Is Your Dog’s Eye Ulcer Finally On The Mend? Watch For These 3 Healing Signs

Introduction

A corneal ulcer, also known as ulcerative keratitis, is an open sore on the cornea of the eye caused by trauma, infection, or a foreign body. The cornea is the transparent layer at the front of the eye and ulcers can be extremely painful and vision threatening if left untreated. That’s why it’s critical for dog owners to monitor a corneal ulcer closely and watch for signs that it is healing properly. Catching early signs of healing can provide peace of mind that treatment is working, while noticing a lack of improvement or worsening can indicate the need for prompt veterinary attention.

This article will outline the key signs to look for when assessing whether a dog’s corneal ulcer is healing well. It will empower owners to make informed observations and decisions about their dog’s eye health and recovery.

Decreased Redness

Redness and inflammation should start to decrease as the ulcer heals. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the redness associated with a corneal ulcer is due to inflammation and neovascularization of the cornea (NCBI). As the ulcer starts to resolve, this inflammation and new blood vessel growth will subside, leading to a reduction in redness.

a decrease in redness around the eye indicates inflammation is subsiding as the corneal ulcer heals.

Patients may notice the redness around the ulcer diminishing over time if healing is occurring properly. Significant ongoing redness can be a sign that healing is delayed and further treatment may be needed. According to Penn Medicine, if redness persists or seems to be getting worse, it’s important to follow up promptly with an ophthalmologist (Penn Medicine).

Less Discomfort

As a dog’s corneal ulcer starts to heal, signs of pain and discomfort such as squinting and pawing at the eye should lessen. The sensitive nerves in the cornea can cause significant irritation, but as the ulcer heals and the epithelial tissue regenerates, the pain fibers become less exposed. The inflammation in the eye should also gradually subside. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, the pain associated with a corneal ulcer typically resolves within 3-5 days as the epithelium grows back over the abrasion.

You may notice your dog is less reluctant to open their eye or have it touched. The excessive tear production (epiphora) caused by the ulcer should also decrease as the eye becomes more comfortable. Your dog may stop rubbing or scratching at their eye as frequently. Their demeanor may perk up as the constant irritation and throbbing sensations subside. However, if your dog seems very painful more than a few days into treatment, the ulcer is likely not improving and further veterinary examination is required.

Sources:

https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/corneal-ulcers-in-dogs

Increased Appetite

As a corneal ulcer is very painful for dogs, you may notice symptoms of lethargy, lack of appetite and general malaise in addition to some of the other symptoms (Animal Eye Consultants, 2023). Appetite increasing back to normal levels is a positive sign that the corneal ulcer is healing and the dog is feeling less discomfort. As the ulcer starts to close and heal, the pain and inflammation decreases. This allows the dog to regain their normal appetite.

as eye ulcers heal and become less painful, dogs will typically regain normal appetite and energy levels.

According to Metro Vet (2023), other symptoms that may be a sign of a corneal ulcer include: rubbing of the eye, a cloudy eye, and lethargy or decreased appetite if the animal is painful. As the ulcer heals, these symptoms should start to resolve including an increase in appetite and energy levels.

Less Tear Staining

Excessive tear staining from irritation decreases as healing occurs. The cornea contains many nerve endings, so a corneal ulcer is extremely painful and causes reflexive tearing and squinting. As the ulcer starts to heal, pain levels decrease, so the eye stops producing as many tears. Reddish-brown tear stains around the eye become lighter and smaller as less tears are secreted in response to discomfort. You may notice decreasing tear overflow down your dog’s face as the ulcer improves. According to VCA Hospitals, signs of healing include “the degree of blepharospasm (squinting) and epiphora (tearing) decreases over several days.” So if your dog’s eye appears less wet and the staining diminishes, it indicates their eye ulcer is likely on the mend.

Improved Vision

As a dog’s corneal ulcer heals, vision should steadily improve. The cloudiness, haziness, and opacity over the eye caused by the ulcer will start to dissipate as new epithelial cells grow over the damaged cornea. According to the Pet Owner’s Guide for Treatment Success from Today’s Veterinary Practice (https://todaysveterinarypractice.com/pet-owner-resources/sentrx-corneal-ulcers-handout/), the corneal epithelium usually regenerates completely within 12-24 hours if the ulcer is superficial.

Deeper ulcers that impair vision more significantly will take longer to heal and restore normal vision. However, as long as the ulcer is responding well to treatment, vision should gradually improve over days to weeks. According to VCA Animal Hospitals (https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/corneal-ulcers-in-dogs), even more severe corneal ulcers often heal within 3-5 days with appropriate therapy. So if vision seems to be getting worse or is not improving after about a week of treatment, further veterinary examination is warranted.

Overall, owners can monitor their dog’s vision by observing their navigation and eye movements. As vision improves, the dog should startle less to objects in their periphery, have an easier time catching treats, and no longer bump into objects. These are reassuring signs that the corneal ulcer is healing and vision is being restored.

Re-epithelialization

Re-epithelialization refers to the process of the corneal epithelium repairing itself as part of the healing process for a dog’s corneal ulcer. As the ulcer begins to heal, new epithelial cells migrate across the defect to eventually close and cover the ulcerated area [1]. This re-epithelialization is a critical part of restoring the protective barrier function of the cornea.

During re-epithelialization, the epithelial cells surrounding the ulcer margins loosen their connections and migrate centripetally to resurface the ulcer. Growth factors and matrix proteins facilitate the migration and proliferation of epithelial cells over the defect. The new epithelial cells then re-attach and reform cell junctions to restore an intact epithelium [2].

Veterinary ophthalmologists monitor the progress of re-epithelialization during the healing process. Signs of successful re-epithelialization include decreased fluorescein staining of the ulcer as it closes up with new epithelial tissue.

Decreased Fluorescein Staining

One of the most reliable signs that a dog’s eye ulcer is healing is a decrease in fluorescein staining over time. Fluorescein is a dye that is applied to the cornea during a staining test. It will uptake in areas where the epithelial layer of the cornea is damaged or absent, such as with an ulcer. As healing progresses and new epithelial cells grow over the ulcer, there will be less damaged area for the dye to bind to. Therefore, the fluorescein staining area should decrease in size and intensity as the ulcer heals [1]. Your veterinarian will likely repeat the staining test every 1-7 days to monitor healing. A steadily shrinking stained area is a good indicator that the ulcer is on its way to resolution.

decreasing fluorescein stain over time is one of the most reliable indicators that a corneal ulcer is healing.

Complete Closure

One of the key signs that a dog’s eye ulcer is healing is when the ulcer completely closes over and is no longer visible upon eye examination. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, corneal abrasions generally heal within 3-5 days if properly treated and monitored. As the ulcer heals, the epithelial cells will migrate over the defect, eventually resulting in complete closure of the ulcer site. The veterinarian will perform periodic eye exams with fluorescein dye to check on the progress of healing. When the dye no longer stains the ulcer site upon examination, this indicates the epithelial layer has fully closed over the injury and the ulcer is considered healed.

complete closure of the ulcer site upon veterinary eye exam confirms the injury has fully healed.

Conclusion

In summary, the main signs that a dog’s eye ulcer is healing include decreased redness, less discomfort, increased appetite, reduced tear staining, improved vision, re-epithelialization, decreased fluorescein staining, and complete closure of the ulcer. It’s important to follow up with your veterinarian for exams during the healing process to ensure the ulcer is responding properly to treatment and prevent complications. Left untreated, eye ulcers can progress and cause permanent damage. With prompt treatment and monitoring, most superficial ulcers will heal within 5-7 days. Recognizing the signs of healing will give you peace of mind that your dog’s eye health is improving.

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