Pet Care Basics

Dry Eye in Dogs: Canine Keratoconjunctivitis sicca

Can dogs get dry eyes? The answer is Yes. Dry Eye, also known as Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS in dogs), is caused by inadequate tear production. Tears help keep the eye healthy and keep away eye infections. Dogs with inadequate tear production often suffer from irritated eyes. They are very prone to ulcers and infection from the lack of tear production. This condition is relatively common in dogs, especially with Lhasa Apsos, Shih-Tzus, Cocker Spaniels, Pugs, Pekingese, Bulldogs, and West Highland White Terriers.

Causes of Dry Eye in Dogs

Many cases of dog dry eye do not have a known cause. The tear glands simply stop functioning, or it may be an inherited condition. Other causes may include infection or trauma to the eye or tear glands, drug use, removal of the third eyelid, other eye conditions such as conjunctivitis, neonatal ophthalmia, nerve damage, an immune disorder, or the viral disease distemper.

Symptoms of Dry Eye in Dogs

Symptoms of dry eye include recurrent eye infections and a thick, yellowish mucoid discharge. You may also observe excessive blinking, inflammation of the cornea, and chemosis (swelling of the inside of the eyelids and surface of the eye).

It may seem confusing that your veterinary professional diagnoses your dog with KCS when there is an excess of thick mucus on the eye. The tear film has three layers; they are a watery tear, mucus, and an oily secretion. When the watery or oily layer is not produced, the mucus layer increases, causing this thick mucus debris in the eye(s).

Diagnosing Dog Dry Eye

A veterinarian tests for dry eye by using a Schirmer tear test to measure tear production. The veterinarian places a strip of absorbent material in the eye and leaves it there for 60 seconds. During this time, the tears collect on the strip. Then the veterinarian can measure the amount of tear production and decide if it is inadequate.

Dry Eye Treatment for Dogs

There is no cure for dry eye, but the issue can be managed. Usually the cause of dry eye cannot be identified, so treatment involves getting the pet to make more tears and wetting the eye. Cyclosporine (Rx Optimmune Ophthalmic Ointment) is used by both humans and dogs to treat dry eye, and it works by managing inflammation and increasing tear production. You can also wet the eye with an eye ointment or eye drop that replaces tears.

If left untreated, the pet will suffer from painful eye infections and may end up blind. Because there is no cure, you usually have to treat dry eye for the rest of a pet’s life.

If you need help with how to help a dog with dry eye, call us at 800.786.4751.

Written by: Marty Greer, DVM

Director of Veterinary Services

Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, has 40+ years’ experience in veterinary medicine, with special interests in canine reproduction and pediatrics. She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Iowa State University in 1981. She’s served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services since 2019. In 2023, Dr. Greer was named the Westminster Kennel Club Veterinarian of the Year.

If you need help, call us at 800.786.4751.