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What is Enucleation?

Enucleation is the surgical removal of an eye and its associated structures, e.g. eyelids. The procedure is undertaken in order to prevent pain or spread of disease, such as when an eye is irreversibly damaged, cancerous, or affected by non-responsive glaucoma.

Enucleation in dogs is often a treatment of last resort, when all previous attempts to salvage the eye have failed. The procedure is carried out under full general anesthetic and, although a major procedure, there is every chance of a successful outcome. This is not a specialist procedure and is commonly carried out at general vet practice. 

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Enucleation Procedure in Dogs

Enucleation is never undertaken lightly and only after all other treatment options have been explored. For example with glaucoma, referral to place a surgical stent (drain) in the eye may be an option.

Enucleation requires full general anesthetic and may involve an overnight stay after the surgery, for additional pain relief and monitoring. Elderly patients may require intravenous fluids during the surgery to reduce the risk of kidney complications.

The procedure involves: 

  • Preparing the patient by withholding food overnight prior to the operation
  • A pre-op check, possibly including screening blood tests
  • A premedication injection and pain relief to prepare the dog for the anesthetic
  • The dog may be put on intravenous fluids at this point
  • The anesthetic is administered via a catheter in the front leg and maintained via gas delivered through a tube in the airway
  • A vet tech monitors the dog's vital signs 
  • Hair is carefully clipped from around the eye and face
  • The skin is made sterile with surgical scrub
  • The surgeon scrubs up, and then sutures the eyelids of the affected eye together
  • The surgeon removes the eye by careful dissection, and any bleeding vessels clamped and tied off
  • Skin is sutured over the empty socket
  • The dog wakes from the anesthetic and must wear a cone to protect the surgical site
  • The dog is discharged with pain relief and perhaps antibiotics
  • The dog requires a post-op check at two to three days
  • The sutures are removed 10 - 14 days later

Efficacy of Enucleation in Dogs

Once the initial post-operative discomfort is over, enucleation is extremely effective at preventing ocular pain, without risk of relapse. Many owners who opt for surgery after a delay often notice their dog is happier than it has been some time, now the long term low pain has gone. In many cases, the alternative to enucleation is long-term management of a condition, which can be difficult or even impossible to achieve. This may require visits to specialists for repeated anesthetics to repair damaged corneal tissue or regular visits to have the pressure within the eye measured. Medical management of severe eye conditions is rarely successful, which leaves the possibility that the dog is in constant low-grade pain, so treatment decisions are best made with the dog's long term welfare in mind.

Enucleation Recovery in Dogs

It is essential the dog wears a cone until the sutures are removed.

For the first two to three days postoperatively, the dog may be quiet from the anesthetic and experiencing some discomfort. The pain can be managed with medications, which your vet will supply. 

Following a check-up at the two to three-day point, the dog has gentle lead exercise until the sutures are removed at the 10 - 14-day mark. 

Complications are rare, but include hemorrhage or wound breakdown. If the bleeding is severe, revisional surgery may be required or the clinician may opt to pack the socket and use pressure to prevent further blood loss. However, the vast majority of patients make a full and uneventful recovery. 

Once the sutures are removed no further aftercare is needed and the patient signed off. 

Cost of Enucleation in Dogs

The one-off cost of enucleation surgery must be balanced against repeated specialist visits, repeated anesthetics, and ongoing medication costs. At a general practice, the cost of enucleation surgery ranges from around $400 - $950 depending on the supportive care needed. 

Prescription eye drops for glaucoma cost around $15 -25 per bottle and may last around 2 - 3 weeks each. When a condition is managed medically the dog may need weekly visits initially and then three-monthly check-ups. The cost of these visits can be $25 - 50 for a regular vet, to $70 - $270 for a specialist veterinary ophthalmologist. 

Dog Enucleation Considerations

There are many factors to consider with enucleation surgery. The procedure is permanent and irreversible, and the dog blind on that side afterward. However, many of the conditions for which enucleation is appropriate may have already resulted in loss of sight. The short-term discomfort of surgery is balanced against the long-term benefit of being pain-free. In addition, this surgical option can be cost effective as the results are permanent. The risks of surgery are low and relate to hemorrhage and any anesthetic risks for that individual patient. However, good surgical technique and pre-op screening minimizes both of these factors.

Enucleation Prevention in Dogs

Many of the health conditions that result in enucleation being an appropriate option are not preventable. Conditions such as glaucoma are strongly linked to genetic conditions such as luxating lens or poor drainage angles from the eye. Breeds most commonly at risk include terriers, Basset Hounds, and American cocker spaniels.

Owners of these breeds should be vigilant for the earliest signs of discomfort in their dog to get the eyes checked. Early medical treatment stands a better chance of success than much later intervention. 

Other problems such as eyes popping out of sockets are linked to face shape. Flat-faced breeds such as pugs and pekes are at greatest risk. To avoid problems, the owner should avoid scruffing their dog (which pulls back the eyelids) and use a harness rather than a neck collar. 

Owners should be vigilant for signs of eye discomfort, such as blinking and squinting, closing the eye, rubbing, or an ocular discharge, and seek veterinary attention. Prompt treatment of ulcers on the cornea (surface of the eye) can stop them from perforating which could result in the loss of an eye. 

Enucleation Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Diesel
Great Dane
9 Weeks
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Corneal Scarring
Blind

We have a puppy, 9 weeks old, that has experienced a corneal perforation where the iris has adhered to the cornea. He is blind in his right eye as a result. He has a scar that has formed over his cornea. Will he be in pain, and should we consider enucleation or leave the bad eye alone?

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1051 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. I'm sorry that happened to Diesel. Since every eye injury is different as far as pain or the potential for ongoing disease, it would be best to ask your veterinarian that question, as they can see the eye and know the degree to which it is affecting him. With an adherence of the iris, there is always the potential for for that eye to develop glaucoma, which may be a factor in deciding which route to take, but your veterinarian will be able to assess if that is a risk.

Hi, my yorkie's eye popped out of his socket over a month ago. We took him to the vet and they told us it was because of infection in his mouth. He needed the eye and all his back teeth removed. Well we couldn't afford that whole surgery so we just got him on antibiotics for 10 days which got rid of the infection in his teeth. He's back to normal if not a better version of himself than before. He's very happy and does not seem in pain. But now I'm not sure what to do about his eye. Will it fall off or close up on its own eventually?? It's completely blind now for sure. He seems to have adjusted to that pretty easy. It's shriveled up now. But when I move it I can see behind it that it is not closed up. If anything surgery may be the only option but till then I'd like to just know if what the eye will do on its own?

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Bailey
pit mix
10 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Pain

Medication Used

Methazolmide

My dog has advanced glaucoma in her right eye (not sure if primary) & I’m leaning towards this eye removal surgery. She’s 10 years old pit mix. She’s been taking meds & eye drops for about 2 months now. Her ophthalmologist is charging 1900 for eye removal surgery. Can you recommend a good ophthalmologist in Los Angeles area that is more reasonably priced? I’m in north Hollywood. Thank you !!!

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1051 Recommendations
Thank you for your question. If Bailey is suffering from glaucoma, and your veterinaian is recommending enucleation, that is probably whata she needs, as that can be a very painful condition. I am not local to your area, and cannot recommend a specialist, but perhaps your veterinarian can recomend an alternative surgeon. I hope that everything goes well.

Our chihuahua just had his eye out. He had glaucoma for a couple years, he's only 3 years old. His headaches were bad!! We didn't realize how bad until after his eye was removed. He was like a new puppy! Running and playing! We regretted not doing it sooner because it was the right decision. It cost us $1800, a lot of money but it was worth it to see his quality of life now!!

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Milhouse
Pekingese
13 Years
Serious condition
2 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Blindness

Medication Used

Antibiotics

My 13, almost 14 year old peke had his right eye removed today. He's already blind in his left and he wasn't seeing much from his right, aside from shadows in bright surroundings. I'm worried about the recovery and how he will handle this once he's home. So lost dogs adjust well?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2474 Recommendations

Generally dogs adjust well to blindness and in many cases dogs will go blind slowly naturally so compensate well overtime; putting Milhouse in familiar surroundings will most likely give him more confidence but he will have a reduced level of activity. Finding his food and water bowl should not be a big task as he will smell his way there and as long as you don’t move them. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

My 13yr old shihtzu had her op yesterday for enucleation of her left eye,she has been blind for 7 yr,cause unknown,we have been up most of the night with her crying,we had fought a 4yr battle with dry eye,ulcers and our vet decided that removal of her eye was best option for a pain free life,an operation at 13yrs was a hard decision but a life filled with pain was unthinkable.

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Luna
English Mastiff
4 months
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

My 4 month old mastiff puppy had an enuleation yesterday. I was informed the bone behind the eye is missing. Will there be any additional problems or causes for concern since she is missing that bone? She also has a cleft lip... I don't even understand how that can happen?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2474 Recommendations
There are various bones which make up the orbit (see link below), I am not sure specifically why a bone may be missing but I would ask your Veterinarian which one is missing and consult with an Ophthalmologist to determine what the specific cause is and if there is any other pathology to be aware of. Also, I would suggest you spay her at six months. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM https://books.google.com/books?id=B_nh6zSr4wUC&pg=PA1430

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Queenie
Pug
6 Months
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

I have a 6 month old puppy that has seen the eye vet and her eyes are non functioning and will be removed. We have the choice to remove her eyes when she is full grown and have a partial prosthetic with the eye vet or get them removed right away.. What will be best the for the puppy?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2474 Recommendations
If you are looking for a cosmetic approach, wait until she is an adult but if you want to have the eyes removed you can do it now and tie it in with spaying to prevent any further anaesthetic cycles. There are advantages and disadvantages to both and I am assuming whatever is affecting Queenie’s eyes is not a painful condition because if pain is a factor you should have them removed now; the truth is a dog doesn’t care if she has a prosthetic eye or not, it is more for the owners than anything else. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Mya sue
Chiweenie
15 Years
Fair condition
1 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

Swelling draining
Swelling

My dog had the eye inoculation on the 15th. Today her eye is swollen with some drainage not very much at all though. She's still on antibiotics for another five days. Is this normal?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2474 Recommendations
Healing of eye enucleation surgery site may take around ten days, a little discharge as long as it is clear may be expected; if the discharge is white, yellow or thick I would advise you visit your Veterinarian again for a checkup to determine if any further treatment is required. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

It's got a red ish tinge to it. Doesn't look like puss. Looks like it would be clear if it weren't for the reddish tint. It was fine until we woke up. I read online blood pockets form & if she disturbed it, it could seep out? Some dog's have drainage some don't.

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Dexter
Pug Mix
11 Years
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

My dog had a an enucleation due to a cancerous mass behind his eye. How long after enucleation does it take for the wound to heal? I worry my dog may scratch and the incision will open. It's been almost 3 weeks post op.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2474 Recommendations
Generally wound healing after enucleation and removal of sutures is performed around ten to fourteen days post surgery. If after three weeks the wound still hasn’t healed, I would strongly recommend you visit your Veterinarian for an examination of the eye to determine if any further treatment is required. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Milo
Jack Russell
12
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Sleeping all the time

Medication Used

now on hemp oil

it has been 3 weeks since my 12 years old dog has had surgery, all he wants to do is sleep. He is eating , drinking water and using the bathroom. I am worried. his eye has healed amazingly

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2474 Recommendations

One of the possible side effects of the use of hemp oil is lethargy; try giving a low amount or stop using it all together to see if there is an increase in activity. Otherwise speak with your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THE PEACE OF MIND

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Gumby
Labrador Retriever
10 Weeks
Serious condition
1 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Swollen eye

How old does a puppy/ dog need to be in order to have a safe enucleation surgery? I had found homes for these puppies at 8 weeks of age. The family who took in this puppy called me a week or so later and stated the puppy was ill and had gotten a wound on his eye. I took him back and took him to the vet VCA where they recommended and scheduled an Enucleation. Upon further research i was advised that the puppy was too young for this type of surgery. I just want whats best for the puppy and to choose the safest path for him. Is 9/10weeks too young for this procedure ?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2474 Recommendations

It is always beneficial to perform surgery on a dog when they are older (two or three months); but sometimes due to the severity of an injury and the pain, discomfort or possible complications require surgery to be performed at a younger age. I haven’t examined Gumby, but when a Veterinarian recommends surgery, they weigh the risk vs reward etc… If you have concerns, get a second opinion (by a Veterinarian that can examine the eye). Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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