Eye problems are a common occurrence with a wide variety of species. I have examined cows, pigs, hamsters, snakes, turtles, rabbits, dogs, and cats for ocular conditions. I even recently reviewed a report of a 27 year old Asian bull elephant that was treated for corneal ulcers. In short, any species can suffer from one form or another of ocular disorders. Since eyes are very fragile, you should call and set up an appointment for an exam at your family veterinarian’s office as soon as you notice that something is amiss.
One of the most common eye conditions I see in animals are corneal ulcers. The cornea is the clear, soft, convex, surface of the eye and is quite easily injured. Ulcers often develop when the layer of cells that cover the cornea is damaged usually by some type of traumatic event. These injuries occur frequently in breeds that have protruding eyes such as Pugs and Boston Terriers but can occur in any breed or species. Untreated, ulcers can very quickly erode through the cornea allowing the eye to rupture. In most instances once the eye ruptures nothing can be done to save the eye, which will then require removal.
Infections are another common cause of eye disease that can very quickly result in loss of vision. Both bacteria and viruses are responsible for infections in a wide variety of species. Cats and especially kittens suffer from herpes virus infections. These infections are particularly serious in patients who are positive for the feline retroviruses (feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus). As in humans retroviral infections cause serious immune suppression, sometimes thwarting any ability to fight off infection. Fortunately we have very accurate tests to evaluate the retroviral status of your cat. If your feline friend is positive your veterinarian may need to treat ocular infections more aggressively.
Bacterial infections are no less serious than viral infections. Many species of bacteria produce chemicals that will degrade corneal proteins. If intervention is not initiated early enough the cornea will “melt away” resulting in loss of vision and possibly loss of the eye.
Additionally eyes can be portals to other disease processes originating in body systems far distant from the eyes. Cataracts can result from diabetes in small animals. High blood pressure often causes retinal detachment and blindness in cats. I have been alerted to life threatening bleeding disorders by first observing bleeding in the eyes. In rabbits, rodents, and reptiles ocular discharge may be the first sign that your pet is suffering from a serious sinus infection.
The bottom line is that if you suspect anything is wrong with your pet’s eyes seek veterinary attention as soon as possible. The quicker you do the greater the odds that you will be able to save their eyesight, or maybe even their lives.