Blue lives the normal life of an active young adult dog. He spends most of his time around the home with Lukas, resting or wandering around the house. Twice daily, they go out for a walk together, usually in the local park. Blue loves exercise, and as well as walking on the streets, he loves dashing through undergrowth and sniffing his way through dense vegetation. He’s a friendly dog, loving people and animals of all kinds, so he enjoys socialising too.
blue looked as if he was crying
Last week, Lukas noticed that Blue looked as if he was crying, with tears streaming from both his eyes. He seemed very well in every other way, eating his food, playing, and showing no signs of distress. Both of his eyes looked otherwise normal, with no redness of the eyelids, and no discomfort. Both eyes were open, and he wasn’t itching at them or rubbing his head along the ground. It just seemed as if, for some strange reason, he had started to cry.
Lukas didn’t worry at first: perhaps this was a temporary episode of some kind, and maybe it would quickly settle down. However Blue kept shedding tears, morning, noon and night, for the next three days. Even though he seemed perfect in every other way, Lukas realised that he had to be taken to the vet to get his eyes checked out. It definitely wasn’t normal for a dog to shed tears like this.
a trip to the vet
When I examined Blue, tears were streaming from the inner corners of both eyes. It really did look as if he had been crying. However I noticed a few other issues that were going on.
First, the whites of his eyes were reddened: this is difficult for owners to notice sometimes, but if you gently pull back the loose skin on the brow of a dog’s head, above their eyes, this makes it easier to see. The whites of the eyes (technically called “sclera”) should appear completely white. If they are a reddened colour, or if they are streaked with fine blood vessels, this is abnormal, indicating inflammation, a problem known as “scleritis”.
Second, the fleshy, red surface lining the eye (called the “conjunctiva”) appeared a deeper red than normal, again, indicating inflammation, or “conjunctivitis”. The conjunctiva can be seen by pulling down the lower eyelid with your finger. You can practice doing this on yourself: human eyes are very similar to animal eyes in many ways.
My diagnosis was that Blue was suffering from a combination of scleritis and conjunctivitis.
This sounds very technical, and what Lukas wanted to know was the answer to more basic questions: first, how had Blue picked this up, and second, how could it be fixed?
Conjunctivitis, often accompanied by scleritis, is a common condition in dogs, just as it is in humans. There are three main causes: viruses, bacteria, and environmental irritants or allergies.
Viruses and bacteria can, in theory, be passed from dog to dog. While this might seem a likely cause in a dog like Blue who enjoys meeting other dogs, sniffing them, in practice, studies show that it’s an uncommon cause.
Irritants and allergies to something in the environment are far more likely. In Blue’s case, there was nothing new in Lukas’s home that might have provoked a reaction, and he had not been sniffing around any obvious areas that might have irritants around them, like building sites. Instead, it was far more likely that he had encountered something while out on one of his daily walks. Perhaps when he was charging through vegetation, he might have brushed his eyes against irritating plants, or some type of bush that he was allergic to. This irritation or allergy would have caused the initial conjunctivitis, and when that happens, the body’s natural defences are broached, and it’s easier for bacteria to move into the inflamed areas.
The consequence is a secondary bacterial infection on top of the initial irritant/allergic conjunctivitis. And as the bacteria multiply, they produce by-products and toxins which perpetuate an ongoing irritation.
And it’s the irritation which causes the eyes to produce excessive tears, giving the appearance that Blue is crying. The tears are the body’s effort to flush away irritants from the eye, so if the irritation continues (e.g. bacterial infection following the initial environmental cause) then the tear production will continue. Lukas had given the situation a few days to settle down naturally, and when this hadn’t happened, it was time to use medication to resolve it.
And so to the second question that Lukas had asked: how can conjunctivitis be fixed?
After assessing Blue’s eyes to ensure that he didn’t have any structural damage to the surface of his eyes (e.g. scratches or ulcers), I prescribed some eye drops that contained two important ingredients. First, an antibiotic, to eradicate any bacteria that might be perpetuating the irritation of his eyes. And second, anti-inflammatory steroids, to take away the inflammation. I asked Lukas to apply the drops five times daily for around five days.
Blue should stop crying within a day: he has shed enough tears for such a happy, friendly dog.