What is Cryoepilation?

The hair and eyelashes of a dog generally grow away from the eye. In some breeds, these hairs may begin to grow through the eye ducts. The hairs then rub the eye’s surface, creating irritation and inflammation. The severity of this ailment varies from mildly irritating to completely debilitating. Painful ulcers and even partial blindness can result from the consistent friction of the hairs on the eye.

To treat dogs suffering from abnormal hair growth, the hairs must be removed. Doing this manually may prove to be ineffective for dogs with thick hair growth. In extreme cases, the dog will squint or rub at its eyes and the eyes will tear or have cloudy discharge. A procedure called “cryoepilation” can be used to freeze the hair follicles until they are destroyed. This prevents further growth through the affected ducts. 

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Cryoepilation Procedure in Dogs

Growth of hairs through the eye duct can be confirmed during a magnified examination of the eye. To rule out other issues as the cause of eye trouble, a Schirmer Tear Test may also be run. Fluorescein stain will allow any ulcerations to be seen. General anesthesia is needed to perform this procedure, so full blood work will need to be run on the dog. This will help determine whether the dog will survive the use of the anesthesia.

Once the dog has been sedated and is unconscious, chalazion forceps may be used to hold the eyelid open. A tool called a “cryoprobe” will be administered to the bottom of the affected gland. This probe uses liquid nitrogen or nitrous oxide to continuously freeze the follicles until they are killed. This procedure can be performed at the end of a surgical excision if the eye is ectopic. 

Efficacy of Cryoepilation in Dogs

The death of the problem hair follicles is permanent, however it is possible for new hairs to grow in the same area. This happens more often in younger dogs. If this takes place, a second cryoepilation may be required. Dogs that are three years of age or older rarely require further treatment. Less invasive options include topical ointments paired with ongoing plucking of the hairs.

Cryoepilation Recovery in Dogs

The dog should be closely watched as it regains consciousness after the procedure. A topical antibiotic ointment should be applied to the area within twelve hours of cryoepilation. The dog will either be prescribed NSAIDS or corticosteroids after the procedure. Swelling for up to five days after cryoepilation is normal, however if it does not dissipate, the veterinarian should be contacted. Monitor the area in the weeks after the procedure to see if any new hairs grow through the duct. Several appointments with the vet may be needed to confirm that no hairs are present. 

Cost of Cryoepilation in Dogs

The price of cryoepilation often ranges between $1,500 to $2,000 depending on the veterinarian that you go to and your location in the country. If only a few hairs are present, cauterization may be recommended to destroy the follicles. This method cannot be used if many hairs are present, as it is too destructive to the eye. The use of CO2 lasers has been shown to be ineffective for this task, as hairs often grow back and scarring is likely.

Dog Cryoepilation Considerations

This procedure includes the use of general anesthesia, and as such carries with it rare but serious risks. It is common for the eyelids to swell for some time after cryoepilation is done. The area may become depigmented for a prolonged period of time. Normal pigment generally returns in several months’ time. The surrounding areas may also experience hair loss. Puppies may require multiple treatments as new hair rows form. If the case is mild, topical therapy on its own should be attempted before cryoepilation.

Cryoepilation Prevention in Dogs

This issue is seen only in dog breeds with abnormal eyelid confirmation. When buying a puppy, be sure to enquire about the full medical history of the dog's family. Dogs with severe complications from hair growth around the eyes should not be bred. Dogs under three years of age are much more commonly diagnosed with this problem than older dogs. Shih Tzus develop this ailment more than any other breed, however Bulldogs, Miniature Poodles, Lhasa Apsos, Golden Retrievers and many others can also experience the problem.