Authored by: Dr. Lindsey, DVM
The medical term for dry eye in dogs is keratoconjunctivitis sicca or KCS. It’s a common eye problem that is from decreased or inadequate tear production. Keratoconjunctivitis sicca means inflammation of the cornea and surrounding tissues from drying. Tears are required to lubricate the cornea and wash away any debris that may contact the eye. Tears are made up of water, mucus, and fatty liquid. Dogs with dry eye usually have inadequate production of the water component of tears.
So, what causes KCS? There are several causes but the most common is immune mediated disease. With this, the body’s immune system attacks the cells that make tears resulting in decreased tear production. This is believed to be an inherited disease. Other potential causes are hypothyroidism, some medications, and canine distemper virus. There are also certain breeds that are more likely to get dry eye such as Shih Tzu, Pekingese, and Pugs.
Dogs with dry eye will have red, irritated eyes. There will be crusty, thick discharge because the water component of the tears is inadequate. Dogs will often have difficulty opening their eyes and may blink a lot. These dogs will often have corneal ulcers and may get corneal scarring. Corneal scarring may cause their vision to be decreased. Dogs usually get KCS in both eyes.
A Schirmer Tear Test (STT) is done by a veterinarian to see how much tear production there is in one minute. This is how KCS is diagnosed. The veterinarian may want to do other tests on the eyes to check for corneal ulcers or glaucoma. Dry eye is easily treatable with eye medications. These prescription eye medications are used to stimulate tear production and to replace tear film. The medications are used life-long. As long as these medications are used correctly, the general prognosis for KCS is very good and most dogs are pain-free. There is no way to reverse corneal scarring so if a dog has this, they will have decreased vision life-long.
Dr. Lindsey graduated from Colorado State University in 2009 and works in general practice, shelter medicine, and more recently as a civilian contractor veterinarian for the Army. She is also certified in acupuncture and resides in Palm Springs, CA.