What are Uveitis?
Each part of the eye’s anatomy works together to promote the strong, healthy vision your dog deserves. In the case of anterior uveitis, one of the most common ocular diseases in dogs, the middle layer of the eye, the uvea (or uveal tract) becomes so inflamed and diseased that vision loss is imminent. Left untreated, the inflammation may damage the lens of the eye, causing cataracts. Glaucoma is also possible due to an ongoing increase in pressure. Like any eye disorder or injury, medical treatment for uveitis must be immediate and aggressive not only to reduce the pet’s discomfort, but also to retain maximum vision.
A canine’s eye comprises three primary layers: the outer layer, which includes the cornea and the sclera, the inner layer, the retina, and the middle layer, called the uveal tract. The highly vascularized middle layer is made up of the iris, ciliary body and choroid. In the case of uveitis, the iris and ciliary body become progressively inflamed, causing eye tissues to become damaged. The dog will experience intense pain and pressure with this condition. Since the pupil regulates the amount of light entering the eye, inflammation of the iris will increase light sensitivity, causing the dog to force the eye closed.
Uveitis is also known as iridocyclitis. The inflammation associated with the condition will cause the eye to remain shut, become cloudy or bloody, and to leak fluid. There are many potential causes for uveitis, including injury, trauma, localized tumors and cancer. Particular to this condition is its tendency to be secondary to other health problems in the dog, such as ehrichiosis (a tick-borne bacterial illness) or other metabolic or autoimmune disorders. In many cases, uveitis is idiopathic, meaning its cause is unknown.
When a dog has uveitis, the middle of the three layers in the eye, the uvea, is inflamed.
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Symptoms of Uveitis in Dogs
- Swelling of eyeball or eye area
- Severe pain
- Intense reddening
- Change in appearance of iris
- Constant tearing
- Excessive blinking
- Decreased vision
- Shut eye
- Light avoidance
- Pawing at eye
Causes of Uveitis in Dogs
- Autoimmune disorder
- Localized tumors or cancer
- Trauma or injury
- Metabolic disease
- Lyme or Rocky Mountain spotted fever
- Infection - viral, bacterial, parasitic or fungal
- Diabetes mellitus
- High blood pressure
Diagnosis of Uveitis in Dogs
Other than the manual examination of the eye including a magnification of the uveal tract, diagnostics will include various modes of ocular testing. For example, ocular ultrasound will be used to examine the eye. As well, the intraocular pressure of your pet’s eye will be measured and is very indicative of illnesses such as glaucoma.
Because uveitis is often caused by systemic disease, diagnosis is not straightforward. A thorough physical examination must be performed in order to observe any signs of illness. The pet should be fully examined for ticks or bites due to possibility of ehrlichiosis. CBC and blood chemistry testing will be required and can reveal underlying issues like brucellosis, an infectious bacterial disease.
Treatment of Uveitis in Dogs
Only after the cause of the uveitis is identified (if possible), can an appropriate course of treatment begin. Treatment for uveitis during the initial veterinary visit will focus on decreasing inflammation and pain in the eye. If injury or trauma caused the condition, any physical damage will be resolved.
Corticosteroids (eye drops and oral medication), aspirin, indomethacin, and other medication may be given to alleviate pressure and treat pain. In the veterinary office, steroids may be injected directly into the eye to reduce the pressure. You may be sent home with eye drops or ointments to be administered per the veterinarian’s treatment protocol. Medications may be needed in the short term (be certain to complete the prescription as directed), or may be life-long. Oral antibiotics may be dispensed if the dog has a systemic infection.
Recovery of Uveitis in Dogs
In most cases, inflammation and pain will substantially lessen within 24 hours of treatment. Once the condition resolves, return veterinary visits will determine not only the effectiveness of initial treatment, but also if the inflammation caused damage to any of the structures of the eye. Potential residual conditions such as glaucoma, conjunctivitis, corneal ulcers, retinal detachment and scarring will be managed. The dog may have some or substantial vision loss and will need to see a veterinary ophthalmologist.