The eyes have been called "a window to the soul." You know when your cat is giving you "the look" by the way he holds his head and seems to glare. Your dog can melt your heart with her adoring big brown eyes that assure you she loves you from the tip of her wet nose to the end of her wagging tail. Our companions find many ways to communicate with us without words – and their eyes can be a fascinating and important communication tool for them. Eye health is important for more than just vision – but vision is of course our primary concern.
The following are the most common eye problems veterinarians see. Any time you suspect a vision problem due to a change in behavior, or you notice your companion squinting or showing signs of eye discomfort, it is important to seek veterinary advice promptly.
A cataract is a clouding of the eye's natural lens. The lens is made up of mostly water and protein. A cataract is formed when protein begins to clump together in an abnormal way and clouds a small area of the lens.
Cataracts often require surgery, though the timing of the surgery may or may not be urgent. When a younger dog develops cataracts it is typically due to congenital issues and the cataracts often progress more rapidly requiring surgery sooner rather than later. This is also true for cataracts caused by diabetes. For an older animal, however, you may be able to slow the progression enough to delay or even eliminate the need for surgery – depending on the extent of vision impairment at the time of diagnosis and the age of the animal.
Prevention and treatment both begin with the basics – a very high quality diet supplemented with additional vitamins and minerals. Diet is the foundation of good health and this is the most important thing you can do for your companion. Many chronic degenerative diseases such as cataracts develop over time as a result of inadequate nutrition and exposure to toxins in the food and environment. Please see "What You Need to Know About Your Pet's Food" and "All About Raw Food" in our Newsletter Articles section. Some people are not comfortable with feeding raw food. If this is the case for you, consider dehydrated or freeze dried food to supplement the diet, or a very high quality canned food – or even better yet, home-made food or healthy leftovers. Basically, the fresher the diet, the better it is for an animal's health and immune system.
Herbal supplements, I recommend the herb Bilberry, can be extremely helpful for cataracts. Bilberry is believed to improve circulation to the eye and thus the delivery of needed nutrients to eye tissue. The dosage for cats is approximately 20 mg. per day, and for dogs 40-280 mg. per day depending on the size of the dog. In addition, a high quality antioxidant supplement may slow the progression of cataracts: such as Genesis Resources Canine Antioxidant Formula or Feline Antioxidant Formula or Vetri-Science Cell Advance.
Homeopathy can be helpful in some cases of cataracts. The choice of remedy, however, is very specific for each animal and needs to be guided by a veterinarian trained in homeopathy. For a referral see: The Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy.
Eye inflammation, or conjunctivitis, generally occurs more often in animals with pre-existing immune or allergy-related problems. When your dog or cat shows symptoms of sore, red eyes with a discharge, the first thing to do is determine the cause. This may be as simple as a minor scratch or irritating foreign matter, a result of environmental toxin exposure or airborne allergies, or more serious issues such as feline herpes or glaucoma. A trip to the veterinarian is crucial when you see signs of eye irritation, as waiting too long can mean the difference between saving the animal's sight and losing it.
Eyebright is a very common herb used for eye irritations. Eyebright eye washes are often helpful to control symptoms and minor infections: Ark Naturals Eyes So Bright contains eyebright to help soothe eyes. Halo Herbal Eye Wash is a two part rinse that includes eyebright and goldenseal as well. Chinese herbal formulas, like Nature's Herbs Clear Vision may also be helpful for boosting the immune system and clearing minor eye infections.
If allergies are suspected as the cause of conjunctivitis, it is best to change to a hypoallergenic diet. Nutraceutical allergy formulas can also be quite helpful in battling airborne allergies. They act as a natural antihistamine and anti-inflammatory agents. A great solution to have on hand to gently clean or remove foreign debris, like pollen, is Only Natural Pet Eye Care.
"Eye inflammation, or conjunctivitis, generally occurs more often in animals with pre-existing immune or allergy-related problems."
If a cat's eyes are watering and producing a thick whitish discharge, feline herpes may be the cause. The inside lining of the eyelids become inflamed, and shallow, painful ulcers develop. The eyewashes containing eyebright mentioned above can assist in cleansing and soothing the eye.
Feline Herpes is generally a result of a weakened immune system, so diet and immune support need attention. To help control the virus the amino acid L-lysine may be helpful. L-lysine can be found at any natural food store. The dosage for cats is 500 mg. twice a day. Several products contain L-lysine along with other vitamins and herbs to help support the immune system during infection and on a long-term basis. Supplements for bacterial conditions, like Nature's Herbs Berbal Biotic, a Chinese herbal blend formulated to fight viral and bacterial infections and boost the immune system, can be very helpful.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy
This condition involves a shrinking or degeneration of the retina of the eye. Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is more common in dogs. PRA may develop slowly – initially resulting in night blindness. If you notice your companion hesitating to go outside at night or down a darkened hall or stairway, suspect vision problems and see a veterinarian.
In cats this disease is most commonly related to Taurine deficiency, which is now less of a problem than previously as all commercially available cat foods are formulated with added Taurine. Raw diets that include organ meats provide the most natural source of Taurine. For those feeding a home-prepared diet, Taurine supplementation is important. Taurine is readily available at health food and vitamin stores. Cats can receive up to 500 mg. or more per day.
As with any degenerative disease, diet is the place to begin in stopping or at least slowing this condition. Please refer to the article section linked above in the discussion about cataracts for information regarding proper diet and nutrition.
Bilberry is useful for PRA for the same reasons it may help with cataracts – increased circulation and nutrients to the eye tissue.
Zinc and/or vitamin E deficiency is thought to affect PRA. Supplementing the diet with zinc is important if your dog is from a breed predisposed to PRA. Vitamin E in a high quality antioxidant formula is also valuable in preventing and treating PRA. See Only Natural Pet Antioxidant Blend or Genesis Resources Canine Antioxidant Formula or Feline Antioxidant Formula or Vetri-Science Cell Advance.
Essential fatty acids, particularly DHA from fish oil, may also play an important role in preventing or slowing the progression of PRA. I recommend essential fatty acids be a daily part of every companion animal's diet as it plays such an important role in maintaining health in a wide variety of ways.
Chronic ear infections and yeast problems are frequently a sign of allergies. Allergies are becoming more and more common and troublesome in both dogs and cats. Diet, digestive enzymes, probiotics, and essential fatty acids are the basics for treating allergies and chronic ear problems from the inside out.
Many animals with food sensitivities and allergies have seen dramatic improvement on raw, freeze dried, or dehydrated food. Once again, please see "What You Need to Know About Your Pet's Food," and "All About Raw Food," in our Articles section. As discussed previously, the fresher the diet, the better it is for your companion's health & immune system. Dry food is just not a good option for cats, especially those with allergies. Dry kibble can be part of a healthy diet for dogs; however dogs with chronic ear problems or allergies require hypo-allergenic food – which means no wheat, corn or soy. Sometimes it may mean no beef or chicken too, due to a protein sensitivity. This usually can be accomplished with grain free foods.
Most animals with food allergies have unhealthy gastrointestinal systems that are not able to digest food properly. Leaky gut develops and then molecules that are too large for the body to process are allowed through the gut wall, setting off allergic reactions and creating the optimal conditions for yeast infections. The symptoms may appear in the ears, but you have to heal the gut to really get rid of the allergies. Digestive enzymes help break down the food so that there is less of a chance of the larger molecules passing through the intestinal walls, probiotics help restore a healthy balance of flora in the gut and aid digestion, and fatty acids help reduce inflammation and heal the gut as well as nourish the skin.
Supplement every meal with digestive enzymes to aid digestion and assimilation of the nutrients in processed foods. Digestive enzymes must be added at every meal of cooked or processed food. The enzymes do not remain in an animal's system beyond digestion of the food immediately present in the digestive tract. A raw diet does not necessarily need digestive enzyme supplementation once an animal has been fully transitioned to raw food, although the addition of enzymes can enhance the healing quality of the raw diet.
Probiotics are especially important for an animal that has been on steroids or antibiotics as they kill the healthy gut flora and set up conditions for the allergies to worsen. Probiotics are helpful for any animal that has had chronic gastrointestinal issues such as vomiting or diarrhea as well.
Essential fatty acids, preferably fish oil, are vital to nourish the skin and coat and help reduce inflammation in the animal's system. Allergies involve inflammation of the gut and often can affect the joints as well. You can increase the dosage above what is recommended on the bottle, but if you see loose stools, then reduce the dosage a bit until stool consistency normalizes.
If the change in diet and adding enzymes and fatty acids do not completely solve the issue, then consider a supplement, like Only Natural Pet Immune Balance. Immune Balance contains plant sterols and sterolins that help to balance the immune system over time and reduce allergic reactions.
For a topical ear wash to help control symptoms while you are helping your companion's system heal from the inside, try the Animals' Apawthecary Herbal Ear Rinse which contains goldenseal and olive leaf to help control bacteria, or Only Natural Pet Ear Care with Tea Tree Oil which contains Echinacea and Tea Tree Oil to disinfect and clean the ear canal. Tea tree oil is anti-fungal and can be helpful in controlling yeast as well.
View our Chronic Ear Infections Kits for dogs and cats.
Happy Pet Owner