Bua, a one year old female Irish Setter who had a painful left eye

Bua is a young, fit dog. She shows all of the classical signs of full health, with an alert appearance, a glossy coat and bright, clear eyes. When a dog is in such good health, it is very obvious when even the smallest thing starts to go wrong.

One evening last week, Keelin noticed that Bua’s left eye did not look quite right. When she looked at Bua’s face straight on, the left eye was not open quite as wide as the right eye. When she looked carefully, she could see that the upper eyelid was slightly swollen. Bua is a dog who charges everywhere, in classic Irish Setter style, and Keelin presumed that she must have bashed into something during her daily walk. When she had finished examining Bua, she noticed that the eye was starting to bother Bua. Every now and again, the dog would rub her eye with her paw. Whatever was going on with the eye, it was feeling itchy.

In pets, as in humans, mild ailments often respond to very simple treatments. Keelin knew that it was safe to use mildly salty water to clean and soothe a sore eye. She boiled a pint of water, added a teaspoonful of salt. When it had cooled down, she used it to gently bathe Bua’s sore eye, using a piece of moistened cotton wool. Bua seemed to find this comforting, and she relaxed as Keelin pressed the wet cotton wool pad against her eye.

In many cases, Keelin’s home treatment would have been sufficient to cure the problem. However, the following morning, Bua’s eye completely closed, and both upper and lower eyelids were swollen. There was a yellowish discharge in the corner of her eye. Keelin bathed it again, but this time Bua struggled and tried to prevent Keelin going near the eye. It was time for professional help.

When I examined Bua later that day, her left eye was still fully closed, and it was painful. I darkened the room and in the dim light, she felt comfortable enough to open her eye. I used an ophthalmoscope to carefully examine her eye, starting with the eyelids, and then checking the different parts of the eyeball itself. The white of her eye was red and painful-looking, but there was no sign of serious damage of any kind. Sudden onset painful eyes can be caused by so-called “foreign bodies”, such as grass awns or specks of dirt, but there was no sign of anything like that in or around her eye. I used small strips of filter paper to measure her tear production. Sometimes an eye can stop producing tears, and without the lubrication of continual tear flow, an eye becomes red, sore and painful. In Bua’s case, there were plenty of tears in her left eye, so this was not the problem.

Next, I added a drop of green dye to her sore eye. It is very common for a sore eye to be associated with a scratch or an ulcer on the front of the eyeball, such as can be caused by rushing madly through undergrowth or an altercation with a cat. The front of the eye is translucent, like a piece of clear glass, and so it can be impossible to see a scratch on the surface. The special dye adheres to any areas of imperfection in the surface of the eye, and clearly demonstrates scratches and ulcers that would require a particular type of treatment.

In Bua’s case, the dye flushed completely out of her eye, leaving no trace on the surface. Bua definitely had no damage to the front of her eye. The green dye also had the effect of colouring her tears bright apple-green, and I was able to check that her tear drainage system was working properly. Normally, tears flow through a duct from the corner of the eye to the tip of a dog’s nose (this is why a healthy dog has a cold, wet nose). Within a minute of applying the dye to Bua’s eye, the green colour flooded out of her left nostril, showing that her tear ducts were fully functional.

My tests had ruled out serious problems in Bua’s eye. She was suffering from simple conjunctivitis. There must have been an initial irritating factor (such as dashing through a bush when she was out on a walk), and then bacteria had moved into her irritated eye, establishing an infection. Bua was making things worse by rubbing her eye, and the simple antiseptic properties of salty water had not been enough to clear up the infection.

I prescribed some antibiotic and anti-inflammatory drops, and Keelin applied these five times daily for five days. Bua’s eye responded immediately, and when she came for a check up the following week, she looked at me with two bright, sparkly, healthy eyes.


  • Healthy eyes are clear, bright, shiny and wide open.
  • Minor eye problems can be treated at home by bathing with mildly salty water.
  • If this does not work, prompt veterinary attention is essential.

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Please note that I am unable to answer veterinary questions in comments. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health it is always better to contact your vet.

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