What are Black Spots in Eyes?
Black spots in the eyes of dogs can signal a few specific conditions of the eye, from harmless iris freckles and cysts, to melanomas that may need treatment. While some puppies may be born with them, most affected dogs can develop them throughout their lives. Several kinds of black dots are painless and cause little harm to the eye, though in some cases they can impede vision, while others can come with a range of other symptoms that can make dogs uncomfortable.
Brownish to dark black spots, freckles or discs can be tiny and barely noticeable, or they can impede upon the iris to the pupil as they grow, but they may signal an eye condition that could require treatment to prevent loss of vision.
Symptoms of Black Spots in Eyes
Black spots in the eye show up generally in the iris or cornea as small dots, though they can also be present in the sclera, or the white part of the eye. Normally, pet parents will notice a black or brownish speck or discoloration that should be watched to see if it gets larger or becomes raised above the surface of the eye. Often, black spots will be accompanied by other symptoms that can help diagnosis the cause. Usually, the spots can easily be seen, but sometimes a closer inspection is needed to see them.
Signs of black spots in the eyes include:
- Single or multiple spots, dots or freckles in the eye that can range from faint brown to dark black
- Spots that are circular, flat or raised above the surface of the eye
- Distorted pupil shape
- Unusually dilated pupil
- Blood pooling in eye
- Poor or excessive tear production
- Discharge from eyes
- Cloudy eyes
- Darkened, thinned or translucent iris
- Red eyes
- Chronic eye inflammation
- Abnormal blinking
- Corneal ulcers
- Head shaking
- Squinting, poor vision or closed eyes
- Sensitivity to light
- Pawing or scratching at eyes
Causes of Black Spots in Eyes
Black spots in the eye can signal one of several conditions, so paying close attention to any changes or other signs in your dog can help diagnosis the specific cause.
Causes of dark spots in the eyes in dogs include:
- Iris atrophy – Commonly brought on by age, this degeneration of the iris can produce tiny holes in the iris that appear as black dots. When a result of aging, this condition doesn’t diminish eyesight or cause any pain, and seems to be most common in small, toy and mini breeds such as Chihuahuas and Miniature Schnauzers. Iris atrophy can also be caused by chronic inflammation, injury or glaucoma, and can itself result in glaucoma.
- Pigmentary keratitis – When chronic inflammation of the eye occurs, it can cause pigmented melanin granules to be deposited that cause brownish-black spots in the eye that may affect vision. This inflammation may be a result of conditions such as entropion, ectropion, eyelid tumors, abnormal eyelashes, or dry eye. This condition is most common in brachycephalic breeds, such as Bulldogs, Pugs and Boxers.
- Iris cysts – Cysts in the iris are black discs filled with fluid that can vary in size, but are usually just a few millimeters in diameter. They can stay fixed in one position, generally on the bottom half of the eye, or they can move around. While sometimes dogs can be born with a cyst, they can also be caused by trauma or inflammation in the eye. Though painless, they can obscure vision.
- Eye freckle – Also referred to as increased pigmentation of the iris, an eye freckle begins as a single spot or multiple spots made from melanin producing cells. If they grow larger, they can progress into a nevus, a flat or rounded spot that may be raised above the surface of the eye. Both freckles and nevi are generally harmless, but they can affect eye function if too large. They can be congenital, or develop over time, and may have an association to UV light exposure. Sometimes, nevi can continue to grow into a melanocytoma or melanoma.
- Ocular melanomas – Melanocytes, or the cells that produce melanin, can proliferate and clump together to produce masses. While a large percentage of these are benign, they can still cause pain, bleeding, inflammation, retinal detachment, cataracts, glaucoma and eye loss. Starting as round brown to black lesions on the iris, they can grow to become large, raised masses. In rare cases, they can become malignant tumors. Melanomas may be caused by genetic mutations, with some breeds predisposed to the condition, including Golden and Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds and Cocker Spaniels.
Diagnosis of Black Spots in Eyes
After initial physical and eye exams, your veterinarian will take into consideration the look of the black spot, any other symptoms or medical conditions affecting the eye, any histories of eye infections, sensitivity to light, corneal ulcers or glaucoma. Be sure to relate any and all changes in sight, behavior, attitude and energy levels of your dog, as well as when you noticed the spot and if it has grown.
During an eye exam, an ophthalmoscope will be used to inspect the interior of the eye, a tonometer will measure eye pressure, a Schirmer Tear Test may be performed to evaluate tear production, a fluorescein stain may be applied to look for corneal ulcers, and X-rays and ultrasounds can give insight into the sizes and conditions of masses and growths. Your vet will be looking for bleeding, cloudiness, signs of infection, or any other abnormalities in the eyes that can help lead to a cause.
If melanomas are suspected, blood and urine tests are performed, imaging is taken of various areas of the body, tissue samples are tested, and the lymph nodes are checked for cancer cells.
Treatment of Black Spots in Eyes
For most conditions, such as pigmentary keratitis, iris cysts, eye freckles and some iris atrophy, your vet may direct you to keep watching the spots and your dog’s eyes for any signs of changes as they are generally harmless. If any of these conditions are affecting your dog’s vision, or if melanomas are present, treatment is recommended.
For underlying conditions causing the condition that created the black dots, your veterinarian will seek to treat the original condition, including infections, inflammation, corneal ulcers or glaucoma.
Treatments can include:
Medications to treat infections or pain relievers may be prescribed in some cases. Corticosteroids may be given to control eye inflammation. Medications to decrease fluid production may also be given, as well as artificial tears.
Laser surgery can remove many masses or growths in the eye, and are often used when trying to save vision and retain the eye. Generally, this procedure is used when the black spots are impeding vision or causing other problems.
Eye surgery can be recommended in some cases to aspirate or remove the dark spots. In the case of ocular melanosis, your vet may recommend a shunt to help relieve pressure. If eyelid issues are an underlying cause, surgery can fix eyelid abnormalities.
Surgery can also be performed to remove part of the iris, or the entire eye, particularly in cases of fast-growing, malignant melanomas. Surgical procedures may also be combined with laser therapy, cryotherapy or radiation.
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Recovery of Black Spots in Eyes
For many black spots, no treatment is needed, but you should watch them to see if they change over time. Be sure to report any growth, movement, loss of vision or any other eye symptoms to your veterinarian right away, as they could be indications of a more serious condition that is developing.
If your dog has undergone laser therapy, cryotherapy or surgery, you’ll be sent home with medications and care instructions for recovery.
While in some cases of pigmentary keratitis, the condition can be reversed and the pigmented spot may lighten over time, but most cases will retain the black spots, as do other conditions that cause them.
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Cost of Black Spots in Eyes
The average cost to treat black spots in the eyes in dogs ranges from $300 to $3500.