Sometimes it’s obvious that your dog needs emergency eye care. Injuries and obvious eye issues (redness, swelling, etc.) will prompt pet owners to contact a veterinarian.
It’s scary when your dog’s vision is at stake, but it should be reassuring to know that there are professionals who can help. A veterinary ophthalmologist specializes in pet’s eye issues.
It’s important to understand that there are several diseases of the eye that can’t be easily observed. Your dog may be acting differently, bumping into things, or showing signs of pain around the eye socket. If that describes your dog, it’s important to seek veterinary care.
What Does an Ophthalmologist Do?
A veterinary ophthalmologist is a specialist who works exclusively with dogs (or other companion animals) on diseases of the eyes. Once they are board-certified, they become a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (AVCO).
These veterinarians specialize in the treatment of eye disorders in pets. These folks have to undergo many years of training to reach this designation. Once licensed, they can perform examinations with specialized equipment.
An ophthalmologist provides comprehensive eye care. Initial eye exams usually include the following:
- High magnification to allow for the evaluation of the eyelids, cornea, aqueous, iris, and lens.
- Conducting the Schirmer Tear Testing evaluation. This determines your pet’s ability to make tears and is especially useful in diagnosing things like dry eye.
- Fluorescein staining to the cornea. This helps identify corneal ulcers.
- Tonometry is the procedure used to test intraocular pressure. This test can help diagnose glaucoma in dogs.
Eye specialists provide the highest standard of medical care. They go through intensive training that enables them to make diagnostic tests. These tests and treatment can sometimes save your pet’s vision.
How to Get a Referral to A Veterinary Ophthalmologist
Your primary veterinarian can diagnose and treat various eye disorders. In more complicated conditions that involve emergency care, specialized eye care may be required.
If that’s the case, a referral is usually sent to a trusted ophthalmologist for review. The veterinarian will assess your referral and contact you for an appointment. That said, it’s possible to skip the veterinarian and go directly to an ophthalmologist.
If you have a veterinarian who knows your dog’s health history, you should see that person if possible. Someone who really knows your dog may have a better understanding of potential underlying conditions, medication history, etc.
If you have questions or concerns, you can always ask your family veterinarian for a referral to an ophthalmology team.
Remember, your pet’s primary care veterinarian is an expert in a variety of health issues related to your beloved pet. He/she can diagnose ocular diseases and suggest an optimal treatment plan.
A veterinary ophthalmologist listens to the concerns of the referring veterinarians. From there, he/she is able to dive deep into advanced diagnostics.
9 Eye Conditions That May Require an Ophthalmologist
Sometimes routine eye conditions can turn into problems that require specialized treatment. The following list outlines the 9 most common eye problems that can result in a referral to an ophthalmologist.
#1. Corneal Ulcers
Eye injuries can cause a number of problems for a pet’s vision. Corneal ulcers are wounds or abrasions that occur on the surface of the cornea. They can be superficial (involving only the surface) and deep (involving the corneal stroma).
Deep corneal ulcers are much more serious and often require veterinary specialists. Deep corneal ulcers often mean there is a bacterial infection. Without treatment, the ulcer could become worse. If that happens, it can cause fluid from the eye to leak out.
This can lead to blindness in the eye.
Cataracts are defined as cloudiness in the lens of an eye. When there is cloudiness blocking the retina, it’s difficult to see clearly. Unfortunately, there are no medical treatments to reverse cataracts in a dog’s eyes.
The only way to restore vision is through cataract surgery.
#3. Eye Injuries
There are a few eye injuries that require emergency services. Corneal injuries can happen if your dog happens to scratch his eye, get stuck with a twig or stick, through porcupine quills, or scratched if sand or dirt gets in the eye.
Any risk of vision loss is a medical emergency. When injuries occur in the eye the first thing a veterinary ophthalmologist will want to do is prevent it from getting worse. This could include the use of a cone to keep the dog from digging or scratching at the eye.
To treat or prevent an eye infection, the doctor may prescribe an antibiotic eye drop.
Glaucoma is an eye disease where fluid builds up in the eye causing pain and pressure. This pressure is known as intraocular pressure. Too much of it causes damage to the retina and the optic nerve.
This painful condition can cause blindness within the first year.
#5. Dry Eye
Dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca) happens when the eyes fail to produce enough tears. Without natural tears, eyes begin to feel itchy. A thick and sticky discharge develops and sticks to the cornea and eyelids.
The discharge continues to reappear no matter how often it is wiped away. In the case of mild dry eye, antibiotic ointments or drops can be applied.
Dry eye can become a chronic condition requiring the help of a veterinary ophthalmologist.
#6. Cherry Eye
Cherry eye occurs when the third eyelid or nictitating membrane protrudes from the bottom or corner of the eye.
Cherry eye is thought to be caused by genetics but can occur in any breed.
#7. Chronic Superficial Keratitis (Pannus)
Degenerative pannus is an immune-mediated disease in which the normally clear part of the eye (the cornea) suddenly develops blood vessel in-growth. It’s not painful, but it can cause blindness because of the tissue scarring.
Treatment is with a topical anti-inflammatory including topical steroids and cyclosporine.
#8. Progressive Retinal Degeneration
Progressive retinal degeneration in dogs is a serious disease that causes gradual blindness. While age of onset varies from breed to breed, vision typically becomes affected when the dog is between 6 and 8 years of age.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for this inherited disease. However, a veterinary ophthalmologist can assist pet owners in helping animals adjust to vision loss.
#9. Intraocular Tumors
Intraocular tumors are cancers that develop from disorganized and uncontrolled excess of melanocytes. These are cells that are found throughout bodily tissues including the skin, eye, inner ear, bones, and heart).
The two types of ocular tumors found in dogs are uveal melanomas and limbal melanomas. Although a cause of these tumors is unclear, some breeds may have a higher risk. These breeds include:
- Golden retrievers
- Labrador retrievers
- German Shepherds
- Cocker Spaniels
How Much Does It Cost to Take a Dog to an Ophthalmologist?
The cost to see a veterinarian specialist will vary depending on the issue. Cataract surgery for example may cost anywhere from $2700 to $4000. Prices will fluctuate depending on geographical location.
There may be other costs involved that can also impact the overall cost.
Where Can I Get Financial Help to Pay for My Pet’s Medical Costs?
More than 200,000 healthcare providers offer CareCredit in the United States. People swear by CareCredit because it gives you the ability to pay for the total cost of your dog’s health care upfront.
It’s kind of like using a credit card but without harsh penalties. Depending on the promotional offer, you could get 6, 12, 18 or 24 months with no interest on purchases of $200 or more. All you have to do is make the minimum monthly payments.
Wagmo Pet Insurance offers one plan and three different ways to pay for it. You are able to choose the price that fits your budget and your pet’s needs. For example, there are 3 deductible options: $250, $500, or $1000.
If you run into trouble and your pet requires medical care, you would pay the deductible (whichever one you chose) and Wagmo would reimburse the rest.
You’ve probably heard some negative things about pet insurance companies, but they’re not all true. Wagmo, for example, you always know exactly how much you owe. You won’t encounter any surprises or loopholes.
There is a waiting period to prevent fraud. Of course, you’re not going to do that. But some people might. For that reason, you have to wait 15 days before you can make a claim. For cancer treatments, the waiting period is 30 days.
Have a look at their easy-to-understand pet insurance plans and see for yourself.
To Sum It Up…
Financial concerns are first and foremost in people’s minds when it comes to specialized healthcare for dogs. It’s not necessarily an easy decision. Unless your dog requires immediately surgical care (in an emergency situation), take a deep breath and consider the options.
Ask your veterinarian about the pros and cons of a dog ophthalmologist. Don’t be afraid to call around to get the best price and make sure to ask about CareCredit. Some clinics or hospitals might also offer other incentives.
At the end of the day, you have to consider what’s best for your dog, and what you can reasonably afford. It’s always in your dog’s best interest to have vision problems taken care of both for their quality of life and overall health.
The fact is, you probably won’t know there is anything wrong until your dog’s vision is significantly impacted.
If your local veterinarian can offer similar services and is confident of a good outcome, there’s no need to seek out a dog ophthalmologist. However, there may be situations or conditions that require more specialized care. In that case, the veterinarian will offer his or her suggestions.