Keratoconjunctivitis sicca, or dry eye, occurs in dogs when their eye lacks normal tear creation capability. Without natural tears as a lubricant, eyes start itching and might develop a discharge. Infection can set in. In a worst-case scenario, the dryness of your dog's eyes might cause ulceration of the cornea. While dry eye usually isn't curable, long-term treatment for keratoconjunctivitis sicca generally produces good results.
Your dog's lacrimal glands produce the tears necessary to keep his eyes in healthy condition. Tears act not only as lubricants, but cleanse the eye and help prevent infection. In many cases, dogs start to experience dry eye in one orb, with the other eye affected months later. Dogs suffering from keratoconjunctivitis sicca deal with constant conjunctivitis, or "pink eye," the inflammation of the eyelid's lining. Without treatment, the ulceration and scarring of the cornea leads to vision loss. In some breeds -- including the shih tzu, cocker spaniel and pug -- dry eye results from a genetic component.
For many dogs with dry eye, initial treatment consists of an ophthalmic solution containing cyclosporine. Depending on the results of your dog's Schmirer tear test, which measures eye moisture, your dog receives one to three eyedrop treatments daily. Your vet probably will prescribe tear replacement drops in conjunction with cyclosporine treatment, which you must apply several times daily. Most dogs respond well to this combination. However, cyclosporine is a expensive. If the dog doesn't respond to cyclosporine, or the drugs proves a financial strain, there are other topical treatments available.
Other Topical Medications
Like cyclosporine, pilocarpine also stimulates tear production. It is available in oral and eyedrop form. One caveat: If you choose the oral form, the protocol involves giving your dog increasingly high doses until he develops gastrointestinal side effects or a heart rate increase. At that point, you reduce the dosage and continue giving him the medication twice daily. A compounding pharmacy can create an eyedrop version of tacrolimus, a drug similar to cyclosporine.
Not all dogs are candidates for surgical correction of their dry eyes, but if medications don't work or application becomes a nightmare, discuss the possibility with your vet. She can recommend a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist to examine your dog and perform the operation, if warranted. Known as the parotid duct transposition, this complicated surgery involves moving a salivary gland to the eye, so that saliva becomes a substitute for tears. It also gives new meaning to the term, "Here's spit in your eye."
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.