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Canine Eyes & Their Disorders


Time Is of the Essence
The best way to protect your dog’s vision is to catch eye disorders early, when they are most easily treated. A dog with eye or vision problems may paw at or scratch his eye, squint, bump into things, become afraid of the dark, or be frightened in situations that did not frighten him before. The eye may produce discharge, be red, look cloudy or be swollen. The nictitating membrane may partially cover the eye.

If your dog seems to have an eye problem, take her to the veterinarian right away. Your vet may have the knowledge and equipment to diagnose and treat the problem immediately; if not, she may refer your dog to a veterinary ophthalmologist, a specialist in animal eyes and their disorders.

“Veterinary ophthalmologists do a one-year general internship and then a three- to four-year residency with board-certified ophthalmologists, seeing nothing but ophthalmic cases,” says Ellison Bentley, DVM, Diplomate, ACVO, and clinical associate professor of comparative ophthalmology at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Veterinary Medicine. “After completing the residency, they must pass a board exam given by the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists to become board certified.”

As in other veterinary specialties, the veterinary ophthalmologists on the leading edge of their discipline are at universities. However, veterinary ophthalmologists who practice in the community keep up-to-date by going to conferences and attending continuing-education seminars.

Only about 300 veterinarians in the United States have board certification from the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists. As a result, if your dog needs a veterinary ophthalmologist, you may need to travel to see one. Some, but not all, veterinary ophthalmologists see dogs only by referral.

Despite the dog’s legacy as a hunter, the modern dog doesn’t have to hunt farther than her bowl to find her dinner. So good eyesight is not a necessity for a pet dog; her keen senses of hearing and smell can compensate when vision is impaired. Even so, it’s important that your dog’s eye problems be treated quickly so that she doesn’t suffer pain or develop worse problems. Work with your veterinarian to keep your dog’s vision in the best shape possible.

*P. McGreevey, T. Grassi, A. Harman, “A strong correlation exists between the distribution of retinal ganglion cells and nose length in the dog,” Brain, Behavior and Evolution 63(1):13–22.




Shauna S. Roberts, PhD, is an award-winning science and medical writer and copyeditor who specializes in arthritis, diabetes and related subjects.


Adapted from diagram by Linda Aronson, DVM

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