.

You know your pet well and you will pick up on any early signs of your pet’s eye injury. When this occurs, you can attempt gentle flushing of your pet’s eyes with sterile saline solution.

However, it is best you seek veterinary help to ensure your pets eyes are treated correctly and this also ensures they are not experiencing any further discomfort. Eye injuries can be painful, even if your pet isn’t showing signs that they are in pain.

Written by Dr Penny Seet (BSc BVMS MANZCVS ) and Solange Newton (BComn – Marketing & Digital Comn) - January 2017

Dr Penny Seet (BSc BVMS MANZCVS Emergency & Critical Care, Medicine of Cats)

Dr Penny Seet worked in general practice before transitioning back to emergency medicine in 2009. Dr Seet was awarded Membership for the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists in the Chapter of Emergency and Critical Care in 2011 and again in the Chapter of Medicine of Cats in 2014. 

She is a Senior Veterinarian at Perth Vet Emergency and mentor for AVA New Graduates.

Solange Newton (BComn – Marketing & Digital Comn)

Solange considers herself the lay person among incredible veterinarians and veterinary nurses. Her career commenced in journalism (though it pains her to admit that). She commenced with Animal Emergency Service (AES) in 2009 as a receptionist and with the company’s support and encouragement, gained her Bachelor Degree in Marketing and Digital Communication. Solange now co-ordinates activities for both AES and Perth Vet Emergency with close guidance from the Senior Veterinarians of PVE as well as AES.


Perth Vet Emergency
and Animal Emergency Service are after-hours Emergency & Critical Care Veterinarians providing care when General Practitioner veterinarians and diagnostic labs are closed. Our veterinarians are experts in their fields who practice advanced veterinary medicine in dedicated hospitals containing state-of-the-art facilities and equipment. These include surgical suites, ultrasound, radiology, laboratories, Pet Intensive Care, oxygen therapy, endoscopy, blood banks and antivenom, as well as many more services.

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