What are Distichiasis?
Distichiasis is a common condition in dogs, but it is more prevalent in the American Cocker Spaniel, English Cocker Spaniel, Miniature Dachshund, Longhair Dachshund, Bulldog, and Weimaraner breeds.
Distichiasis, or the presence of extra eyelashes, in dogs is a condition where hairs grow in an unusual area on the eyelid. The hairs will generally grow out of the meibomian glands at the lid of the eyelid. Depending on the number of hairs, the rigidity of the hairs, and the direction of the hairs, this can cause problems to the eye itself.
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Symptoms of Distichiasis in Dogs
The presence of extra hairs, or eyelashes, does not cause a problem in many dogs. The hairs are not bothersome and many pet owners do not even realize that their dog has extra hairs on the eyelid. However, there are symptoms to watch for:
- Rubbing the eye
- Increased blinking
- Squinting of the eye
- Increased watering
- Redness of the eye
- Ulcerations in the eye
Causes of Distichiasis in Dogs
Distichiasis is a fairly common condition and it is not known why extra hairs emerge from the ducts of the meibomian gland. It can occur in any dog with varying degrees of severity.
The presence of symptoms in your dog will depend on the eyelid conformation, the number of hairs growing abnormally, the length of the hairs and the coarseness of the hairs. Many dogs, such as Cocker breeds, are affected but only a small percentage will require treatment.
Diagnosis of Distichiasis in Dogs
In severe cases, the extra lashes can be seen with the naked eye. A veterinarian can examine your canine’s eye and determine, based on medical history of your dog, the breed and the observation of the misaligned hairs, if treatment is required.
Attending veterinarians mostly likely will refer your pet to a canine ophthalmologist to fully diagnose distichiasis. Canine ophthalmologists will generally diagnosis distichiasis using a slit-lamp bio-microscope. A slit lamp bio-microscope gives the canine ophthalmologist a highly magnified view of the eyelid. The canine ophthalmologist will be able to see fully where the extra lashes are growing from and if vision is being impaired by the extra hairs. Irritation or ulcerations of your dog’s eye and the extent of the problem will be determined upon initial examination. Once the diagnosis has been made and the severity of the distichiasis is determined, a treatment plan will be put in place.
Treatment of Distichiasis in Dogs
Treatment of distichiasis is only required if the hairs are causing irritation, corneal ulcerations, or conjunctivitis. If irritation, corneal ulcerations or conjunctivitis do occur, there are treatment options. Your veterinarian or canine ophthalmologist will discuss the best treatment option for your companion.
A lubricating gel may be the only necessary treatment if the case of distichiasis is mild. The lubricating gel will soften the hairs and therefore reduce the irritation. Your dog will need to remain on a lubricating gel for the rest of its life.
In some cases, the extra eyelashes are able to be plucked. This may be the treatment if there are only a few long hairs that need to be removed. Hairs do grow back; therefore regular plucking will need to occur throughout your dog’s lifetime.
Your dog would be put under general anesthesia for the procedure. During electrolysis, a very fine electrode is inserted into the hair follicle and an electrical current is applied to permanently get rid of the hair. Only hairs that are currently visible can be removed, therefore new hairs can still grow in. There may be some discoloration or scarring of the eyelids.
Your dog would be put under general anesthesia for the procedure. This procedure is used when there are several hairs that are causing problems to the eye. A probe is used on the inner surface of the eyelid where the hair follicles are present. The eyelid is frozen to remove the hairs. There may be some discoloration or scarring of the eyelid. Cryotherapy may need to be repeated if new hairs emerge on the eyelid.
This is a procedure where the eyelid is rolled outwards and tacked. By rolling the eyelid outwards away from the cornea, the contact between the afflicting hairs and the cornea ceases and the irritation is removed.
Recovery of Distichiasis in Dogs
If left untreated, distichiasis that is causing irritation to your dog’s eye can lead to vision impairment. Surgery will usually prevent the hairs from growing back in the treated area; new hairs could emerge in different areas of the eyelids. There is a chance that your dog will have future problems with distichiasis and need ongoing treatment.
Following any procedure done on the eyelid, the veterinarian will give specific care instructions. Be sure to follow the instructions carefully to ensure that healing is promoted.
Distichiasis Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My dog has been having this problem for a while now. His eyes are almost always red. His eyelashes are rubbing against his corneas. He blinks a lot, and his eyes sometimes waters. The vet told him that he could possibly go blind. He can still see, but there is slight cloudiness in his eyes. It might be too expensive to get hair removal surgery. I don’t want my dog to go blind. Is there anything else I can do?
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My pup has been diagnosed by her vet with distichiasis. Can a layman pluck the distichiasis eyelashes? I would like to remove it myself if I can. Are there OTC lubricants I could purchase from a pharmacist?
Treatment of distichiasis is dependent on the severity and the number of eyelashes causing an issue; plucking eyelashes and other ectopic hairs as well as the use of ophthalmic lubricating ointments may help in mild cases, but severe cases should be dealt with surgically for the best outcome. Plucking of offending lashes has to be done on a regular basis (every month or so) for the rest of the dog’s life (if you are planning on doing it yourself, speak with your Veterinarian first at least), but still severe cases require surgical intervention. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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