Do you know what I mean by a dog who sits with attitude?
That eager, “I’ll do anything, just give me the treat” bum shuffle along the floor?
One of my favorite patients does just this, and he throws in big brown eyes that say, “I haven’t eaten for a week.” Unfortunately, the usual reason for seeing a dog like this is eye problems, so his unconditional adoration of anyone holding a treat is actually quite helpful.
He’s a gorgeous pup who can moonwalk on his butt across the floor to get to a treat. His human seems embarrassed by this, but I’ve no idea why — perhaps it’s the implication that Bruno doesn’t get fed at home.
Today, however, Bruno is winking at me, as if signaling distress. Braving the strings of slobber and gently opening his eyelids, I can see a ragged rim of tissue around an ulcer on the center of his eyeball.
When examining an eye, I am methodical and take my time. The first thing is to look from a distance and see if both eyes look the same or if one is redder or more swollen than the other.
Then I look with magnification, using an ophthalmoscope, which is part magnifier and part torch. This allows me to see any stray eyelashes rubbing on the surface of the eye that are causing a problem.
Next, I check how much tear fluid the eye produces. A lot of dogs don’t produce enough tears to lubricate their eyes, which makes them more vulnerable to infection or ulcers. The Schirmer tear test involves hooking a strip of narrow blotting paper over the edge of the lower eyelid and waiting 60 seconds.
Finally, I pop an ophthalmology dye called fluorescein into the eye. This dye stains damaged corneal eye tissue bright green. It’s a great way to show ulcers on the surface of the eye — ulcers being the equivalent of a burst blister on the back of your heel.
Boxer Eye Ulcers
Bruno’s exam is normal except for a large, deep ulcer on the surface of his eye.
Unfortunately, Boxers have a reputation when it comes to eye problems. The breed is prone to indolent ulcers, non-healing ulcers that are frustrating to treat.
As it turns out, Bruno is a repeat offender — he has a history of indolent ulcers. After discussion with his caretaker, we decide to assume this is another one and treat it accordingly.
A few drops of local anesthetic later, and Bruno lets me gently rub his sore eye with a cotton tip. This exfoliates the dead cells away and makes room for healthy cells to travel in and start the healing process.
I start Bruno on a human antibiotic eye drop that doesn’t contain preservatives. Experts believe that some commonly used veterinary drops don’t help indolent ulcers because the preservatives slow up healing.
Last but not least, I prescribe a course of oral antibiotics from the tetracycline family. These antibiotics act on chemicals in the tear fluid called proteases and can help with healing.
For a little more than a month afterward, I see Bruno every 10 days, a huge pleasure for me — perhaps less so for his human. The good news is that the eye made slow but steady progress, to the point that I signed Bruno off at the 6-week mark.
Indolent ulcers go by a number of names, including Boxer ulcers and the less user-friendly spontaneous chronic corneal epithelial defects (SCCEDs). As that last name suggests, they arise spontaneously with no underlying cause or history of trauma.
It’s believed that the ulcer forms because of a weakness in the glue holding the sheets of corneal tissue together. Much like wallpaper peeling away from the wall, the tissue lifts away — leaving a gap behind.
If your dog persistently blinks, he may be trying to tell you the eye is sore. Indolent ulcers are tricky to treat and may require referral to a veterinary ophthalmological specialist. Happily, Bruno was one of the good guys (especially with his butt-moonwalk) and responded well.
But remember — a blinking eye in a Boxer signals distress. It means a trip to the veterinarian as soon as possible.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Aug. 14, 2015.