Summer 2009 Newsletter

OUCH! There's Something in My Dog's Eye!

By Gavin Kennard, DVM, DACVO

When you live in New Mexico, you can't avoid cactus plants. Prickly pear, cholla, hedgehog cactus, barrel cactus, button cactus-whatever the specific variety, the point is, cactus plants are everywhere in this state. While we love them, they don't necessarily love us, and they especially don't love our pets. The bristles and spines that cover cacti, particularly the common prickly pear and cholla, frequently turn up in our dogs' and cats' eyes-not where we want them!

At Eye Care for Animals, I see pets with spines impaled in their eyes more often than you might think and far more often than either you or I would like. Frequently, these spines have penetrated the surface of the eye and are poking at delicate intraocular tissue, like the iris or sometimes even the lens. In a few of my patients' eyes, I've even seen spines that were embedded in the anterior chamber-that's very deep, and very dangerous to the stability and visual future of the eye.

The goal in treating cactus-related eye injuries is to promote the health of your pet's eyes and ensure his or her comfort. Whether or not the spines must be surgically removed depends mostly on their size.

As the name suggests, microspines are fine nearly-invisible cactus spines and do not necessarily need to be surgically removed from the eye. My patients frequently tolerate microspines, which I sometimes find harmlessly embedded in the cornea when I am examining an eye for a different, unrelated condition.

Large cactus spines, in contrast, almost always need to be removed and doing so typically requires surgery. Contrary to what you might imagine, those large cactus spines, that look so deceptively smooth, cannot be backed out or even pulled through; to remove them requires a corneal incision.

These spines are commonly embedded in conjunctival and corneal surfaces. The conjunctival surface is a mucous membrane that covers the white part of the eye and lines the inside of the eyelids. Spines that are embedded in this surface seriously irritate the eye and can damage surrounding ocular tissue. Thus, spines embedded in the conjunctival surface must be removed for the sake of your pet's comfort and, possibly, his or her vision.

Large cactus spines that have penetrated right through the cornea and are touching or piercing the iris or lens must be treated like punctures, which can cause both corneal and intraocular complications. To begin treatment, we remove the cactus spine, after which we seal the puncture the spine has caused with sutures or a grafting procedure to promote healing. We control the resulting inflammation with high doses of anti-inflammatory medication. We also use topical antibacterial drugs to prevent the secondary infections that cactus spines can cause.

We can treat a small penetrating injury to the lens with medical therapy alone using high doses of steroids, which adequately control intraocular inflammation. However, large lacerations to the lens sometimes require surgical removal of the lens. We remove the lens only if medicine alone cannot control the intraocular inflammation.

If you've been hiking in the desert and your dog is now squinting or pawing at its eye, contact Eye Care for Animals for an appointment with a board-certified ophthalmologist. The ophthalmologist will give you recommendations for a treatment plan that will ensure your pet's ocular health and long-term vision.

Dr. Kennard is a board certified veterinary ophthalmologist and has been serving New Mexico for the past six years. Call (505-292-3600) to get a consultation for your pet's ocular condition.

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