Problems and Solutions with Cocker Spaniel Eyes

Eyes of melted chocolate: This is the way many describe the Cocker Spaniel eye. Those gorgeous eyes also come with their fair share of difficulties. Here is your guide to problems and solutions with Cocker Spaniel eyes. (note: Most of this information applies to all breeds of dogs and mixed pooches, so read on):

affiliate links disclaimerThe Basic Anatomy of Cocker Spaniel Eyes

The anatomy of cocker spaniel eyes

 

Eyelids and Eyelashes: This is the outermost portion of the dog’s eye anatomy. The eyelids and eyelashes keep debris and dust out and they also help with the cotnrol of light rays entering the eyes.

Conjunctiva: A thin membrane called the conjunctiva covers the sclera. Sometimes when there is an eye injury or respiratory issue, the conjunctiva becomes inflamed. The conjunctiva is thin and located near the front of the eye.

Sclera: The whites of the eyes, and this is something we as humans have in common with dogs: We both have whites of our eyes.

Iris: This area is responsible for the amount of light that enters the dog’s eye. Looking at the dog’s eye as above, the dark center is the pupil, the colored ring is the iris and outside of that the white sclera is located.

Pupil: The darkened black part of the eye that dilates or constricts to either allow more or less light to enter the eye. In the dark, the pupil dilates whereas it constricts in a lighter environment.

Problems and Solutions with Cocker Spaniel Eyes

Common Cocker Spaniel Eyes Problems

Glaucoma

Glaucoma deals with the fluid in a dog’s eye. Unfortunately, Cocker Spaniels are among the breeds most affected by glaucoma. All eyes have a certain level of pressure to maintain, called intraocular pressure. Glaucoma causes an increase in the intraocular pressure. As the disease takes hold, pressures build and most often, there are no outward symptoms until there is extensive eye damage.

There are four levels of glaucoma based on the stage of the disease: Class IV is very early glaucoma and Class I means the eye is enlarged and the eye is blind.

A stable intraocular pressure in a normal eye is 15-25 mmHg. There are both primary and secondary types of glaucoma, which a qualified ophthalmologist can discern.

Diagnosing glaucoma includes:

  • Measuring the intraocular pressure
  • Visually examining the drainage angle via gonioscopy (Note: gonioscopy is the only test available to diagnose closed-angle glaucoma or hereditary narrow glaucoma).

Symptoms of glaucoma:

  • Excessive tearing
  • Yellow or green eye discharge
  • Red eye
  • Pupil enlarged and does not move with light shone on it
  • Frightened pet or pet who is irritable (due to pain) – they may even snap or bite

Keep reading because we will share what you as the pet parent can do and how to stay one step ahead of this eye disease and others to keep your pet’s vision as healthy as possible for as long as possible.

CLICK THIS: Here is an image of acute glaucoma in an American Cocker Spaniel, with an intraocular pressure of 55 mmHg in the Merck Veterinary Manual.

Cataracts

Do you see a cloudy haze forming on your Cocker Spaniel’s eyes? It might be cataracts. Simply stated, cataracts cloud your dog’s lens. Sadly, Cocker Spaniels are one of the breeds with a higher than usual propensity to develop cataracts.

Inherited cataracts generally appear between the ages of one and four years. The spot on the eye with the cataract is an area the dog cannot see through. Cataracts may stay as a mild form and not enlarge while other times they can grow slowly or even cause blindness or lead to other eye problems.

Unless the lens of the eye is surgically removed, there is no universal cure.

Diagnosing cataracts includes:

  • A complete ophthalmologic examination, which will assess if the dog has vision loss and if there is any other eye issue(s) or nuclear sclerosis occurring.

Symptoms of glaucoma:

  • Cloudiness on the eye, which may appear whitish, blue, or grey
  • Bumping into things, seemingly not aware something was there; walking with nose to ground in some dogs
  • Diabetes mellitus may cause cataracts, and if this is the case, increased water consumption (polydipsia) with increased urination (polyuria) may result.

Do not let a cataract go without being managed, assessed, and treated by the dog’s veterinarian, or even better, a veterinary ophthalmologist you see at least yearly.

Cataracts that are untreated can slip (luxate), flat around the eye, block fluid from draining, and even lead to glaucoma and blindness. Cataracts that are untreated and begin to dissolve can cause terrible pain and/or eye inflammation.  Read more about older dogs and cataracts.

Cocker Spaniel eye health
Knowing what a normal eye looks like in your dog will help in potentially seeing an issue in the eye.

Optigen and Cataracts

So prevalent are cataracts in Cocker Spaniels that a molecular genetic study of inherited cataracts in the Cocker Spaniel has been underway.

Cocker Spaniel parents simply take their dog to have their eyes examined and submit a blood sample to help find a DNA marker to eliminate cataracts in Cockers. This, in turn, helps humans who are affected by cataracts.

Interested Cocker parents can call OptiGen at 607-257-0301 or email at genetest@optigen.com for questions about sample submission. Also, visit the Optigen website for complete details.

According to long-time Cocker mom and pro, Debi Lampert Rudman, “There is NO SUCH THING as PERMANENTLY CLEAR cockers. Yes – you read that right.”

She says that the term “permanently clear” with regards to the eyes of a Cocker Spaniel was “made up by cocker breeders many years ago as something to say when their 8 year old cocker had a good clear eye exam.” However, Rudman says it is not a medical term.

When Rudman recently attended an eye clinic for Cockers, Dr. Gustavo Aguirre at the University of Pennsylvania, told her that no other breeds use that term. In fact, he says the term “permanently clear” has been a major contributor to the current eye problems in the Cocker Spaniel breed overall.

The Merck Vet Manual says that in dogs, cataracts that are secondary related to diabetes mellitus are increasingly common.

So why say it at all? Rudman shares that when Cocker eyes are not tested beyond 2 to 4 years of age, those dogs are being bred with the potential for hereditary cataracts. The older dogs are perfect candidates and carry a great wealth of knowledge to the DNA cataract marker research.

Have your older Cocker Spaniels tested for sure and send results with the form to Optigen.

Don’t use the term “permanently clear” she says.

CLICK THIS: Images of cataracts in a dog from the Merck Veterinary Manual.

Cherry Eye

We have way too much experience with this anomaly of the Cocker Spaniel eye: Our first Cocker Spaniel had this condition in both eyes.

All dogs have a third eyelid and this is completely normal. That third eyelid is called the nictating membrane, or sometimes the “haw.” The pigmentation of the haw varies in dogs, but one thing is for sure: There seems to be a higher than normal rate of Cocker Spaniels affected with cherry eye, dubbed so for the cherry looking nature of the gland when it protrudes.

It can be painful if left untreated because this gland is exposed and can get irritated or inflamed. It may also itch the dog, and as dogs do, he will rub his face on something to try and stop the itch. The gland is also responsible for tear production, so the dog is at risk for issues with that if not addressed.

Diagnosis and symptoms can be made by a qualified veterinarian. Back in the 1990s when our first Cocker had cherry eye bilaterally (both eyes), the treatment then was drops. Drops did not work and so the vet actually removed both glands under anesthesia. This procedure is no longer the norm, and it can cause a flurry of other issues: Namely dry eye and the problems that arise from it.

CLICK THIS: A complete slide show of dogs (including a Cocker) with cherry eye can be found at this veterinary website.

Our dog’s littermate, McGee, had cherry eye in his first 2 years of life, which was corrected by tacking (suturing) the gland back into place.

Every now and then, my dog’s third eyelid pops out and I have learned a technique to pop it back into place. It is rare that this happens, so I do not recommend you poke around your dog’s eyes and put your fingers near him unless you are certain what you are doing and why.

This is the video I discovered years ago that helped me massage the gland back into place. Keep reading, there are products to help, too!

Eyelashes: Distichiasis

Those beautiful Cocker Spaniel eyelashes can also be the source of problems if the dog is affected with distichiasis. Dye to the direction the eyelashes grow, they may touch the eyeball surface. Due to this and how harsh the contact is, dogs can suffer from any number of conditions including ulcers, abrasions, inflammation, and eye tissue infection.

Diagnosis is by examination, sometimes with magnification, fluorescein staining if the cornea, and tear duct assessment to survey for damage.  One study in our research reports that English Cocker Spaniels may have a genetic link, although there is no permanent conclusion.

Conservative management includes keeping the eye lubricated or even removal of the portion of the eyelid that is causing the most issue (seek a veterinary ophthalmologist for this). Electoepilation to destroy the follicles causing the issue can also help. Our first Cocker had this condition and we treated it with special lubricant with success. Each dog is different. You may not be able to even see the offending lashes.

Problems and Solutions with Cocker Spaniel Eyes
Cocker Spaniel eyes are oh so expressive.

Eyelid Abnormalities: Entropion and Ectropion

Outward drooping or rolling of the lower eyelid describes ectropion while entropion is when all or part of the upper or lower eyelid turns itself inward. (my mnemonic device is “en” for inside).

Both conditions may have a hereditary factor, and most experts agree that breeding of these dogs should be discouraged.

Veterinary diagnosis and treatment is essential.

Of the two conditions, ectropion is the more mild one and may be managed and treated with eye drops, unless surgery is needed for ongoing issues.

Entropion may be treated with surgery, ointments, and drops. A qualified veterinary ophthalmologist should perform delicate surgeries of this nature since a risk is removing too much tissue and causing ectropion to develop.

If you made it this far, there are three other common eye issues that affect Cocker Spaniels, though there are more. These are the ones we have experienced and seen in our lifelong Cocker Spaniel passion and ownership.

Dry Eye

Painful and itchy, Cocker Spaniels affected with dry eye need veterinary help. Dry eye is what it sounds like: a drying of the tears that are needed to lubricate the eye, keep infection away, and provide the oxygen and nutrients of the eye. Without tears, the eye is compromised.

The medical term for dry eye is Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS).Dogs may get KCS from other infections of diseases, as a secondary problem, or from a condition of the tear glands. Even injury can cause dry eye.

One of my favorite resources, The Cocker Spaniel Owners’ Medical Manual, notes that some Cockers get dry eye while on sulfa drugs or atropine eye drops.

Diagnosis of dry eye is with the Schirmer tear test, a normal result which merits 15 mm and 25 mm per minute. Any dog that is under 5 mm per minute is a dog with dry eye.

Here is a Golden Retriever undergoing the Schirmer tear test:

Redness and inflammation are generally present in a dry eye and the eye is itchy. Medications like prednisolone acetate and Atopica may be used until tear function is restored. In the meantime, artificial tears as recommended by your Cocker’s veterinarian or veterinary ophthalmologist are likely to be used.

Progressive Renal Atrophy

One more eye disease that has a higher rate in the Cocker Spaniel breed is PRA (progressive renal atrophy). Night blindness and an increase in reflectivity of the retina are two signs of PRA. There is another type of renal atrophy that occurs, called central renal atrophy, but for this article we are showcasing PRA.

Early on, dogs may bump into things. Cataracts can occur in dogs with PRA, so Dr. Brown recommends an electroretinogram be done before cataract surgery in Cocker who may be blinded by PRA.

In her book, The Cocker Spaniel Handbook , Caroline Coile, Ph.D., writes, “This condition is progressive and affects both eyes. Nothing can be done to prevent or slow it. It is not painful.”

PRA progresses into day blindness and the dog will eventually go blind.

Conjunctivitis

When the mucous membranes of the eyes are inflamed, conjunctivitis occurs. Whenever the suffix -itis appears on a word, it indicates inflammation. Any number of things can cause inflammation of the conjunctivae of the eyes.

Things like dust, pollen, airborne irritants, distemper, and even other viral diseases can cause conjunctivitis. An antibiotic ointment is generally prescribed. If antibiotics do not help, the concern is a Staph infection. Overall prognosis is very good in this condition.

Cocker Spaniel eye exam

Cocker Eye Emergencies

Some conditions of the eye are more serious than others, just as they are in people. These are the eye emergencies Dr. Brown says require “immediate treatment by a competent veterinarian.”

  • Acute anterior uveitis
  • Acute corneal ulcer
  • Acute blindness
  • Anterior lens luxation
  • Blood in the eye
  • Bulging eye
  • Chemical keratitis
  • Corneal laceration
  • Descemetocele
  • Eye foreign body
  • Glaucoma
  • Optic neuritis
  • Traumatic proptosis

It is your job as a diligent dog parent to monitor your dog’s reactions, outward appearance, and behaviors. If you know what is normal, or baseline, you will be prepared when things are outside the norm.

Maintenance Products for Dog Eyes

Have a rinse/flush on hand and in first aid kit:

For maintenance and flushing a dog’s eye in general, I always have an eye rinse on hand like this one from Only Natural Pet:

 

For dry eyes, you need something to lubricate the dog’s eyes, so this is a product we have used on our Cockers under veterinary care:

 

 

Many dog eyes, including Cocker Spaniel eyes, get tear stains. These wipes can help:

Vetericyn Ophthalmic Gel: Love this stuff for the eyes of my Cocker Spaniel as needed:

Terramycin: Treats conjunctivitis and secondary bacterial inflammatory conditions of the eye – check with your vet:

I love sunglasses to protect my eyes from the sun, and these can even help your dog out in the same situation thanks to Doggles!

 

Eye Heal: Treats and Prevents Eye Infections in dogs

Eye heal drops for dogs

Puralube: Used to prevent eye dryness and to soothe irritation

Cocker Spaniel Eyes Maintenance

Having your dog’s eyes examined with a baseline by your regular veterinarian is a start. For dogs like Cockers who have a history of known eye issues as a breed, seeing a veterinary ophthalmologist for a baseline examination can be helpful.

In addition to the Optigen test listed above, what was once called CERF (certified eye registry foundation) has evolved into the OFA Eye Evaluation. OFA is Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. The OFA eye exams take place in special clinics, sometimes at a dog show, or even in veterinary offices or with a veterinary ophthalmologist.

Our dog, Dexter, went to an eye clinic several years ago (2011) as a baseline. It was held at a local firehouse and a team came through with a board certified veterinary ophthalmologist. With a few droplets of a solution in each eye, a veterinarian will assess if your dog is affected with a number of eye diseases. For breeders, this is important, as it is for dogs in the show ring. For pet parents, it is a convenient way to get a baseline on your dog’s eyes.

The OFA eye certification exam does not provide complete ocular health assessment, but it does provide a good eye screening exam. The exam is done about a half hour after pupil dilation drops are placed in the eyes.

Dog eye testing results
These are the actual results from our CERF eye clinic testing.

Can Foods and Supplements Help?

There are foods that your dog can consume for overall good health, and that includes for the eyes.

Here are 7 foods that will naturally support your dog’s vision

The folks over at Natural Awakenings have some good ideas on how to include foods that are good for canine eye health.

Over at Whole Dog Journal, they write that cod liver oil has dramatically lowered intraocular pressure in rabbits, humans, and other animals, and oils rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as flax seed oil, also help lower pressure.

What about carrots? Carrots are rich in valuable vitamins and minerals. Low calorie, nutritious, and dog parents love them as an alternative to higher calorie dog treats. Of course, if you have an anti-vegite for a Cocker as I do, consider the Veg-to-Bowl food mix from Dr. Harvey’s. We have been using it for years as regular part of our dog’s diet. (it includes carrots)

Be cognizant of the size of the carrot or the piece of carrot you give your dog so that he or she does not choke on it.

Helpful Links

OPHTHALMOLOGY-RELATED WEB SITES: 

Do some more reading. We spent hours and hours researching some of our favorite Cocker Spaniel eyes and dog eyes websites, and here are a few we like and use:

American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists : These are public resources and helpful links

The Blue Book (all 1,003 pages of it): A book that encompasses ocular disorders presumed to be inherited in purebred dogs

Canine Health Information Center

Eye Evaluation Criteria from the Orthopedic Foundation of Animals, as discussed above (OFA)

Eye Registration Resources from ACVO:

Geriatric Eye Changes: Normal or problem?

Not all eye changes are due to age. Sometimes puppies or young adults can get eye issues. This is why diligent dog parents need to have a baseline screening of their dog’s eyes as least yearly. If there is a breed like the Cocker Spaniel in question, it is helpful to seek the services of a veterinary ophthalmologist for a baseline screening and beyond.

The ACVO published a very helpful guide about some of the common age-related eye changes to watch for in your dog.

CLICK THIS: Your Dog Needs Bifocals Guide: Dog Geriatric Eye Changes

Conclusion

I could write an entire book on the Cocker eye, but suffice it to say that eye issues are a concern in the breed. As much as we’d like to know if our Cocker Spaniels’ vision is blurry or his eyes feel itchy, dogs just can’t tell us.

Since eye problems may or may not present themselves in a front and center fashion, we’ve outlined some preventative measures and things to ‘look out’ for in your favorite pooch/pooches:

  • Are your dog’s eyes frequently bloodshot, bulging, or appear swollen? Don’t use over-the-counter  human eye medications. Have those baby blues (or greens or browns) examined asap by the vet.
  • Although tempting, it’s not in your dog’s best interest to let his head hang out the window while riding in a car. Fragments,  dirt, and debris flying into Rover’s eyes while traveling even at a low rate of speed can cause serious damage or injury.
  • Does the eyelid appear to be turned inward or outward? Never attempt to fix these problems, as more damage can be done. Call the vet.
  • Fido face first. Since dogs tend to sniff the ground and tackle their immediate path face first, the cornea can easily be scratched. Redness, watering, and pawing at the eye may ensue.
  • A cloudy and/or bluing of the eyes may indicate glaucoma, so a vet visit is in order.
  • Any sort of growth or formation, especially if causing an inability to close the eye, requires urgent attention.
  • Discharge or excessive tearing may be signs of infection or a blocked tear duct or may cause irritation to underlying skin. Refer to the vet.
  • Disturbances in vision and/or early signs of blindness may include bumping into things and your pooch may seem confused. The earlier this is checked out , of course, the better.

Be the best dog parent you can be, and make regular eye screening and maintenance a part of your Cocker Spaniel’s regular routine.

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Comments

  1. This is one of the best articles I’ve ever read on the cocker spaniel eye. I never had any idea of the many problems with which they can be affected. You really helped all of us out here in layman’s terms explaining what to look for and how to treat the conditions with your vet. Thank you, Carol, for such a well written in-depth timely article.

  2. Thank you for such a thorough post on the type of eye issues that can occur! I think especially with smaller dogs, it’s a big problem. My Benji just got over something… he got a little abrasion in his eye and started to develop an infection!

  3. Sweet Pea had glaucoma, first in one eye and then eventually in the other. We managed to keep them under control pressure-wise with the excellent care at Eye Care For Animals, and drops which were prescribed and constantly tweaking, for a pretty long time before she became blind and the pressure wasn’t manageable any longer. We then had the eyes removed for her comfort, and she continued to thrive without them. Thanks for this really informative piece!

  4. Great article! I really needed this before Buffy got glaucoma. But I’m told by the ophthalmologist that glaucoma can come on very fast and the dog can go blind within hours. This is what happened to Buffy. She got a clean bill of health from her first visit to the ophthalmologist except for some cataracts to watch, and the next day she developed glaucoma. The ophthalmologist says they are unrelated, but glaucoma wasn’t even mentioned in Buffy’s exam. Chipper has cherry eye that was corrected, but it returned a few months later. He also has dry eye. I ordered the Cocker Spaniel Owners Medical Manual – I didn’t know such a thing existed!

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