Most dogs diagnosed with corneal ulcers don't require surgery. Their eye troubles are treated with medication. Dogs with deeper ulcers might require surgery for removal of dead tissue so the eye can heal. If your dog requires corneal surgery, ask your vet to recommend a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist to perform the operation.
Your dog's cornea is the front of his eyeball, which contains three layers. This thin membrane allows light to enter the eye, also forming a cover for the pupil and iris. If your dog begins squinting, keeping an eye closed, rubbing his eyes or tearing up a lot, take him to the vet for an examination. Corneal ulcers—loss of tissue from the deeper part of the cornea—often result from trauma, foreign substances in the eye or an inwardly facing eyelash. Sometimes they heal on their own, but sometimes vet care is needed.
Although any dog might develop a corneal ulcer, or ulcerative keratitis, they occur more often in certain breeds. Brachycephalic breeds, those with short muzzles and shallow eye sockets, are the ones most affected. These include the pug, bulldog, boxer, Pekingese, shih tzu, Boston terrier and Lhasa apso. Because the eyes of brachycephalic breeds lie so close to the surface, an eye can actually pop out of the socket. This obviously requires a trip to a veterinary emergency hospital for surgery to replace it.
According to Michigan Veterinary Specialists, the most common surgery performed on a deep corneal ulcer is the conjunctival graft. A part of the conjunctiva, the tissue covering the eye's white portion, is removed and used to cover the ulcer. With extremely deep or ruptured ulcers, a corneal graft might also be used with the conjunctival graft. This entails either removing healthy corneal tissue from the dog's other eye, or using compatible corneal tissue stored at the veterinary hospital. In either case, the graft is sutured into the eye.
After the surgery, your dog wears an Elizabethan collar, also known as the cone of shame, to prevent him from pawing his eye. Your vet might prescribe antibiotics for you to place in the eye, along with medications that increase tear production. Because your dog is probably in pain, she might also prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to relieve discomfort. Keep your dog's activities to a minimum during his recuperation. His eye should heal from the surgery in approximately two weeks. He might require long-term eye medications.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.