If you notice your dog’s eye is teary and red, or they’re constantly rubbing their face against your cushions, they might be suffering from an ocular disorder called entropion. Entropion is an eye condition caused by an eyelid abnormality. Affecting dogs, cats and humans, it can be really painful and uncomfortable, as well as just being really itchy and irritating for your dog. If left untreated it can cause severe damage to the eye which can lead to potential vision problems.
Spotting the signs and getting treatment quickly will save your dog a lot of the hassle and discomfort that entropion can cause later down the line. Read on to find out everything you need to know about what entropion is, why it happens, how to spot the signs and what happens afterwards.
Irritating and painful, entropion is a defect in the structure of the eye which causes the upper or lower eyelids to roll inward. As a result, the eyelashes and fur rub onto the cornea, which is the protective film which covers our eyes.
Everyone knows how uncomfortable and irritating it is when you get an eyelash or fleck of dust stuck in your eye. Now imagine that same nuisance, just more extreme as you’ll have every lash rubbing on your eye nonstop. Sounds awful, right? Well, this is exactly what entropion will feel like.
Not only will entropion be incredibly annoying and painful, but it can also lead to corneal ulceration which is severe and will only continue to get progressively worse. This can cause a number of problems, such as subsequent eye conditions, scarring on the cornea, deteriorating vision and in the worst-case scenario it can permanently damage the eye and cause total vision loss.
Some dogs can be lucky, and their entropion will be nothing more than a minor, pesky annoyance, although most dogs with entropion will find it to be really quite painful. Also, many unlucky pups experience entropion in both of their eyes, causing double the irritation.
Entropion can be something that just happens, however, there are a few common reasons as to why your dog might develop the condition, such as:
Genetics, some dogs are just born with the defect
Pain can often cause the eyes to sink into the socket, causing the eyelids to roll back
Skin problems cause the skin around the eye to harden, leading to entropion
Trauma and other eye diseases
Just like in people, a dog’s skin sags with age, making their eyelids more likely to invert
Significant weight loss results in saggy skin possibly causing the eyelids to roll inwards
Although there are multiple possible triggers, the most common reason is genetics, and there are several dogs that are genetically predisposed to entropion.
Any dog breed can encounter entropion at any point in their life, but it’s the brachycephalic (flat-faced) dog breeds that are the most prone. There’s no way to prevent this, unfortunately the squashed, wrinkly faces and pushed in snouts that gives these breeds such cute faces is the thing that triggers the condition. The extra skinfolds and wrinkles push into the eye, causing it to fold inwards.
Brachycephalic dog breeds are predisposed to various eye problems because of their facial anatomy, with a study that checked flat-faced breeds for eye abnormalities finding that entropion was really common, discovered in 22% of the dogs tested. So, wrinkly, squashy-faced breeds like Pugs, French Bulldogs, Bulldogs, Boxers, Shar Peis and Chow Chows are really susceptible to the condition. For some reason, giant breeds such as the Great Dane and St Bernard also seem to be prone to experiencing entropion.
Also, as age can sometimes play a role in dogs developing entropion, Cocker Spaniels can be quite susceptible as they often develop loads of skinfolds as their skin sags with age.
The signs and symptoms can be pretty nonspecific to a nonprofessional, probably looking like any other eye condition. However, still try to look out for:
Apparent swelling around the eyes
Rubbing at the eyes
Blepharospasms (excessive, involuntary blinking)
Typically, entropion makes itself known when the dog is still a puppy if it’s caused by some kind of random, unexplainable defect in the eye. You’ll probably first spot the signs when your pup is between 6 months to a year old.
The quicker entropion is diagnosed, the less chance the condition has to cause significant damage to the cornea. Usually, the vet will be able to recognise the signs pretty quickly upon an eye examination, they might even spot the early, early stages of it in their annual vet check-up, which is even better.
After entropion has been diagnosed, the vet will need to perform a test to check for any eye ulcers and corneal damage.
This will be done by dropping a fluorescent, eye-safe dye into the eye. In the event that there is an ulcer or some kind of damage to the cornea, the dye will stick to these wounded areas and change colour. A torch will be shined into your dog’s eye to assess the damage. If the cornea has been damaged, additional treatment will need to follow.
Dogs with mild entropion might not even need any treatment at all, the vet might just adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach, with treatment to follow if the condition intensifies. Topical treatments such as eye drops, antibiotic creams and pain relief medication may be provided to ward off infections, keep the eyes lubricated and ensure your dog isn’t feeling extreme discomfort.
If the condition is starting to cause damage, or appears to be extremely painful for your pooch, surgery is the only treatment option. As entropion often arises when the dog is still a puppy, between 6 months and a year old, a procedure called ‘tacking’ can be performed.
This involves temporarily tacking down the affected eyelid with a tiny stitch, keeping it in place while the puppy continues to grow into an adult dog. As they grow, their head shape will change and develop, and through a combination of this growth and the temporary tacking, it could be enough for the entropion to fix itself. Or it might come back. It can go one of two ways, there’s no way of telling.
If the entropion comes back, or if your dog isn’t eligible for the tacking procedure, a proper corrective surgery will need to be performed to reshape your dog’s eye structure.
Your dog will have to go under general anaesthesia, but the operation is non-invasive and should be done pretty quickly with little room for any complications. It’s a type of plastic surgery, which involves removing some of the excess tissue around the eyelids and using a suture to secure the eyelid in a better place for proper functioning.
Sometimes, this initial surgery will need to be followed by another minor surgery to lessen the chances of causing another eye condition called ectropion. This is essentially just the opposite of entropion, where the eyelid rolls outwards rather than inwards.
Pain relief and topical treatments will probably be necessary after the surgery to keep your dog comfortable. Your dog shouldn’t experience too much discomfort post-op, and if they do it’ll only last a couple of days. The worst part about it is that they’ll have to wear a cone around their neck to prevent them from pawing and rubbing at the affected eye. Expect a disgruntled dog for a few days…
Luckily, the outlook for dogs suffering with entropion is excellent, as long as they get the surgery to correct the structure of their eye when the problem is first noticed. Although it’s common that your dog will need 2 surgeries to get the condition totally sorted out, once it’s all done, they’ll be happy, itch-free and entropion will be a problem of the past.
If you notice that your dog is suffering from any kind of eye problem, you must take them to the vets as soon as possible. Even minor eye conditions such as conjunctivitis need treatment, so if you notice any changes it’s best to get your pup checked out straight away.
Written by: Dr Andrew Miller MRCVS
Andy graduated from Bristol University in 2010 and sees nutrition as a foundation for our pet's wellbeing and takes a common-sense approach. We are what we eat, and it shouldn't be any different for our pets.