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Treatment Options for Eyelash Disorders in Cats & Dogs

Treatment Options for Eyelash Disorders in Cats & Dogs

Eyelash disorders in cats and dogs can cause discomfort, infection, pain, and other symptoms. Here, our Renton veterinarians discuss common eyelash disorders and treatment options. 

Eyelash Disorders in Cats & Dogs

If your dog or cat appears to be suffering from eye pain or discomfort, an eyelash disorder may be to blame. While eyelashes normally grow from follicles in the eyelid, eyelash disorders are a group of eye conditions that are almost always congenital, meaning the animal was born with an abnormality that may be anatomically related to abnormal eyelash growth.

While eyelash disorders in cats and dogs are not life-threatening, they do have the potential to cause irritation and threaten vision. The main concern is the subsequent exposure of sensitive and vulnerable eye tissue. Eyelashes may also brush against the cornea and cause trauma. 

Eyelash disorders are not common in cats, but kitties who do develop them are most often from a brachycephalic (flat-faced) breed. These can include Persian, Exotic Shorthair, and Himalayan cats.  

Before we get into how eyelash disorders are treated, let's explore a few different types of eyelash disorders that may appear in cats and dogs, and how their symptoms affect your pet's vision and eyesight in the long term. Eyelash disorders include:

Blepharitis

Fungi, mites, or bacteria can infect the eyelids, leading to generalized inflammation of the skin and area surrounding the eye, and conjunctiva.

Ectopic Cilia

The eyelashes grow in an abnormal location, typically on the underside (conjunctiva) of the upper or lower eyelid. Whenever your pet blinks or sleeps, the short, stiff eyelash will rub against the eye, which can cause severe discomfort and create ulcerations on the eye's surface. 

Distichiasis

Common in many breeds of cats and dogs, this genetically inherited condition causes extra eyelashes to appear along the eyelid margins, where they do not normally grow. 

While some cats and dogs with distichiasis will experience discomfort, many show no clinical signs and some will not need treatment. 

Trichiasis

Eyelashes in normal locations around the eye are misdirected to the eyeball or cornea. Shih Tzus and other cat and dog breeds with long facial hair are at risk for this condition. 

Symptoms 

Symptoms of eyelash disorders may vary depending on the condition, its severity, and other factors. Both cats and dogs may experience these symptoms:

  • Excess tearing and tear staining 
  • Squinting 
  • Redness or discharge 
  • Eye pain and discomfort 
  • Itchy eyes and eyelids 
  • Cherry eye (prolapsed third eyelid gland)
  • Chronic wetness of the skin surrounding the eye 
  • Eye-related infections 
  • Scarring around the eyes
  • Injury to the eye and cornea 

Testing & Diagnosis  

You may not notice if your cat or dog has suffered early eye damage due to an eyelash disorder, since symptoms may not yet be readily apparent. Our veterinary ophthalmologists can diagnose eye conditions and disorders, and any symptoms, using specialized ophthalmic equipment. Skin scrapings, cultures, or biopsies may be required for accurate diagnosis. 

Treatment 

Now that we've established how eyelash disorders develop and how symptoms can affect eyesight, we'll cover treatment options for these conditions. 

Your veterinary ophthalmologist will assess and diagnose your cat or dog's specific eye condition by performing a thorough exam of the eyes and eyelashes, and develop a custom treatment plan based on their needs. Treatment and prognosis for eyelash disorders depend on the condition and whether symptoms are chronic or transient. 

Surgery is typically reserved for severe cases or those in which other treatments have been unsuccessful. While many cases do not cause eye irritation, those that do require medical treatment to avoid life-long eye discomfort, trauma, and permanent damage. 

Surgical treatment, if necessary, is usually successful. Post-operative care and rechecks are essential. Keeping the eyes clean and lubricated often helps in preventing the potential recurrence of these disorders.

Surgical treatment options may include:

Cherry Eye Surgery

If your pet has developed cherry eye as a result of an eyelash disorder, the vet ophthalmologist may recommend cherry eye surgery to replace the third eyelid gland, which may have prolapsed.  

Laser Surgery

Your veterinary ophthalmologist may recommend laser surgery to remove eyelashes if your cat or dog is diagnosed with distichiasis, ectopic cilia or another eyelash disorder. 

Distichiasis and trichiasis are complex, ongoing conditions that may cause new eyelashes to appear after a veterinary ophthalmologist has performed initial corrective treatment. A second procedure may be necessary to fully correct the condition.

Non-Surgical Treatment Options

Other treatment options for eyelash disorders may include prescription eye drops, lubricating eye gels or ointments, or plucking extra eyelashes every 4-6 weeks for life. 

When blepharitis is caused by another health condition, whole-body therapy is often required in addition to the treatment of the eye itself. Your vet ophthalmologist may recommend frequent cleansing with a warm washcloth. Treatment may not be needed if the condition causes no harm or discomfort. 

Prognosis & Management of Eyelash Disorders

In severe cases, distichiasis, ectopic cilia and trichiasis lead to deep ulcers in the cornea, which sometimes lead to loss of vision or even loss of the entire eye. Other severe eyelash disorders can lead to complications such as permanent dilation of the pupils or your cat or dog having trouble navigating their environment. 

We will provide detailed instructions on how to manage symptoms, administer medication, and keep your pet comfortable. Your vet or veterinary ophthalmologist may recommend measures you can take at home to make your pet's life easier if they are losing their vision, including placing non-slip carpeting or flooring around the house, being careful to remove or cover potential hazards such as sharp furniture edges, and using a special halo harness to help keep them from bumping into objects. 

Prevention

Since eyelash disorders in cats and dogs are most often congenital, they cannot be prevented. Breeders of flat-faced dogs and cats can help prevent these conditions by not breeding animals born with these disorders or who produce kittens and puppies that may be similarly affected. These eye conditions are not contagious. 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical or behavioral advice regarding pets. Please make an appointment with your vet for an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition.

Do you suspect your cat or dog may be suffering from an eyelash disorder? Contact our Renton vets to book an appointment with our veterinary ophthalmologist.

New Patients Welcome By Referral

Northwest Animal Eye Specialists is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the eye health of animals. Talk to your vet today about getting a referral to our Renton or Kirkland clinics.

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