Protecting Vision – First Aid For Eye Trauma

By August 4, 2014Dr. Borgmann, Pets

By Dr. I Elizabeth Borgmann. Trauma to the eye should never be taken lightly. Eyes, and vision, need to be preserved whenever possible. Seemingly minor injuries to the eyes can result in loss of vision.
In this article we will discuss the signs of an eye problem, what you should do when you see this, the types of eye issues we see in dogs, and what you should carry in your first aid kit. Remember, there are entire textbooks written on just eye diseases so this will be a seriously condensed version!

What are the signs you will see that suggests there is a problem with the eye?
• Redness
• Rubbing
• Squinting
• Colour changes (the eye looks blue or grey)
• Blood or bloody discharge
• Excessive tearing
• Ocular discharge (pus or mucous)
• Differences in the size of the pupils


What are the first steps you should take when you notice an eye problem in your dog?
• Flush the eye with a saline solution (neutral saline contact solution can work here. Ask your pharmacists for help in choosing one for your first aid kit)
• Place antibiotic eye drops (for dogs, over the counter polysporin for the eyes is fine but don’t use triple antibiotic ointments in cats)
• Apply a cold compresses
• Pull out your cell phone to call your vet.

What type of problems do we commonly see in pets? The eyes lead the face – so your imagination is absolutely right!
Dogs running through the bush may scratch their eyes, puncture their eyes, or get an infection.

Foreign objects such as sand, rock, mulch, thorns, grass awns and more can embed in the eye. Dogs playing together in the dog park may see the same types of problems. Distracted dogs can swing their heads about or catch them in doors and suffer quite the bruising. Big dog, little dog interactions can be quite damaging to the eye. So let’s look at each of these problems and what you can do, or should do, until you see your veterinarian.

Conjunctivitis is common in dogs and may be caused by infectious agents (viruses or bacteria), irritants (dust and debris) and allergies. They all look the same. One or both eyes will produce excessive discharge and the eye looks red. Your vet will ask a series of questions particular to your dog and your lifestyle to help sort out what the problem may be.

Scratches to the cornea are a very common problem. The eye will often be red and squinting. Scratches are painful! Dogs commonly scratch their eyes running through bushes, playing with other dogs or cats, and sometimes with their own nails. Have you ever scratched your eye? If yes, you know it hurts – a lot!

Punctures through the cornea are a much more serious problem. Introducing bacteria into the eye or causing a leakage of fluid which can be quite the issue.
Eyes also are very vascular, meaning they have a significant blood supply. Trauma to the eye can cause bruising of the sclera (the white part of the eye) or it may cause the eye to fill with blood. This needs to be monitored to ensure resolution and that no glaucoma develops as a consequence to the inflammation.

Perhaps the worst problem of all – is the eye that has popped out. Dogs do not have a complete orbit and it is easier for an eye to become dislodged. It is more common in the dogs with shorter faces and naturally more protruding eyes. These are medical emergencies. You need to keep the eye moist and find a vet ASAP. The longer you wait, the more nerve and muscle damage is occurring. As damage progresses, the likelihood of a viable eye decreases.

There are other eye issues to watch for that are breed or individual related and are not necessarily associated with an activity. Lenses may fall forward or backward. Glaucoma can develop. Dry eye is treated most successfully early on (you will see a heavy mucoid discharge). Sudden development of cataracts may indicate an underlying health issue. Anterior uveitis, where the front chamber of the eye is inflamed, is also a serious condition that needs investigation.

So there may be no history of trauma but that does not mean you should ever take a change to the eye lightly. By far the most common problem with eyes is conjunctivitis and this is not an emergency. But don’t mess with eyes. Never take chances.

If you notice a change in the eye and especially if the eye is painful or red, it should be seen by a veterinarian. If the eye is comfortable, you can flush the eye with saline and apply polysporin ophthalmic eye drops until you can get in to see your vet. (But note – don’t use triple antibiotic eye ointment drops such as polysporin in the cat eye. An unusual and rare reaction that is not well understood can occur where the cat suddenly dies.)

To summarize and provide a guideline:
• non-painful eyes should be seen within 24 hours
• painful eyes should be seen as soon as possible (within hours, when possible)
• eyes with changes in pupil size should be examined within hours
• swollen painful eyes with dilated pupils need to be seen ASAP
• And proptosed eyes (eyes that have popped out) need to be seen ASAP.


First Aid Kit contents:
• Saline rinse
• Polysporin eye drops or equivalent. These are not to be used in cats! (Your vet may be able to supply you with a suitable alternative.)
• Eye lubricants (to keep the eye moist til you can see a veterinarian)
• Cold compresses
• Your vets phone number programmed into your cell phone.

Oh – and did I mention? – don’t mess with the eyes! See your veterinarian!

Coming next: what to do about skin wounds!


Dr. Borgmann lives in Chilliwack and has been practicing in the Fraser Valley for over 13 years and can be reached at the Whatcom Road Veterinary Clinic

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