The eyes are “the windows to the soul,” but they are also windows to the rest of the body. Annual eye exams in humans can reveal symptoms of undetected conditions such as diabetes, mini-strokes and high blood pressure. The same is true for our canine and feline friends. A veterinary ophthalmologist who gives a simple but thorough eye exam may alert owners to conditions that will need emergency or long-term care.

When Should Your Pet See a Veterinary Ophthalmologist?

Most family veterinarians can detect basic visual issues during an annual or semi-annual checkup. This is true from simple infections such as conjunctivitis (pinkeye) to minor eye injuries that can be managed medically. These family vets may refer pets to specialists for surgery or for complicated diagnoses.

Specialists treat serious conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts or dry eye. They may perform tests used on humans: a Schirmer test measuring tear production for dry eye problems, a fluorescent eye stain to assess corneal health, a tonometry test to check intraocular pressure for evidence of glaucoma. Veterinary ophthalmologists have many tools at their disposal to fix problems, from lasers that remove eyelid tumors to surgery for correction of eyelid abnormalities.

These specialty exams also let ophthalmologists find systemic diseases such as infections, autoimmune disorders (where the body’s immune system attacks itself) and certain cancers. Eye changes can even reveal disorders such as high blood pressure, hyperlipidemia (high fat levels in the blood) and diabetes.

How Do Diseases Show Themselves in Pets’ Eyes?

Some diseases present themselves through abnormalities in the front of the eye (the cornea, anterior chamber and iris). Others appear as changes to the sections further back (the lens, vitreous or retina).

The biggest reason systemic diseases show up in the eye relates to ocular blood flow. Many infections and cancers spread via the bloodstream. With the high rate of blood flow from the body to the eye, blood vessels in the iris, ciliary body and retina can be exposed to and even entrap cancer cells or infectious agents.

Other diseases that affect blood vessels throughout the body often first appear in abnormalities in the eye. For example, high blood pressure can cause leakage or bleeding in certain structures of the eye. Abnormal bleeding in the eyes can also indicate coagulation disorders – illnesses where the body cannot clot its blood.

This is why veterinary ophthalmologists’ exams can be crucial tools once cases prove difficult for family vets to diagnose. Most owners know they should visit a clinic yearly for a professional eye exam. They might be wise to consider the same approach for their pets.

CARE is the animal version of a human medical center: It provides all forms of treatment for pets through emergency care 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It also offers board-certified specialty care, after you get a referral from your primary veterinarian. You can take a visual tour of the practice at

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