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All about Kerry Blue Terriers—the good, the bad, and the beautiful!

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Eye Problems In Kerry Blue Terriers


© 2004 Kerry Blue Terrier Foundation

Over the years, a number of topics consistently crop up on the Kerry Blue Terrier newslist. Many letter writers have strong and viable opinions that can help contribute to the wellbeing of another's beloved pet or show dog. While they may not be veterinarians, the opinions of many breeders and owners are based often on consultations with vets and long-term experience with their breed. What I will attempt to summarize and address are indications of potential eye problems, signs that point to an infection, how to control them, how to prevent or reduce them, and at what point you may need to get your vet involved. Please be aware that I am not a veterinarian, and in no way should this article be construed as medical advice. It is simply a summary of information that is available from our list members and on the Internet and is a list of potential suggestions to help you and your Kerry.

Often, it seems, our dogs  eyes develop vast quantities of mucus overnight, and we wonder where it came from and whether or not our new best friend has an eye infection. As with humans, dogs  eyes are constantly acquiring dust and debris, and the eyes must wash this debris out. Kerry eyes are additionally irritated by the fall, that fine forelock of hair that is so characteristic of our breed. In addition to the fall, Kerries are notorious growers of inner ear hair, which, when tangled and left to grow and tangle with ear waxes can create inner ear infections and blockages as well as yeast infections and mite havens due to the retained moisture, matter and hair. Our dogs are also sensitive to allergens just as humans are, and the environment plays a large part in our pets' eye health. Eye infections have been linked to hypothyroidism, which may need to be considered as a cause if infections often recur. The onset of glaucoma also may be revealed by heavy eye discharge among other symptoms. Let us explore some of these ideas.

A number of breeders comment that if the ears are dirty, the eyes will be dirty as well, and these comments go beyond just our beloved Kerry Blues. As reported on the KB-L newslist in November of 1997 by a few breeders, because there are nerves connecting eyes and ears if the dog is responding to a cold, allergies or blockages, the nerves may transmit this message to the eyes, causing additional tearing and mucus production. Consider how we all feel when we have a cold or influenza. Our sinuses fill up and the drainage is quite uncomfortable! We may suffer from earaches or headaches, we may become dizzy or light-headed and have itchy, watery, red or bloodshot eyes, and we may run a fever. Our pets are not different.

Other Kerries may have dry-eye syndrome, or keratoconjunctivitis sicca or KCS, (similarly keratitis sicca). While not an infection itself, if left untreated dry-eye syndrome can cause serious infection resulting in permanent damage, loss of sight, or even loss of the eye itself.

Dry-eye syndrome can cause a good deal of eye goop: Daryl Enstone reported that dry eye is a disorder with multiple potential causes, and in September of 1996 she said that dry-eye syndrome is a "disorder in which the aqueous portion of the tear layer is decreased or not produced, causing an imbalance in composition of tear film"... As a result, the eyes feel dry and scratchy, and are inflamed and red. A ropy, sticky discharge forms that sticks to the inside of the eye and is not easy to clean out. She added that tears are both lipid and mucus, and the imbalance increases the risk of eye infection .

On a CIBA Vision (3) website, dry eye is described as follows:
Dry eye describes eyes that do not produce enough tears. The natural tears that your eyes produce are composed of three layers:

  • The outer oily layer, which prevents or slows evaporation of the tear film
  • The middle watery layer; which moisturizes and nourishes the front surface of the eye
  • The inner mucus layer, which helps maintain a stable tear film.

Dry eye may occur because the volume of tears produced is inadequate (we all produce fewer tears as we get older, and in some cases this can lead to dry eye symptoms). It may occur because the composition of the tears has changed so that they are unstable and evaporate more quickly. 
[from CIBA Vision; URL]

In other posts, dry-eye was linked to older or spayed bitches, and although it has certainly been seen in other dogs, older females may be more prone to this disorder. Dry-eye syndrome can be detected using a Schirmer Tear test, according to Ms. Enstone (7Feb99). In a recent personal letter, she remarked, The Schirmer tear test involves inserting the end a piece of filter paper of a standard size and shape under the lower eyelid of each eye for a timed interval. The distance along the paper [to which] the moisture of the tears migrates is a measure of the tear production in each eye. In dry eye syndrome, the moisture diffuses less than a specific distance along the strip. 
In addition to this test, another using a dye called fluorescein (can be) performed. A drop of yellow, non-toxic dye is dropped into each eye. The dye fluoresces bright yellow-green under a blue light and the veterinarian can see if the tear film on the surface of the eye breaks up prematurely. This would also indicate dry eye. In severe cases, it is also necessary to examine the surface of the cornea for areas of damage, such as ulcers or scarring. Dry Eye is treated with anti-inflammatories (including cyclosporin) and artificial tears, and antibiotics are only used in the case of an opportunistic infection . She advised that, if an infection is diagnosed, we be certain to "go the full course of medication to prevent a recurrence and so as to not develop an antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection".

According to the Animal Opthalmology Clinic, Ltd.;(6), [] usually 4-6 weeks treatment is required before any improvement in tear production is noted although the above treatment should result in marked improvement of the clinical signs. If no improvement in tear production is noted by 8 weeks following the initiation of treatment the probability for return of normal function is poor, and tear replacement must be continued for life unless a parotid duct transposition is performed.The parotid duct transposition is a surgical procedure in which the duct from the parotid salivary gland is moved from where it empties into the mouth and sutured inthe conjunctival sac of the eye (Figure 1).

The secretion from the parotid salivary gland is watery and provides an acceptable substitute for the aqueous tears. This surgery has a success rate of approximately 95%.  [from their website]

The American College of Veterinary Opthalmalogists ACVO (1) has put out an article on dry eye, commenting as follows: The clinical signs of dry eye include: heavy mucus production, redness, rubbing at eyes, cloudy eyes, corneal ulcers, and even general lethargy. After an extended period of dryness, the surface of the eye (cornea) begins to accumulate dark scar tissue and blood vessels - to the point of blindness in many patients! This situation is similar to having a complete layer of mud on your glasses. []

Marilyn Brotherton encourages us to check for inverted or rolled eyelids (called entropion) and blocked or absent tear ducts. Entropion almost always requires surgery to correct, according to Dr. Dennis Hacker, DVM. [Website of Animal Eye Specialists;]

In late May of 1997, Ms. Brotherton discussed in a thread that some of the causes of eye debris may be long eyelashes, entropion, and, especially in pups with ear-sets, to be aware of the eye-ear connection and keep the ears clean about every 3 weeks during pasting. This was explored in later posts by Marilyn and other owners when individuals remarked at how much better their dogs  eyes were when they took the time to keep the ears clean. Again, cleanliness of the ears has been a strong correlator to eye/mucus production.

Some breeders, especially for agility and obedience dogs, feel that tying the fall or braiding it away from the eyes is an effective method of controlling the hair and keeping it out of the eyes. Care must be taken that the ends don t blow back into the dogs  eyes, as this can cause corneal abrasions.

In a September 1996 post, one breeder commented that teething puppies still have soft corneas, thus are more susceptible to pollutants. In a similar thread at the same time, another breeder/handler reports that his dogs' eyes get gooey usually caused by (the) tiny hairs dropping in the eyes during grooming. New owners will want to be aware of these issues in case symptoms develop while their puppy is teething or shortly after grooming, as infection may well be attributed to these causes. Pollutants of many types can affect our dog s eye health as we shall see, and care should be taken to be aware of physical and environmental factors.

These are but a few of the causes of eye mucus production (yes, there are many more), now how do we know what to look for besides the collection of crud? The mucus may be brownish when dry which is quite normal, or yellow to green which indicates infection. Her eyes may appear swollen, bloodshot, or the eyelids inside and out (conjunctiva) may appear irritated. Your dog may rub his face on the floor, furniture or your lap; s/he may paw her eyes and face. You may notice your dog squinting or blinking frequently. Often if the ears are involved, the discomfort will be evident in ear scratching and head shaking. The outer ear canals, head and neck may be quite sensitive to your touch, and you may notice a distinct odor from the ears.

So, we know our dog has an eye infection, how can we treat it? If flushing your dogs  eyes with commercial tears or saline solution to remove foreign material such as hair or dust doesn t work, and if ear cleaning hasn t achieved any improvement within a short time span, your first and best answer is to see a qualified veterinarian. It is important to discover the cause of the infection as soon as possible, because often if we only treat the symptoms without discovering the cause the infection may recur or the symptoms treated may mask a worsening condition. Some recurrences are unavoidable -if treatable--such as seasonal allergies or hypothyroidism, however if we discover the allergen, we may be able to determine that the allergen is controllable or even to remove it completely from the local environment with positive results for our pet.

Oftentimes, internal environmental allergens such as molds within the home can and should be removed not just for your pet's wellbeing but your own as well! Similarly, cigarette smokers can contribute to their pet's good health along with their own by kicking the habit. How many of our pets die of cancer that may have been preventable? If we ignore the symptoms in our pets, we may well be overlooking issues that will one day affect us! Perhaps the easiest way to improve our health and that of our pets is to reduce and eliminate as many internal or environmental irritants as we possibly can. Look in your yard for plants that may be an irritant or even toxic to your pet. Even environmentally friendly  pesticides may not be so friendly to your pet. Recent articles contend that even some flea and tick solutions may be harmful to our pets. (Ref: Ask the Vet , Dr. Michael Fox; Palm Beach Post, dated 5Jan2004)

A final note on recurrences: if an infection just doesn t seem to stay gone, have your vet check for a deep seated, severe infection. It may be necessary to perform a biopsy as it may be the only method to determine the actual cause and effective treatment.

Starting when they are just puppies, every smart breeder should mentor a new owner to care for their puppy s eyes by adhering to an eye cleaning regimen at least twice a day. A flea or nit comb works well for removal of eye matter once softened, and is less likely to injure the eye if used after the matter is already moist and drawn somewhat away from the eye. If the matter is heavily tangled around the eye hair, be kind! It hurts to pull the hair from around the eyes! When cleaning the eyes, do not use the flea comb over the eye itself, clear the matter by softening it with warm water first, then draw the matter out of the eye s corner with a warm, wet washcloth or a commercially available eye scrub  down the snout; or from the lashes and drawing it down again over the cheek and away from the eye. Don't rub the eyes, especially if there is any chance of entropian or foreign matter under the eyelids as this can scratch the cornea or cause other ulcerations in the eyes, thereby encouraging further infection. ( EyeScrubs  are available through CIBA Vision, et al.; and they contain purified water USP, PEG-200 Glyceryl Tallowate, Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate, cacoamido Propyl Amine Oxide, PEG-80 Glyceryl Cacoate, Benzyl Alcohol and Edetate Disodium.) CIBA EyeScrubs  are non-irritating, hypoallergenic and pH balanced. If you prefer something a little easier to read, Pasquale Goglia recommended the following: 2 to 3 drops of Johnson No More Tears shampoo with _ cup of water for cleansing the eyelids 2 times per day for 2 weeks. He also used warm compresses 2 to 3 times daily for 5 to 10 minutes each, while maintaining the eye hair by keeping it trimmed close.

Dry eyes have their own treatments. Humans have been advised to take flaxseed oil prior to eye surgeries  it may well promote better moisture production in our pets, especially in older females (2). Flaxseed is available in capsule form that can be broken over food or swallowed whole. Consult with an holistic veterinarian for a proper dose for your pet. In addition, according to the American College of Veterinary Opthalmologists (1), Cyclosporine is about 75% effective in stimulating new tears in dogs, however it absolutely must be used as directed. Missing a dose or running out of the medication will cause an immediate recurrence. []

Artificial tears given 3 times daily will help to provide additional moisture to a parched body. In addition to the cleaning treatment outlined above, Mr. Goglia also used 1 drop of Celluvisc artificial tears 3 to 4 times a day and 1 drop of Puralube ophthalmic lubricant 3 times per day for 2 weeks, applied after the artificial tears.
A note about eye drops: Be sure to allow sufficient time for the first drops to be absorbed, usually 5 minutes is sufficient, before using the next type of eye drop. Using alternate drops immediately after can simply wash away the first set, thereby eliminating or reducing the benefit of the first set of drops. (Brian Stahl, O.D., M.D.; standard pre-Lasik surgery eye care pamphlets)

There are some breeders who prefer to use diluted boric acid as opposed to saline solutions, feeling that it is less irritating than the salt water, however, proper handling should be taken before administering it as it is used as, among other things, a pesticide. The KB-L archives contain a boric acid recipe  and a great description of how best to use this, along with the necessary disclaimers. There are also commercial boric acid eyewashes available at your local drugstore. My preference, other than plain filtered water, would be Refresh Tears, Thera-Tears or Refresh Plus lubricant drops. Refresh  is available in bottles or in very convenient single use vials. They contain no preservatives and the vials are easier to use in my opinion. Again, while these are primarily for human use, there is no reason not to use them to provide comfort for your dog unless your veterinarian has specific objections.

This article is not a complete list of eye problems, only perhaps some of the most common. If you have concerns about your pets  eyes, always check with your vet first. Eye mucus is naturally heavy in Kerries, so cleaning it every day is part of being an owner. Pay attention to the signs your dog offers you, and be aware of the trouble signals. Watch your dog and be aware of how he feels . Talk to your vet about the treatment they advise. Be educated, and your dog s eyesight can last as long as he does.

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