What's Wrong With Those Puppy Dog Eyes?



Written by: Dr. Chip Coombs

If one were to reflect back on the iconic branding done for the Hush Puppy shoes, one thinks immediately of the Basset Hound. The memory is ingrained not just because of how cute the puppy was, but also, we remember the typical droopy lower eyelids. This droopy eyelid appearance, seen commonly in the hound and other sporting breeds, is known as ectropion. The eyelid margin rolls outward exposing the pink conjunctiva that is normally hidden. The causes for this appearance is multiple, including nerve damage from trauma, tumour or bite wound, deep ear infections, or even a disc problem in the upper spine. However, as the adage goes “the common things are common” and all of these foregoing possibilities are relatively uncommon. Most dogs suffer from ectropion simply because that is their genetic makeup and hence how they were born. Even though it can worsen with age and even vary from day to day, puppies that are going to be saddled with ectropion may have it from a very young age.

Because the lower eyelids evert outwards (either one or both eyes) and act as air scoops and so readily capture irritants in the wind like dust, pollen and grit. The consequence is that dogs with this type of eyelid anatomy are much more prone to irritation and infection – known collectively as conjunctivitis. The normal tear production doesn’t drain properly and so facial staining may also occur. In severe cases, an ulcer may occur due to poor tear lubrication of the surface of the eye when the dog blinks. In other words, during the natural blinking process the lower eyelid does not contact the lower half of the eyeball sufficiently, hence allowing it to become dry. In its own right an ulcer is painful and if untreated could well lead to the rupture of the eyeball.

The exact opposite of ectropion occurs when the margin of either the upper or lower eyelid(s) roll inwards. This can be much more serious because, as a result of the eyelids inverting, the hair on the outside of the eyelid is now rubbing on the surface of the eye. As you can guess this can not only be very irritating on its own, but a dog will often start rubbing its eye, in an effort to relieve the discomfort, which only makes matters worse. This will not only lead to conjunctivitis, but in all probability, will lead to an ulcer on the cornea.

Dogs who have acquired ectropion may or may not need treatment, either periodic use of eye ointments, or even surgical correction (eye tuck) in cases of chronic conjunctivitis or an ulcer. Dogs with entropion almost always will need to have the problem corrected surgically, or the consequences could be very significant. Your veterinarian will likely detect either problem at an early age, but may not recommend surgical intervention for a few months. The reason is that one only wants to do the surgery once and as a puppy grows, and the head and facial structure changes, so will the degree of the eyelid defect. In some cases, one cannot wait, but ideally waiting until a puppy is closer to adulthood would increase the likelihood of a successful surgery the first time.