Did you know that dry eye, a common problem in people, also ails animals? It is, in fact, commonly diagnosed in dogs. Also known as KCS (Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca), dry eye occurs when the lacrimal gland and the third eyelid gland do not function properly to produce tears.

As an ophthalmologist, I chose to write about dry eye because it requires treatment. Not only does it cause pain and discomfort to our furry friends, but, worst case scenario, it can also lead to blindness or the loss of an eye.

This article will discuss the causes, symptoms, health threats and treatment options. If, while reading, you recognize signs or symptoms, make an appointment with your primary veterinarian or call CARE to schedule an appointment with me.

Causes Of Dry Eye

  • Congenital: From birth, the glands did not develop correctly.
  • Autoimmune: The body attacks its own tissue thinking it is something foreign, thus destroying the gland.
  • Diseases: Diabetes and hypothyroidism may cause it.
  • Infections: Dry eye is a side effect of canine distemper virus.
  • Trauma: Damage or removal of the glands may cause it.
  • Neurogenic dry eye: This occurs when the nerves that innervate the gland and cornea are not functioning properly.
  • Breed: Though dry eye can occur in any breed, those with more prominent eyes (bracycephalic breeds) are more susceptible. These include:
    • Shih-Tzu
    • Pug
    • Pekingese
    • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel


  • Redness of the eyes
  • Squinting (which is a sign of pain)
  • Rubbing of the eyes
  • Thick, yellow/green mucoid discharge
  • History of recurrent eye infections or corneal ulcerations
  • Loss of vision

Long-term Health Threats

As mentioned earlier, dry eye causes pain and discomfort. It may also have more detrimental health effects to our pets. There are two prominent health risks to note. First, dry eye can lead to corneal ulceration and infection. If untreated, this can lead to serious eye damage. Certain cases require surgery to save to save the eye. Secondly, dry eye can cause significant scar tissue and pigmentation of the cornea. This may lead to vision loss and in some cases, complete blindness.

Treatment of Dry Eye

Most commonly, the condition is treated with two types of medications:

  • Lacrimomimetics: This type of medication mimics tears and lubricates the eyes. By lubricating the corneas, these medications keep eyes moisturized to avoid dryness. Examples of this type of medication include over-the-counter lubricants such as Genteal Gel, Systane drops, Blink drops, etc.
  • Lacrimostimulants: Lacrimostimulants cause the glands to produce more tears, which lubricate the cornea. Examples include prescription medications such as cyclosporine and tacrolimus, which are applied topically to the eye.

In some cases, antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications are needed on the eyes as well. And, in the rare cases of neurogenic KCS, an oral medication called pilocarpine may be prescribed to induce the nerve to function correctly, allowing the glands to produce tears.

If medication proves ineffective, surgery is a possibility as well. The surgery, which is called parotid duct transposition, essentially replaces tears with saliva on the eye by transposing a duct that produces saliva up to the eye. However, this surgery carries a significant risk of complication, so it is only pursued when absolutely necessary.

How CARE Can Help

If you notice any of the symptoms, schedule an appointment with an ophthalmologist for an evaluation. Further, if your dog has a history of corneal ulceration, vision loss, discharge from the eyes, etc., I would also recommend an exam to rule out dry eye. To schedule an appointment at CARE, call 704-457-2300.

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