Some dogs are hairy, really hairy. Indeed, they are so shaggy that it's difficult to see they have eyes. They manage to get around somehow without bumping into things, but they have a curtain of hair over their face. What's the story with these dogs? Does their hair annoy them and can they feel when hair goes in their eyes?
The answer is a big "Yes". Dogs, just like us, feel uncomfortable when hair goes in their eyes. Indeed, from the temporary discomfort of a long hair going into the eye to the permanent discomfort of inturned eyelids, hair can cause complications such as pain, discomfort, or even physical damage as corneal ulceration.
The Signs a Dog is Aware of Hair in Their Eyes
A dog with hair in their eyes may be so stoic that they give few outward signs of discomfort. This is especially true if the dog belongs to a breed where wrinkles or folds means they were born with hair rubbing in their eye and they know no different. In these cases, the proof that they feel discomfort is that when they have corrective surgery and the hair no longer rubs on the eye, the dog becomes happier and more lively.
For those dogs that have a hair go into the eye, they may show a variety of signs. Some dogs are particularly brave and will do little more than partially close the eye. However, less brave dogs may rub at the eye with a paw or even scoot the face along the ground as if trying to dislodge the offending hair.
It's perfectly plausible that a hair may rub sufficiently to damage the surface of the cornea and cause an ulcer to form. These are painful and the dog may then close their eye completely, or keep their eyelids partially closed. The eye may also water or tear heavily, leading to a wet cheek on that side of the face.
If in doubt, look at the eye in a good light just as you would check your own eye for a hair. Look to see if the surface of the eye is bright and shiny, and that there is an unbroken reflection. If the eye is sore, inflamed, dull, or there's a jump in the reflection, then see a vet.
A History of Canine Senses
Dogs are amazing for so many different reasons. For starters, there's the fact that they vary so much is size and shape; from a 4 lb Chihuahua to a 180 lb Great Dane. This tremendous variation in size derives from selective breeding to produce dogs with a certain desirable characteristic.
Originally, selective breeding took place to create dogs that were better equipped to do a certain job of work. For example, a shepherd might breed together two dogs that were particularly gifted at herding, in order to create the ultimate working sheepdog.
Similarly, humans selected for characteristics such as speed, sight, tracking, or guarding. It is for this reason that we now have well-established lines of dogs belonging to scenthounds or sighthounds (for example.) Thus, we have, to a certain extent, interfered with canine senses in order to exaggerate some of them.
All dogs have the same basic set of senses, with some being more finely tuned in some breeds than others. Of course, all dogs feel pain, but our perception of the amount of pain they feel is often colored by our ability to interpret their body language.
Just as hair in our eyes is a source of irritation to people, so it is to dogs - it's just that they communicate their discomfort differently. Just because we miss those signals doesn't mean they don't feel.
The Science of In-turned Eyelids
This may sound a flippant problem, but it has a serious side. Breeds such as the Shar-Pei that have extra rolls of skin and wrinkles often suffer from a condition known as entropion. This is where the eyelids roll inwards, pressing the eyelashes against the surface of the cornea.
This is like have permanent grit in the eye...only worse. Each time the dog blinks, it scrapes those eyelashes over the sensitive surface causing pain, discomfort, and irritation. Many of these dogs develop a permanent squint, as they are constantly in pain. It may make them grouchy, and almost certainly makes them unhappy about having their face or eyes examined.
This then becomes a welfare issue since it is unacceptable that a dog should be in permanent discomfort. Since the problem is a physical one, due to wrinkles pressing inwards, then corrective surgery is required. This involves having a general anesthetic and the veterinarian removing carefully judged slivers of skin so that the eyelids are slightly everted. This has the effect of pointing the eyelashes away from the cornea and giving the dog relief from constant discomfort.
Living with a Dog with Inturned Eyelids
Several dog breeds suffer from an anatomical quirk where an eyelid turns inward and presses against the eyeball. This causes discomfort every time the dog blinks. If the dog was born with this problem, it can be hard for their owner to appreciate how uncomfortable the dog is, as the four-legger has never known a time when they weren't living with the constant discomfort.
If you are uncertain if your dog has inturned eyelids, get them checked by a vet. The veterinarian will examine the eye using a magnifying light to look for hairs brushing against the cornea. They may be able to put gentle pressure just below the eyelid, in order to temporarily straighten the lid and show you how much is rubbing on the cornea.
In an ideal world, surgical correction is the way ahead. This involves the surgeon carefully accessing how much extra skin is present and then resecting that skin, so as to have the eyelid lie in a more natural position. During the postoperative period, the dog needs to wear a cone for around 7 - 10 days, to prevent them from rubbing the surgical site and causing complications.
If surgery is not possible, for whatever reason, then speak to the vet about pain relief. It may also be helpful to regularly place lubricating drops into the eye to help the lid sweep more smoothly over the cornea.
A dog with inturned eyelids should not be bred from as the problem can be hereditary and passed on to the next generation.
Written by Pippa Elliott
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 07/24/2018, edited: 04/06/2020