Evie, along with her younger brother Jack, had been pestering their Mum for ages to get a dog. So they were delighted when she finally agreed that they could manage the time and money for their first pet. They went searching on the internet for puppies, and when they found Lucky, he just seemed right.
Lucky was one of a litter of ten puppies from a Labrador that had an accidental mating with a neighbour’s dog. Both dogs had been full Labradors, which meant that Lucky himself was a pedigree dog, but because he didn’t come with the official papers, he wasn’t as expensive as a “show dog”. The family could tell as soon as they met him that he had a lovely personality, and so they were delighted to bring him home that day.
He seemed to be in great health generally, but they noticed something odd as soon as they got home with him: there was a brown streak running down the left side of his face, from the corner of his left eye. At the same time, his left eye was half-closed. This didn’t seem right. He was due to visit the vet for his first vaccinations and for a general check up, so when they brought him to see me later that week, they mentioned the eye problem. What was going on?
a trip to the vet
I was able to tell them at once that this is something called “tear staining”. Both eyes normally produce a small amount of tears, and these naturally drain away via a duct in the corner of the eye down to the inside of the tip of the nose. This is why dogs always have a cold wet nose: it’s kept moist from the regular drip of tears. It was obvious that in Lucky’s case, the tears from his left eye were flowing down his face, rather than inside this duct to the nose. There were two possible reasons for this. First, sometimes the tear duct is blocked, so the normal tear production spills down the cheek rather than draining through the duct as they are meant to do. I used a bright green dye to check this: I placed a drop of the dye in his left eye, and a few seconds later, I could see the green colour at his left nostril. This confirmed that his left tear duct was open, as normal. So a blocked tear duct was definitely not the cause of his problem.
The second reason for tear staining is over-production of tears, which can happen for a few reasons. I examined Lucky’s left eye carefully, using an ophthalmoscope, with a bright light and magnification. I soon found the cause of the problem: the lower eyelid of his left eye was slightly turned inwards, so that the hairs on the outer skin of the eyelid were rubbing on the sensitive surface of the eyeball. This was causing increased tear production (you know how your eye gets teary if you have a speck of something stuck in your eye). This also explained why his eye was half-closed. Lucky had a continual low-grade irritation in the eye, caused by the eyelid hairs rubbing.
This inward-turned eyelid is a so-called “congenital” problem: it was something Lucky had been born with. The technical term for an inturned eyelid is “entropion”, and normally the only cure is to have surgery carried out. A crescent shaped sliver of skin is cut away from below the eyelid, and this causes the edge of the eyelid to be pulled down and turned out slightly, stopping the hairs from rubbing on the eye.
However Lucky was just a young puppy, adapting to his new home, and it would be a big deal to give him a general anaesthetic and an operation at this stage. I decided to try an unconventional technique instead, based on the way that I used to treat lambs that had this problem when I was a farm vet, many years ago. I placed some local anaesthetic in Lucky’s eye, then I used four surgical staples to pinch a ridge of folded skin beneath his left eye. These were easy to apply, using a surgical stapler that works in a similar way to a normal office stapler. Lucky didn’t mind at all as I did this. Unlike office staples, surgical staples just press the skin together, not pinching too tightly. The staples had the effect of pulling his eyelid slightly outwards and downwards. It was just enough to stop the hairs from being in contact with the surface of his eye. I also gave him some antibiotic drops: the irritation of the hairs had caused an infection in the eye that needed to be treated.
Evie’s brother Jack applied the drops regularly to Lucky’s eye, and within a few days, it was obvious that his eye was now wide open, like the other eye, and there wasn’t as much spillage of tears down his cheek.
I left the staples in place for three weeks. By then, the brown stain had almost completely disappeared, and his cheek was completely dry. I was worried that when I removed the staples, his eyelid might just turn inwards again. However, Lucky was lucky (like his name), and this didn’t happen. As with those lambs that I used to treat, his lower eyelid remained in its new, normal position, with no inward twist. He didn’t need the full surgery, after all.
Lucky is now one year old, a fully grown adult dog. He came back to see me last week for his annual booster, and I was able to give his left eye a final check. The good news is that it’s still perfect: Lucky has no tears, no brown stains, and has completely normal eyelids in both eyes.