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the eyes have it: common eye conditions in pets

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan

Eyes may be the windows to the soul, but they are also as prone to injury or illness as any other part of your pet. Eye problems are quite common, and I see them in my exam room on a daily basis. Dogs and cats can both be affected, as can most other pets (like rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, ferrets, and on and on...). 

In a five part series dedicated to eye health, I’ll go over the most common conditions I see in cats and dogs, such as: 

  • Conjunctivitis
  • Corneal ulcers
  • Cataracts
  • Glaucoma
  • Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KCS), or dry eye


Let’s start with the most common condition I see. Conjunctivitis (also known as “pink eye” in humans) is the inflammation of the membrane that lines the eye. It has many different causes in cats and dogs, such as:


  • Allergic - Pets can be affected by pollen and dust just like us.
  • Viral - Viral conjunctivitis is particularly common in cats.
  • Bacterial - Bacterial conjunctivitis is more common in dogs than cats.


Symptoms of conjunctivitis may come on gradually, or may show up suddenly. Swelling of the membranes around the eye, redness and increased discharge from the eye are all tell-tale signs. Conjunctivitis is itchy, so your pet may also paw at the affected eye.


Your veterinarian can easily diagnose conjunctivitis. A thorough eye exam will be done, and he or she may take samples from the eye to examine under a microscope. Gently scraping cells from the eyelid can reveal the underlying cause, especially in the cases of bacterial and viral conjunctivitis. A bacterial culture may also be sent out. 


Treatment is usually simple. Topical medications (eye drops or ointments) will probably have your pooch or kitty on the road to recovery within three to five days. Sometimes, however, conjunctivitis recurs. If your pet has recurrent problems with eye infections, there may be an underlying cause, such as incorrect eyelid conformation, irritating eyelashes or dry eye (which I will address in a future blog).

Because eye conditions can often be chronic, having a pet insurance plan in place that covers both chronic conditions as well as hereditary eye conditions that may develop can help provide peace of mind and clarity when it comes to caring for your best friend.

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