What is a Veterinary Ophthalmologist?


Usually, once a year, most humans will have to visit the eye doctor. We get tortured with puffs of air in our eyes, drops that make us look silly for a while, and then we leave with a groovy pair of sunglasses. While it may not be fun, we know it is essential to keep our eyes healthy.

It is also essential to keep your pet’s eyes healthy as well. While most general veterinarians can peek at your pet’s eyes and see they are healthy, it may not always be that easy. Some breeds of dogs are very prone to eye issues, and cats often get infections when they are kittens. When this happens, you may have to visit a veterinary ophthalmologist.

Education and Training

Like most veterinary specialists, veterinary ophthalmologists must complete their full veterinary degree before joining a residency program. However, their studies tend to go a bit differently than some specialists. They must first practice general veterinary medicine for at least one year, and then apply for a residency program to specialize in ophthalmology. Once in the residency program, it takes three years to complete.

The certification of ophthalmology will be done through the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmology (ACVO). This college was founded by the American Society of Veterinary Ophthalmology in 1957 and has been running ever since. Students must go through two phases of their residency; the first will certify them and the second will give them their diploma to practice.

There are nine residency programs in the United States recognized by the ACVO and also nine internships. There are currently 432 active diplomats practicing ophthalmology in the United States.

Benefits to Seeing a Veterinary Ophthalmologist

Most people don’t realize how important it could be to take your pet to an ophthalmologist. It is not uncommon for veterinarians to simply give your pet some eye drops or antibiotics and send them on their way. While this may provide relief, it is not a cure.

Veterinary ophthalmologists have specialized equipment that are used to treat specific eye disorders. They have tools such as:

  • Schirmer Tear Test - To test your pet for dry eye conditions
  • Slit Lamps - To check the anterior chambers of your pet’s eyes
  • Fluorescein stain - To check for corneal ulcers

There are many more things they use, but this is just a short list. A veterinary ophthalmologist can diagnose eye issues that have formed on their own or possibly are stemming from another disease such as diabetes.

Seeing a veterinary ophthalmologist is the wisest choice when dealing with a serious eye issue in pets.

Issues and Treatments Handled

There will be many signs that your pet’s eye health is not up to par. Fortunately, you will most likely be able to see the difference between healthy and unhealthy eyes. However, the symptoms you should watch for are:

  • Avoiding light
  • Bulging eyes
  • Keeping their eyes closed
  • Cloudiness or redness
  • Discharge
  • Excess tears
  • Rubbing their eyes or face constantly

All of these symptoms could point to something as minor as dry eyes or something more serious like glaucoma or cataracts. Veterinary ophthalmologists are trained to work with all animal species. Small animals, livestock, birds, and exotic animals are all covered. Some of the diseases that these specialists are taught to cure are:

  • Cataracts
  • Cherry eyes - A condition where a dog’s third eyelid swells and makes the eye look like there is a red bump on it.
  • Herpes
  • Glaucoma
  • Dry Eyes
  • Pannus - A condition where a lesion grows and gradually covers the cornea. This disorder is found commonly with older German Shepherds.

Treatments could be as simple as antibiotics and eye drops, but usually with more developed or severe issues, the animal will require surgery. Some of these disorders are formed from genetics; others stem from other diseases such as diabetes or cancer.

Veterinary ophthalmologists can also help test stud dogs or possible brood bitches for potential eye issues before breeding. It is up to breeders to check these things so that the puppies are born healthy and without these issues later on down the road.

Qualifying Your Specialist

Like most veterinary specialists, ophthalmologists must attend continuous training, courses, and seminars to keep their practicing license. Without it, their knowledge and skills become inaccurate and outdated.

You can check a specialist’s legitimacy on the ACVO website; they have an extensive list of who is currently practicing, inactive members, retired members, and specialists who no longer practice at all. This is a good way to check up on where specialists are and how long they have been practicing as well.

When seeing a veterinary ophthalmologist, you should prepare a list of questions. Some of the questions you may need to check into are:

  • Will this particular condition make my pet’s vision worse?
  • Is there a definite cure?
  • Did this condition form from another condition or for another reason?
  • What treatment options are available?
  • Will my breeding animal pass this condition on?
  • If treated, what is the success rate? Will this condition possibly return?

A good veterinarian will be able to show and explain to you certain conditions, let you know treatments, and how the outcome could possibly turn out.

Interesting Facts

Unfortunately for some pet owners, your beloved canine may be more prone to eye conditions. While this sounds dismal, just stay on top of caring for your pet’s eyes, and you can help slow the progression of some eye disorders.

Some of the breeds that may be more prone are Labradors, German Shepherds, Jack Russell Terriers, and Shih Zhus. The larger your dog’s eyes are, the more prone to infection they can be. Also, be cautious of animals who are susceptible to getting diabetes. As mentioned previously, this can be a factor for eye health later on.

So much of what we do in our lives depends on being able to see. Without vision, we lose a significant part of living. The same can be for pets; make sure that you stay on top of your pet’s eye health and don’t be hesitant to suggest a veterinary ophthalmologist. They could really help your pet in the long run.

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