Dog Dry Eye

Table of Contents

Overview | Symptoms & Diagnosis | Breeds | Treatment | Q&A


"Dog dry eye is a condition where glands in the eye do not produce enough tears. Treatment involves topical medications to stimulate tear production."


Canine dry eye (also known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca, dry eye syndrome, or KCS) is due to lower than normal production of tears in your dog's eye. It is difficult to determine the exact cause of the condition. The most common cause is an immune system reaction (immune-mediated) that results in inflammation of the tear gland (called lacrimal adenitis).

Other recognized causes include:

  • Problem your dog was born with or inherited (congenital disorder)
  • Infection (eg: canine distemper virus)
  • Caused by medications your dog is taking (antibiotics, NSAID Etogesic)
  • Removal of the tear gland (lacrimal) of the third eyelid ("cherry eye")
  • Hypothyroidism

Symptoms of Dog Dry Eye

The clinical signs of dry eye include:

  • Heavy mucus production
  • Redness
  • Rubbing the eyes
  • Cloudy Eyes
  • Corneal Ulcers (surface wounds on the eye which can lead to a tear or perforation)
  • Weakness or lethargy

In severe (acute) cases your dog could suffer from severe pain, spasmodic winking (blepharospasm) and mucus and puss oozing from the sides of the eye.

If the condition is not corrected then the eye (cornea) starts to change in color and blood vessels begin to appear. The result of not correcting the condition is vision loss.

Diagnosis of Dog Dry Eye

KCS is easier to treat in its early stages. The problem is that an eye suffering from early stage dry eye looks normal. If you see that the eyes are red or have a thick discharge then you should suspect a canine eye problem and seek veterinary care.

Because it is not easy to diagnose, the eye problems are often attributed to other causes.

Your veterinarian will do a physical examination of your dog and do what is called a Schirmer tear test (STT). Anesthesia in not necessary to perform the test.

Dog Breeds Known for Canine Dry Eye

Dry eye is more common in the following breeds:

  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Shih Tzu
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Bulldog
  • Schnauzer
  • West Highland White Terrier

Treatment of Canine Dry Eye

The obvious goal for treatment is to stimulate tear production and reversing any harm that might have occurred. The medications Cyclosporine and Tacrolimus has been an important part of successfully treating dry eye. Newly developed lubricants will help to keep your dog comfortable. Treatment is dependent on sticking with the treatment program and having a veterinary professional monitor success.

Misdiagnosed cases of mild KCS often seem to respond to topical antibiotics or corticosteroids alone due to their lubricating effects and clinical signs return when these medications are discontinued.

Treatment of KCS due to decreased tear production should (1) stimulate tear production, (2) replace tears until production increases, (3) attempt to reestablish the bacterial flora, and (4) decrease inflammation. In recent years two drugs have been used for the stimulation of tear production, cyclosporine and most recently, tacrolimus. Both medications inhibit T-lymphocyte proliferation.

In most cases your dog will respond to cyclosporine treatment in 14 - 16 days. You may need to continue therapy for 2 months. If the condition is caused by immune-mediated KCS (immune response causing inflammation) then your dog will need medication for the rest of its life.

Your dog might need artificial tear replacement. Brands include Genteal© gel, Celluvisc©, and Lubrithal©.

If your veterinarian sees signs of bacterial infection and/or a corneal ulcer then the topical antibiotics will be prescribed.

Not all forms of dog dry eye respond to treatment. This is particularly the case when the condition was triggered by a prescription medication. Another approach to try is parotid duct transposition (see below).

Treatment of Parotid Duct Transposition

Salivary (Parotid glands) glands exist on each side of your dog's head. In this procedure the glands are redirected to the eye via a parotid duct. The saliva moves down the duct into the lower part of the eye.

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Disease Trends of Canine Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca
RF Sanchez1, G Innocent2, J Mould1, FM Billson1
Small Animal Clinical Studies
Comparative Epidemiology and Informatics
Institute of Comparative Medicine, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine
University of Glasgow, UK

Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KCS): A Very Under-diagnosed Disease
C.M.H. Colitz
Animal Eye Specialty Clinic
West Palm Beach, FL, USA