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What is Corneal Debridement?

Corneal debridement is a procedure that removes excess tissue from the most sensitive areas of the eye. A dog's eye is a very sensitive organ, and as such disruption to its internal structure due to pressure from excess tissue can, over time, cause damage, distortion of vision, and even blindness. The cornea can be especially susceptible to this problem, because as the external layer of the eye it is singularly exposed to potential damage and abnormalities. Unwanted cells on the cornea can be directly removed via debridement, giving the dog's vision a new lease on life and reducing the impact that various health problems can have on its lifestyle.

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Corneal Debridement Procedure in Dogs

The dog will first be placed under a general anesthetic in order to both lessen the stress felt by the animal and prevent the eye itself from moving during the procedure. Next, the eyeball will be numbed via a mild general anesthetic delivered in the form of an eye-drop. The veterinary surgeon will then use a blunt instrument (in conjunction with a high-magnification lens) to incrementally remove cells from the target area of the cornea. This process will continue until all of the unwanted tissue has been removed. Following this, the surgeon will most likely choose to utilize a diamond-tipped tool known as a 'burr' to smooth out the cells that have been left behind. Many vets will simply use the burr by itself to both debride the excess tissue and perform the polishing.

Efficacy of Corneal Debridement in Dogs

The effects of the debridement procedure will be virtually instantaneous in terms of restoring the dog's vision, though it will take a week or so until the dog is able to fully use the eye. This is due to the fact that the debrided tissue will require some time in which to fully repair itself, causing the vision to become slightly blurred for a period of roughly three or four days. After this, the effects of the procedure will be permanent, with a repetition only being required if the dog somehow incurs additional damage to the eye in a separate incident.

Corneal Debridement Recovery in Dogs

Following the procedure, the dog will require some time for its eye to fully recover from the debridement. Typically, this will last just under a week, as the thin layers of cells on the outside of the cornea reconfigure themselves to repair the area targeted by the debridement. The dog may need to wear a contact lens for some time after the operation, as this will help keep contaminants out of the eye as it heals. Owners will have to administer a painkiller periodically for a couple of days, which will come in the form of an eye drop. This may be the most difficult part of the aftercare, especially if the dog in question is particularly uncooperative.

Cost of Corneal Debridement in Dogs

In general terms, the procedure can cost between $200 and $500, depending on factors such as locality, the age of the dog, and the severity of their condition. Dog owners should bear in mind that the cost of anesthetic and painkillers can add to this sum.

Dog Corneal Debridement Considerations

Whilst the procedure of corneal debridement is quite fast and relatively risk-free, dog owners should be aware that there can be some associated risks. General anesthetic is often used in order to ensure compliance from the dog, which can be risky for older animals or ones with breathing difficulties. That said, many vets will be willing to forgo it in favor of just using the local anesthesia in conjunction with a brace to hold the dog still (though this may prove stressful for the animal). With some conditions (especially ulcers) there is a potential for the procedure to cause further damage to the eye, especially if the pre-existing damage goes deeper than anticipated. However, this can be avoided if the vet is diligent in their preparation for the procedure and evaluates the eye correctly.

Corneal Debridement Prevention in Dogs

The vast majority of dogs that incur damage to their eye do so as a result of either violence or running into sharp household objects. Keeping the dog separated from hostile animals such as cats can go a long way towards mitigating the risk of such an injury occurring. It is also advisable to keep their living environment clean (which can help prevent infections) and free of junk and clutter that may poke or scratch the animal as it moves through the house.

Corneal Debridement Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Boston Terrier
7 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

My dog had a corneal debridement a few days ago, as he has recently had a significant amount of corneal ulcers in both eyes (which we are treating with an oral anti-inflammatory/pain medication "Meloxyn" and an eye drop.) since the procedure which our vet used a que tip, there is now a red mark in his eye, surrounding the cloudy part which is the ulcer. Recheck is in 7 days, and we are seeing a opthamologist. Should I be concerned and go back to the vet right away?

I meant to add - my dogs eye was red too after both debridments. The debridment is a procedure that roughs up the surface of their eye that helps the dogs body create new cells and begin healing (that’s how they explained it to me). The redness is normal in the beginning (after you get a procedure your body’s initial response can be swelling and redness - that should decrease as you heal right?) and should get better each day, even if it’s just a little bit. If you are ever worried I would recommend calling your vet or going in again. Each dog is different so what is normal for 1 dog might not be normal for yours. It’s hard not to worry when you can’t have a conversation with them 😢. I hope Huxley feels better soon!

My dog has had 2 corneal ulcers - 1 in each eye at different times. My vet referred me to the ophthalmologist and at the initial exam the ophthalmologist was worried about an small infection so she did the Q-tip debridment and prescribed antibiotics and pain meds. A week later we went back to check the infection which thankfully cleared up and performed a debridment with a needle. She felt that the ulcer was not large enough to need the diamond burr tool. She explained the various ways to perform the debridment. All methods had very similar success rates. The procedure was very successful and we were sent home with pain meds and eye drops to help the healing.
Depending on the severity of the ulcer, my opthamologist explained that sometimes in rare cases if the ulcer is small enough the Q-tip debridment is enough for the dogs eye to heal. She explained though that it can start the healing process if you need to take care of the infection or swelling first and then come back later to do the other debridments. It worked well for my dog. I think each doctor and dog is different. It is important though to get into the opthamologist as soon as you can for them to assess your dog and provide the best treatment for them.

Good luck!

I would be concerned and take dog straight to an opthamologist. I've never heard of a que tip - debridement is done with a diamond instrument ! And my dog has corneal ulcers which I am trying to treat with antibiotic eye drop along with some other eye drop that I got from my opthamologist. Trying to treat this way first as the surgery was quoted to me at $1700+

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Pit bull
8 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Not opening eye much and drainage

My blind dog had a debridement yesterday and a contact lens put in place. He was born blind. He has a non- healing ulcer that will not heal with just antibiotics alone. He’s not opening his eye much today after the procedure and there is a cloudy looking film over his eye. His eye is also a little droopy. He’s on oral doxycycline, trobymycin antibiotic eye drops, remend eye moisture drops, a pain med and antropine for four days to keep his eye dilated. Is it normal for the first few days to keep his eye shut or not open much as well as have some whitish guck drain out of his eye? I would guess so since the outer layer of his eye was pretty much cleaned up.

Hopefully Harley’s feeling much better. My vet explained that it can take up to a week to my dog to be back to normal. The debridment, while it does a lot of the clean up, your dog’s body is responsible for reproducing/replacing the tissue that was just removed and replace them with healthy tissues. And your putting medicine in something that is already sore/tender it makes sense that Harley would keep their eye shut.

I think as long as it’s not getting worse and your seeing improvements every day, even if just a little then you should be fine. Call your vet or take him in if you are concerned.

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Golden Retriever
11 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Eye Clouding

my dog had a corneal ulcer debridement 2 days ago. Her eye now has a filmy layer over the cornea and the bottom lid is completely drooping. Is that a usual part of the healing or is there a problem?

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1611 Recommendations
There is typically some cloudiness as the cornea heals and new blood circulation comes to the area, but without seeing Bailey, I'm not sure if what you are seeing is normal or is a problem. Corneal ulcers can be difficult to manage and heal, and often need frequent rechecks. It would be a good idea to have your veterinarian recheck her eye just to make sure that everything is okay.

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