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What is a Veterinary Ophthalmologist?


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Usually, once a year, most humans will have to visit the eye doctor. We get examined via puffs of air in our eyes and drops that make us look silly for a while. Then, some of us 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 crucial to keep your pet’s eyes healthy as well. While most general veterinarians can peek at your dog’s eyes and see they are healthy, it may not always be that simple. 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.

What type of education and training does a veterinary ophthalmologist have?

Like most 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 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.

Benefits of seeing a veterinary ophthalmologist

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

  • Schirmer Tear Test - To test your pet for dry eye conditions and to evaluate tear production
  • Slit Lamps - A tool used to view the anterior chambers of your pet’s eyes
  • Fluorescein stain - To check for corneal ulcers
  • Pupillary light reflex test - This evaluates the retina

This is a short list of some of the conditions and diagnostic methods of the eye specialist. 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.

What are some symptoms of eye trouble in my pet?

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

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 treat are:

  • Cataracts
  • Cherry eye - A condition where a dog’s third eyelid swells and makes the eye look like there is a red bump on it
  • Herpes
  • Glaucoma - Among others, the Beagle, Cocker Spaniel, and Basset Hound are prone
  • Dry eyes
  • Pannus - A condition where a lesion grows and gradually covers the cornea; this disorder is found commonly with older German Shepherds

Treatment for eye conditions could be as simple as antibiotics and eye drops, but 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 potential canine breeding parents for possible eye issues. It is up to breeders to check these things so that the puppies are born healthy and do not have 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?

Stay on top of caring for your furry buddy's eyes. Doing so is preventative in that eye conditions may be caught early, before too much damage is done. Don’t be hesitant to suggest a veterinary ophthalmologist if your dog develops an eye condition. They could really help your pet in the long run.

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