A watercolor painting of a dog with an eye injury sitting on a couch.

Corneal Ulcers in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

What is it?

A corneal ulcer is an open sore or abrasion on the clear, outer layer of the eye called the cornea. It can be caused by trauma, foreign objects, infections, or underlying medical conditions. Corneal ulcers can lead to significant discomfort and vision problems for dogs, so early detection and treatment are crucial.

How is it Treated?

The treatment for corneal ulcers in dogs depends on the severity and underlying cause of the ulcer. Mild cases may only require topical medication to promote healing and prevent infection, while more severe cases may require surgery, antibiotics, or other interventions. It’s essential to follow your veterinarian’s instructions carefully and monitor your dog closely to ensure that the ulcer heals properly and does not lead to further complications.

Breed Predispositions

Pekingese Shih Tzu Bulldog Boston Terrier  Pug


For as long as she could remember, Sarah and her faithful Border Collie, Rex, had been inseparable. Recently, though, she noticed that Rex was constantly rubbing his eye and seemed more sensitive to light than usual. Concerned about her beloved pet’s well-being, Sarah took Rex to the veterinarian for a thorough assessment. After a careful examination, the vet revealed that Rex was suffering from a corneal ulcer, a painful and potentially serious eye condition in dogs.

Corneal ulcer in dogs indicate where the cornea’s outermost layer, a transparent, safeguarding layer enveloping the iris, pupil, and anterior chamber of the eye, undergoes damage or erosion. This can result in considerable pain and may lead to vision loss if not treated promptly. These wounds, sometimes called superficial ulcers, particularly affect the eye’s surface. Due to their nature, these ulcers can be persistent, earning them the term ‘indolent ulcers.’

Given the potential severity of this condition, it is paramount to seek veterinary care if you suspect your dog may have a corneal ulcer. Timely and appropriate treatment can help avert further complications and maintain your dog’s sight.

What Causes Corneal Ulcers in Canine?

Different elements can trigger the formation of corneal ulcers in dogs, with factors falling into categories such as traumatic incidents, infections, or other underlying conditions. These ulcers are a substantial cause of discomfort in pets, representing nearly 0.80% of diagnosed conditions in primary care practices in the UK. Some prevalent sources of these corneal erosions include:

  • Physical Trauma: Damages to the dog’s eye can lead to the development of superficial corneal ulcers such as:
  1. scratches
  2. punctures,
  3. foreign bodies like grass seeds, sand, or debris
corneal ulcers in dogs

  • Infections: Bacterial or viral incursions can foster corneal ulcers. Occasionally, an existing ulcer can succumb to secondary infection.
  • Insufficient Tear Production (Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca): When tear production falls short, it leads to a dry cornea that, due to the absence of natural lubrication and shielding, can result in corneal ulcers.
  • Eyelid Conformation Abnormalities (Entropion or Ectropion): An eyelid that folds inward (entropion) or outward (ectropion) can provoke irritation and harm the cornea, triggering ulcers.
  • Exposure Keratitis: In dogs with prominent eyes or nerve damage, the cornea’s prolonged exposure to air can incite corneal ulcers.
  • Autoimmune Disorders: Some autoimmune conditions can spur inflammation and damage to the cornea, inducing corneal ulcers.
  • Corneal Dystrophy or Degeneration: Dogs can inherit a predisposition to corneal disorders, making them more susceptible to ulcers. These predispositions can often lead to what’s known as indolent corneal ulcers or spontaneous chronic corneal epithelial defects.

Understanding the fundamental cause of a corneal ulcer is critical to devising an effective treatment strategy and avoiding a recurrence. In addition, quick access to veterinary care is crucial for diagnosing and treating corneal ulcers in dogs, as it dramatically aids corneal healing and helps to prevent severe complications like corneal perforation, which occurs when an ulcer penetrates the cornea’s deeper layer, the stroma, leading to refractory corneal ulcers.

Symptoms of Canine Corneal Ulceration

The indicators of corneal ulcers in dogs might differ depending on the depth of the ulcer and its cause. The corneal surface might show various signs of discomfort and distress in your canine friend, including:

symptoms of corneal ulcer in dogs

Diagnosis of Corneal Ulcer in Dogs

Corneal ulcers in dogs are a prevalent, intense ocular condition requiring precise diagnosis and immediate intervention. Several diagnostic methods are employed in veterinary medicine, each offering distinct benefits and features.

Fluorescein Staining

This is the principal method for detecting corneal ulcers. First, a harmless fluorescent dye is applied to the corneal surface. This dye sticks to any region where the cornea’s outer layer or epithelium is damaged or missing, such as in a melting ulcer, causing the affected area to glow bright green under blue light. This enables the vet to identify the size and position of the ulcer.

Physical Examination

The vet may conduct an exhaustive physical assessment, including a meticulous eye examination for indications of injury, ectopic cilia, or visible irregularities in the cornea.

Slit Lamp Biomicroscopy

This device permits the vet to scrutinize the cornea under magnification. It provides a more detailed perspective of the cornea, facilitating an evaluation of the ulcer depth, the detection of foreign bodies, and an assessment of the overall ocular health.


This test measures the pressure inside the eye. Since corneal ulcers can precipitate secondary conditions like glaucoma (increased eye pressure), tonometry is a vital component of the diagnostic process.

Schirmer Tear Test

Should the vet suspect that dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca) could contribute to the corneal ulcer, they may execute a Schirmer tear test, which quantifies the eye’s tear production.


If an ulcer does not show signs of routine ulcer healing or if there are worries about a secondary bacterial or fungal infection, the vet may collect cells from the eye for microscopic evaluation.


In rare cases, mainly if there’s concern about corneal cancer, the vet might extract a small sample of corneal tissue for biopsy.

Advanced Imaging

Imaging examinations such as ultrasound or a CT scan can occasionally be used to better view the eye and surrounding structures, especially in complicated corneal ulcers.

The chosen methods depend on the ulcer’s characteristics, the dog’s health status, and the available veterinary equipment. However, it’s always crucial to secure an accurate diagnosis to implement the correct treatment plan, which could even involve an eyelid flap in certain severe cases.

Treatment of Corneal Ulcers in Dogs

The treatment strategies for canine corneal ulcers are contingent on the ulcer’s severity, cause, and nature. A veterinarian will devise a fitting treatment protocol following an exhaustive examination and diagnosis. Several standard treatment options encompass:

corneal treatment in dogs

Medical Intervention

Primarily, corneal ulcers are medically managed to facilitate healing, thwart infection, and provide pain relief.

  • Antibiotics: Topical antibiotic eye drops are employed to forestall or manage secondary bacterial infections. Popular options encompass aminoglycosides (gentamicin, tobramycin), fluoroquinolones (ciprofloxacin, ofloxacin), and polymyxin B combinations.
  • Antivirals: For ulcers provoked by viruses, particularly those induced by the herpes virus, antiviral eye medications like idoxuridine or trifluridine might be utilized.
  • Antifungals: In the event of a suspected or confirmed fungal infection, antifungal eye drops such as natamycin or voriconazole are essential.
  • Cycloplegics: Drugs like atropine can soothe eye discomfort by paralyzing specific eye muscles to diminish spasms.
  • Pain Relievers: Intense discomfort may be managed with systemically and topically administered non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
  • Collagenase Inhibitors: In ‘melting’ ulcers where the cornea’s collagen matrix is swiftly deteriorating, medications such as acetylcysteine are used to impede this process.
  • Autologous Serum: Eye drops derived from the dog’s serum can be utilized for stubborn or non-healing ulcers due to their innate healing properties.
  • Lubricants: Lubricants like artificial tears or lubricant ointments aid in maintaining a moist environment for the cornea, thereby promoting healing and comfort.

Surgical Intervention

Surgical intervention may be necessary for certain circumstances, such as when medical management proves ineffective, the ulcer is deep or perforated, or when there’s a ‘descemetocele’ – a severe form of ulcer on the verge of perforation.

  • Keratectomy: To foster healing, a superficial keratectomy may remove loose, unhealthy corneal tissue.
  • Conjunctival Pedicle Graft: This procedure involves suturing a portion of the conjunctiva (the pink tissue overlaying the white of the eye) over the ulcer to provide additional support and blood supply.
  • Corneal Transplant: A corneal transplant may be considered in severe cases, though this is less frequently performed in dogs within veterinary ophthalmology.
  • Cyanoacrylate Glue and Contact Lens: For impending or small perforations, veterinary ophthalmologists may apply medical-grade glue and a soft contact lens to seal the area and facilitate healing.

All treatments should be conducted under the supervision of a veterinarian, and owners should meticulously follow the prescribed treatment plan. The administration of eye medication, especially in cases of an infected corneal ulcer, is paramount. Corneal surgery may be an unavoidable course of action in the context of deep ulcers.

How Can I Prevent My Dog From Developing Corneal Ulcers?

Preventing corneal ulcers in dogs involves taking several steps to protect and maintain the overall health of your dog’s eyes. Here are some tips to help prevent corneal ulcers in dogs:

  1. Regular veterinary check-ups: Schedule routine veterinary visits for your dog, including eye exams. This will allow your veterinarian to detect any early signs of eye problems and address them before they progress into more severe conditions.
  2. Maintain proper eye hygiene: Clean your dog’s eyes by gently wiping away any discharge or debris with a damp cloth or a pet-safe eye wipe. Use a separate cloth for each eye to avoid spreading infections.
    Grooming and hair management: Keep the hair around your dog’s eyes trimmed to prevent irritation and reduce the risk of foreign bodies entering the eye. Regular grooming also helps avoid excessive tearing and the development of infections.
  3. Eye protection: If your dog is prone to eye injuries or spends much time outdoors, consider using protective eyewear, such as dog goggles, to shield their eyes from foreign objects, debris, and UV radiation.
  4. Be cautious with chemicals and irritants: Protect your dog from household cleaning products, pesticides, and other chemicals that may cause eye irritation or injury. If your dog comes into contact with an irritant, flush their eyes with clean water and consult your veterinarian.
  5. Monitor playtime: Supervise your dog during playtime, especially with other dogs or in areas with sharp objects or debris that could injure their eyes.
  6. Address underlying health issues: If your dog has a health condition that could contribute to corneal ulcers, such as dry eye, eyelid abnormalities, or allergies, work closely with your veterinarian to manage these conditions and minimize the risk of corneal ulcers.

Following these preventive measures and being vigilant about your dog’s eye health can significantly reduce the risk of corneal ulcers and help maintain your dog’s vision and overall well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, dogs can recover from an eye ulcer, but the success of treatment depends on several factors, including the size, depth, and location of the ulcer, as well as the underlying cause of the ulcer. Eye ulcers in dogs are typically treated with a combination of medication and supportive care, including antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medication, and pain management. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary.

With prompt and appropriate treatment, most dogs with eye ulcers will recover within a few weeks, but larger or deeper ulcers may take longer to heal and require more intensive treatment. In some cases, scarring or other long-term complications may occur. Still, with proper veterinary care, many dogs with eye ulcers can fully recover and maintain good eye health.

The healing time for a dog’s corneal ulcer depends on several factors, including the severity and size of the ulcer, the underlying cause, and the effectiveness of the treatment. Generally, more minor and less severe ulcers may heal within a few days to a week with appropriate treatment, while more extensive or more severe ulcers may take several weeks or months to recover fully.

Treatment typically involves a combination of medication, such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, pain relief, and supportive care, such as keeping the eye clean and protected. It’s important to follow your veterinarian’s instructions carefully and schedule follow-up visits to monitor the ulcer and ensure it is healing correctly.

The cost of cornea ulcer surgery in dogs can vary depending on various factors, such as the severity and location of the ulcer, the type of surgical procedure required, and the geographic location of the veterinary clinic. The cost of cornea ulcer surgery can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars. Additional costs may include pre-operative tests, medications, and post-operative care.

Therefore, it’s essential to consult with your veterinarian to discuss the best treatment options for your dog and to obtain a more accurate estimate of the cost of surgery based on your dog’s individual needs and circumstances.

You can tell if a dog’s eye condition is healing by monitoring the signs and symptoms of the disease over time. Some common signs of improvement in eye conditions include:

  • Reduced swelling and redness: As the eye begins to heal, you may notice that the swelling and redness around the eye start to decrease.
  • Improved eye discharge: If the eye condition is causing excessive discharge, you may notice that the amount of discharge decreases and becomes less thick or cloudy.
  • Reduced squinting or rubbing: Dogs with eye conditions may squint or rub their eyes frequently. As the condition improves, they may do this less often.
  • Clearer or brighter eye: As the eye heals, you may notice that it becomes more transparent and more radiant. The eye may also appear to have a more normal shape and size.

It’s essential to monitor your dog’s eye condition closely and follow your veterinarian’s instructions for treatment and follow-up care. Contact your veterinarian if you have any concerns about the healing process.

Topical ophthalmic is a term used to describe the medical specialty of eye care. It includes diagnosing and treating diseases affecting the eyes, such as glaucoma, cataracts, retinal disorders, corneal cell conditions, dry eye disease, etc. In addition, the practice of ophthalmology involves diagnosing and managing eye problems, including refractive surgery, strabismus (eye misalignment), amblyopia (lazy eye), and other vision impairments. Effects of topical ophthalmic application of 0.5% proparacaine hydrochloride on aerobic bacterial culture results for naturally occurring infected corneal ulcers in dogs.

In some cases, a corneal ulcer in a dog may heal on its own with the help of medication and proper care. However, it’s important to note that not all corneal ulcers will heal without treatment, and leaving them untreated can lead to severe complications, including permanent vision loss or even eye loss.

Therefore, seeking veterinary care is essential if you suspect your dog has a corneal ulcer. Your veterinarian can perform an examination and recommend an appropriate treatment plan to promote healing and prevent complications. Treatment may include medication, supportive care, and, in some cases, surgical intervention.

Yes, dogs can become blind due to corneal ulcers if the ulcer is left untreated or if complications occur. A corneal ulcer is a lesion on the cornea’s surface caused by trauma, infection, or other factors.

If the ulcer is not treated promptly, it can lead to scarring, affecting vision. In addition, the ulcer can sometimes become infected, causing further complications and potentially leading to permanent vision or even eye loss.

Eye ulcers in dogs can appear as small or large, white, gray, or pinkish patches on the eye’s surface (cornea). They can also be round or irregularly shaped, depending on the severity of the ulcer. In some cases, eye ulcers may cause your dog’s eye to look red or swollen, and your dog may show signs of discomfort or pain, such as pawing at the eye, blinking excessively, or rubbing their face against objects.

No, eye ulcers in dogs are not contagious. They are typically caused by physical trauma, such as a scratch to the eye or exposure to irritants, rather than an infectious agent. However, if the underlying cause of the eye ulcer is a bacterial or viral infection, that infection could be contagious to other dogs.

Therefore, it’s always a good idea to practice good hygiene and avoid close contact with other dogs if your dog is experiencing any eye problems. If you suspect an eye ulcer or any other eye problem in your dog, it’s essential to seek veterinary care promptly to determine the underlying cause and appropriate treatment.

Yes, corneal ulcers in dogs can be serious if left untreated or severe. The cornea is the eye’s outermost layer and plays a vital role in vision, so any damage to the cornea can affect a dog’s eyesight. Corneal ulcers can also be excruciating and can lead to other complications, such as infections and inflammation within the eye. Therefore, seeking veterinary care promptly is essential if you suspect your dog has a corneal ulcer or any other eye problem to prevent further damage and ensure appropriate treatment.

Vessels can grow into the cornea within hours to days after an injury or inflammation occurs. The growth rate of vessels in the cornea can vary depending on the severity and duration of the injury or inflammation and the individual dog’s healing response. In some cases, the vessels can continue to grow and cause corneal scarring, leading to vision problems. Therefore, it’s essential to seek prompt veterinary care if you notice any corneal injury or inflammation in your dog’s eye to prevent further damage and promote healing.

A corneal abrasion (scrape) can progress and become a corneal ulcer if left untreated or if an underlying condition compromises the cornea’s health. The initial injury from the abrasion can create an opening in the cornea, which allows bacteria or other microorganisms to enter and cause an infection.

This can lead to inflammation, further damage to the cornea, and the formation of an ulcer. Therefore, seeking prompt veterinary care is essential if you suspect your dog has a corneal abrasion to prevent it from progressing into a more severe condition like a corneal ulcer.

Yes, a corneal abrasion can progress to become a corneal ulcer or even a descemetocele if left untreated or if there are underlying factors that contribute to the condition. Corneal abrasions are superficial injuries to the cornea that usually heal within a few days to a week with proper treatment. However, if the abrasion becomes infected, it can lead to inflammation, further damage to the cornea, and the formation of an ulcer.

If the ulcer penetrates the entire thickness of the cornea, it can progress to a descemetocele, a more severe condition requiring immediate veterinary attention. Therefore, seeking prompt veterinary care is essential if you suspect your dog has a corneal abrasion to prevent it from progressing into a more severe condition.

No, it is not recommended to apply a topical anesthetic to the cornea without the guidance of a veterinarian. Topical anesthetics can temporarily relieve pain but delay healing, leading to complications such as corneal melting or perforation. Therefore, it is essential to have a proper diagnosis and treatment plan from a veterinarian to address the underlying cause of the corneal ulcer and provide appropriate pain management.

An indolent corneal ulcer, also known as a superficial or non-healing corneal ulcer, is a type of corneal ulcer that typically occurs in middle-aged or older dogs. It is called “indolent” because it tends to heal slowly or not at all despite treatment. The ulcer usually appears as a gray-white area on the cornea and may be accompanied by tearing, squinting, or pawing at the eye. This type of ulcer is often caused by a failure of the cornea’s outer layer to attach correctly to the underlying tissue. It can be treated with debridement (removal of the affected tissue), medication, and sometimes surgical intervention.

It would be best if you did not stop treating your dog’s corneal ulcer with medicine unless advised to do so by a veterinarian. The veterinarian will typically prescribe medication and recommend a treatment plan based on the severity and cause of the ulcer. It is essential to follow the treatment plan and continue administering medicine for the recommended duration to ensure proper healing and prevent the ulcer from worsening or recurring. Even if the dog’s eye appears to have healed, stopping the medication prematurely can lead to a relapse of the ulcer.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this veterinary website is intended for general educational purposes only and should not be considered as a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult a licensed veterinarian for any concerns or questions regarding the health and well-being of your pet. This website does not claim to cover every possible situation or provide exhaustive knowledge on the subjects presented. The owners and contributors of this website are not responsible for any harm or loss that may result from the use or misuse of the information provided herein.

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