Squinting….it seems like such a minor thing, a normal thing to do. We go outside and it’s bright out and we squint. An eyelash gets in our eye and we may squint. We may have just gone swimming in a chlorinated pool and again, we may squint. For people, there are many reasons/causes for squinting that are perfectly normal and resolve quickly.
This isn’t the case with our pets. Squinting can be a sign of many different eye-related problems, some of which could be severe if left untreated. Today, I will explain some of the most common reasons that we see for squinting in pets.
Just like people, animals can get allergies to many things ranging from dust to grass to dander. Allergies can cause a multitude of problems including eye issues. With allergic eye issues, you may see the redness of the eyes, squinting, or a clear/white discharge which usually affects both eyes.
2) Eye Infection
Eye infections can be very irritating to the eye and can cause large amounts of yellow/green eye discharge. It can also cause itchy eyes and burning sensations that may result in a squint. Eye infections may be simple infections, however they can also occur secondarily to other eye problems such as trauma or a corneal ulcer.
3) Trauma/Corneal Abrasion or Wound to the Eye
Most animals are very inquisitive by nature. They are always sniffing out that rabbit hole, diving under that pine tree to investigate, or playing rough with their puppy or kitty friends. Sometimes this curiosity and playfulness can mean that their eyes get scratched. The cornea is the outside protective layer of the eyeball, and rough play can lead to painful corneal scratches or ulcers. We have actually seen pets with part of a stick or pine needle stuck into the cornea of the eye. Ouch!
Glaucoma refers to increased pressure inside the eyeball. The eyeball itself has a liquid (almost a gel-like liquid) inside of it. This liquid helps to protect the inside structures of the eye and gives support to the eye and its functions. Sometimes this liquid becomes almost trapped inside the eye and fails to circulate correctly. When this happens, pressure increases inside the eye. This pressure can be painful and may cause your pet to squint. If not caught early, glaucoma can lead to painful headaches and permanent blindness for your pet.
5) Dry eye
If you yourself have ever had dry eye, you know that it makes your eye feel like sandpaper. As the name implies, dry eye is a condition in which the normal eye lubricating secretions are decreased causing the outside of the eye to become dry. Your pet may squint and may have a thick, mucus eye drainage. Dry eye can be diagnosed with a tear test in our office and we have medications that can treat this condition.
6) Pain elsewhere
It doesn’t necessarily need to be eye pain that causes your pet to squint. Sometimes, squinting can be a sign of neck pain or stomach pains. It is important to remember that a squint may be more than just an eyeball issue.
With pets, a squint is something you should never ignore. There are many different reasons that your pet may be squinting, and some do require immediate treatment and attention. If your pet starts to squint, schedule a physical exam. Once we rule out other medical issues, we may recommend further testing. We can perform eye staining to look for scratches or ulcers, check eye pressures to make sure there isn’t glaucoma or test your pet’s tears to make sure that your pet’s eyes are producing the proper protective moisture.
Many causes of squinting require medications to help not only with comfort but also for proper healing. With eyes in general, it is important to seek care as soon as possible. Some conditions, if left too long, may result in your pet having to have the eye removed.
Dr. Heintz is a small and exotic animal veterinarian at Countrycare Animal Complex in Green Bay, WI. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Illinois – Urbana/Champaign. Her passion is helping all animals, whether furry, scaly, or feathered, lead long and healthy lives.