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Eye Protection for Dogs: Why & When?

Eye protection for dogs? Hmmm… let's see!

Every summer we all experience blazing hot skies that make us squint but what is it like for our dogs? We decided to speak to the expert veterinary team at Southern Cross Vet about the many benefits of eye protection for our canine companions.

"We all are familiar with the cancer-causing aspects and cosmetic ageing damage of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun." said Dr Sam Kovac.

"In Australia, pet owners need to be especially vigilant for their animal friends as we have some of the highest UV exposure on the Earth’s crust that can cause a host of problems to our family.

Similarly, being Aussies, we’ve all heard of the ‘Slip, Slop, Slap and Wrap’ campaign from the Cancer Council that encourages the use by all Australians of sun protection – through reducing the impact and absorbance of ultraviolet radiation to our bodies. 

The last part of the campaign – ‘wrap’, refers to the wearing of effective eye protection to cut out UV radiation to avoid conditions like glaucoma, melanoma and cataracts.

Dogs have very similar anatomy to us, humans:

✔️ Cornea - the outer layer of the eye that helps to focus light on the back of the eye.

✔️ Anterior chamber – a water-filled area that is a shock absorber for the eye.

✔️ Iris and lens – this apparatus can lengthen and shorten to make the lens thicker and thinner to allow more or less light through depending on ambient brightness. 

✔️ Posterior chamber – a thick gel-filled area that helps light be filtered as it transits through to the back of the eye to be read by the brain.

✔️ Retina – this is a really important area that basically is responsible for converting the light signals into information that is read by the brain as an image.

✔️ Tapetum lucidum – a reflective mirror-like area that sits just behind the retina that reflects light back through the retina to give it a ‘second chance’ at seeing all the information and therefore allowing dogs to see much better than us in low light conditions!

All these areas of the eye are extremely sensitive to brightness and ultraviolet radiation and the action of both these forms of rays can lead to damage to each of the structures.

Who is most at risk?

#1. Some Dog Breeds

Those dogs who have ‘beedy’ eyes like brachycephalic breeds including French bulldogs, Boston terriers, British Bulldogs, Pugs, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Boxers are all more prone to physical eye damage as their eyeballs do protrude out significantly

This risk of physical trauma is compounded by the effect of radiation and rays that can weaken the eye structures making them more at risk to further injury. 

Other breeds are prone to genetic rather than traumatic eye problems that are also worsened by radiation and ray exposure. Corgis, Cattle dogs and other ‘working breeds’ are prone to a condition called PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy) that can be exacerbated, or worsened by the damage that excessive sunlight and UV have on the structures of the eye.

#2. Dogs with Anxiety Disorders

Apart from breeds at risk, all dogs who suffer from anxiety disorders can experience damaging effects of the radiation from the sun. There is mounting evidence in both the human and canine literature to show that excessive radiation from the sun can lead to an increased state of anxiety.

#3. Post-surgery

We often forget about how many pets have eye surgery each year in Australia. From simple benign tumour removals to cataract surgery and entropion surgery to fix the curling in of the eyelids often experienced by Shar Pei and Staffordshire terrier-type dogs, eye surgeries are on the rise. 

Anaesthesia weakens the immune system and surgery causes inflammation, and so dogs experiencing a recovery from surgery and acutely at risk of the worst of our strong sun’s damaging effects.

#4. Skin Cancer

Many people think that a dog’s thick fur coat protects against skin cancer, but actually, the rates of skin cancer in dogs are higher than people!

The most concerning skin cancer for dogs is one called ‘Mast Cell Tumour’, this is catastrophic cancer that can spread throughout the body and cause death. There is mounting evidence to show that UV radiation is a contributor to this disease. 

Squamous cell carcinoma, hemangioma and hemangiosarcomas are other skin cancers that can be caused by excess sun radiation exposure. 

#5. Lupus

Lupus aka "Collie Nose" can cause your dog's nose to lose pigmentation
It cannot be left unsaid however that some conditions are improved by UV radiation exposure.

One such condition is Lupus, a painful and itchy autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks the body’s own cells. The effect of UV radiation on lupus is to switch off or ‘quiet down’ the immune system of those dogs afflicted with the disease.

Case study:

At Southern Cross Vet, we had a second opinion consult for a patient who had ‘cloudiness’ in the eye of their dog. 

The previous vet attributed the cloudiness to ‘age-related change’ and maybe a ‘bit of cataracts’. Upon closer inspection, there was a mass in its eye. Biopsies showed that it was malignant melanoma. The prognosis given was poor, and the eye was removed entirely to prevent the tumour from seeding its toxic cells to distant parts of the body. We hope the dog will live another six months. 

This dog belonged to owners who had a very active lifestyle outdoors with kayaking, long beach picnics and strolls as part of their normal Summer lifestyle. This is a common and very enjoyable lifestyle that many Australians choose.

Dog wearing a PFD (Personal Flotation Device) - K-9 Float Coat by Ruffwear

We strongly feel that if the patient would have had eye protection (as funny as that may look for passers-by...) this tumour would have not developed and he’d still be happily enjoying the vision that two eyes offer!
How can you protect against the damaging effect of rays and radiation on your dog's eyes?

#1. Sunscreen

We routinely recommend to all dogs with an active outdoor lifestyle in Australia to have a zinc oxide-based suncream be applied to the skin area around the eyeball and any other areas exposed to the sun such as the tip of the nose (just behind the coloured bit) and the abdomen

#2. Goggles

Goggles or dog sunglasses are an essential part of any dogs who leave the house during the most extreme radiation hours of 11am to 2pm
Rex Specs goggles for active dogs of all sizes!

It's vital that you fit the goggles correctly to avoid pressure sores and discomfort which may make your dog not want to wear the device again.

It takes a bit of getting used to as they may look like something from outer space to start with, but once you get used to it, it’s kind of cute! 

Plus you can enjoy the fact that you know you are protecting your best friend from a variety of solar radiation effects.

To fit the goggles, you may like to call your veterinarian for an appointment so they can make sure you apply them correctly for the first time, most are happy to help!

#3. Exposure

If you can, really do avoid the 11 am- 2 pm timeframe when UV radiation is at its peak, outside of these hours, you can relax and not be so concerned about applying eye protection to your best mate!

Summer is time to enjoy with all our family – that includes our furry friends. Enjoyment comes with a need to protect our companions that depend on us entirely. Practising a little bit of sun safety and reading up now before summer is upon us will help you be the best pet parent you can be... Stay safe!

written by Dr Sam Kovac, October 2019 (all rights reserved) for Australian Dog Lover

About the writer

Dr Sam KovacBVSC (Merit)), Chartered Member of the Australian Veterinary Assoc. , Member Royal College of Vet Surgeons, UK, MSGFC

Dr Sam followed his dream of becoming a veterinary surgeon that began at age three. Since that time, he has developed a strong interest in oncology, internal medicine and animal behaviour. Now a Chartered Member of the Australian Veterinary Association, Dr Sam continues his passion of providing the most up-to-date care to his patients and their two-legged family.

Sam founded Southern Cross Vet in the heart of St Peters, bordering on Alexandria to the 
west, Marrickville to the east and Newtown to the north, to offer pet parents a new level of service but with reasonable fees.

You can follow Southern Cross Vet on Facebook at or Instagram at

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