When to Visit a Veterinary Ophthalmologist

Photo credit: Kathie Meier

This is the first in a series of blog posts that I hope will help you determine when your four-legged family member might benefit from a visit with a veterinary specialist.  Be reminded, veterinarians cannot refer to themselves as a “specialist” without some major credentials under their belts.

Let’s begin with ophthalmology. Veterinarians who specialize in ophthalmology have truly paid their dues in terms of time spent learning about animal eyeballs! All that effort is certainly rewarded. Every workday they get to use super cool equipment and perform highly technical surgical procedures. Animals needing cataract surgery or treatment for glaucoma or retinal detachments are no problem for these specialists!

When should your pet be evaluated by a board certified veterinary ophthalmologist? I strongly encourage you to consider this when:

  • Eye surgery has been recommended for your pet. Why not get a second opinion from someone who performs no surgery other than eye surgery, and has probably performed what has been  recommended for your pet gazillions of times?
  • Your pet has an eye issue that isn’t getting any better or is getting worse in spite of therapy prescribed by your family veterinarian.
  • You simply want to be more certain about the advice you’ve received from your family veterinarian.
  • Your pet has sustained a significant eye injury.
  • Your pet is losing vision or has abruptly become blind.
  • Your pet has a chronic condition such as glaucoma (increased pressure within the eye) or dry eye (decreased tear production). The specialist will be aware of cutting edge technologies for treatment of such diseases.
  • Your pet has diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes). Dogs and cats with diabetes are prone to cataract formation (the normally translucent lenses within the eyes become opaque). Additionally, diabetic animals can develop uveitis (inflammation within the eye) that is difficult to detect without specialized equipment. The ophthalmologist can determine if your pet has uveitis and will outline an appropriate treatment plan. Additionally, the specialist can help determine if cataract surgery makes sense for your pet.
  • Your pet’s breed is prone to a particular type of eye disease. For example, Bassett Hounds are predisposed to glaucoma. Consider a visit to the ophthalmologist to establish a baseline examination and determine how frequently your precious poopsie should be evaluated in the future.
  • You are a breeder and the breed you fancy happens to be predisposed to an inherited form of eye disease. Be sure that every eyeball of every potential dam and sire is screened by a veterinary ophthalmologist prior to breeding.

To find a board certified veterinary ophthalmologist in your community or learn more about this specialty, visit the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists.

Have you ever visited a veterinary ophthalmologist with your pet? What was the reason and what was the outcome?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.


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7 Comments on “When to Visit a Veterinary Ophthalmologist

  1. I’ve taken both my Australian shepherds to CERF clinics to have their eyes checked. (note: if iris coloboma is a possibility in the breed, the eyes need to be checked for that *before* the pupils are dilated.) The older one had some notations but nothing that threatened her vision. The younger was checked as a yearling with no notations and probably should be checked again (she’s almost 4) because there are some eye defects in this breed that can develop throughout the dog’s lifetime. I will give her breeder the results of any tests I run on her.


    On Saturday, the 12th of January, I took my four pound rescue Yorkie to see an opthamologist to check her cataracts in both eyes. I wanted to know if she needed surgery to remove them.

    Upon examination, the doctor and I were discussing the disease and she found that Nugget was only 10% on her right eye and 5% on her left eye. Which is good news; no surgery needed because her doctor said unless the percentage was over 35 she would not operate.

    However, driving her to the doctor, her vet and I believed her age to be around 8. The doctor said she was probably closer to the age of 12! I asked how she came to that age and she replied, “It’s like looking at and counting the rings on a tree.” Now, I know why some of her muscles are atrophying around her spine, She’s a little old lady just like her mom!

    Nothing like a road trip to age you! LOL

  3. The first week we moved to Paris our yellow lab, Maisie, suffered another “sports” injury and scratched her cornea. The emergency vet recommended that we see the one! specialist ( docteur ophtalmologie veterinaire) in the city. After a scraping, antibiotics and drops she was as good as new. A year later our spaniel, Max, had a growth on his eye lid that needed to be removed. He had had it for years, it looked like a small wart, but all of a sudden it started growing. Our regular vet once again recommended the specialist because it was quite large and would need plastic surgery to return the eyelid to normal. After surgery, antibiotics, several follow up visits to remove sutures (different sutures are used in the surgery depending on the thickness of the skin, and they are removed at different times) Max is as good as new! Both dogs are 13 years old. We feel very grateful that we were able to find such a great surgeon.

  4. My Breeze regularly visits her Ophthalmologist. Breeze was diagnosed with an
    auto-immune eye disease on Christmas Eve 2011. She has NODULAR
    anti-rejection eye drop (Tacrolimus – which is the same anti-rejection
    drug my daughter-in-law takes – my daughter-in-law is a double transplant
    recipient) twice a day and on another eye ointment twice a day to try to reduce
    the mineral deposits on her eye from the disease and the medication
    she take for her disease. Other than red looking eyes and a film over
    part of the eye, you would not know she has this disease. It is rare in
    Berners (out of 7,000 berners who had CERF tests, she is the only one with the
    disease, and is the only listed in Berner-Garde with the disease out of over
    64,000 entries.) It is more common in collies.

  5. I took my 5-year-old Golden Retriever to the ophthalmologist last year after they found cysts in his eyes at his CERF examination. I wanted to stay on top of everything due to the fact that pigmentary uveitis is becoming quite problematic in the breed. He is an obedience dog and I can achieve high titles — but only if he can see.

    I had him checked 6 months after the initial screening to develop a baseline of care. The ophthalmologist could not find the cysts….but we’ll follow up with check-ups every 6 months for a while….just in case!

  6. We had an ophthalmologist for our diabetic dog Chris and actually started before he developed diabetes-induced cataracts. He had a defect in his corneas that made it difficult for the cells to cement the basement membrane and consequently he had no-healing to slow-healing corneal ulcers, plus viral inclusions in his eyes more typical of cats than dogs… that dog was a nonstop medical mystery!

    We were finally referred to an ophthalmologist after his first corneal ulcer would not heal after numerous debridements at the GP vet and all I can say is that I really WISH we had been referred sooner. Because one quick procedure (a keratotomy) healed that first ulcer up very quickly.

    The ophthalmologist had not only much better and more in-depth knowledge about our dog’s eye problems – he also had much better equipment for checking eye pressure, etc.

    Though slightly more expensive than the GP vet, we got so much more for the investment and saved money in the long-run because we spent less time and money wasted on ineffective procedures.

    A good veterinary ophthalmologist is worth every penny and more, and I never hesitate to suggest that dogs with eye problems see one right away.

  7. As a cocker spaniel rescue foster & owner of a few, I have been to the opthamologist a few times! “Cherry eye” is the most common problem for cockers, and some vets will want to remove the tear gland completely rather than fix it. If you have one of those vets insist on a referral! Dogs need that gland!

    My diabetic cocker developed uveitis that was so extreme blood was visible on top of her cataracts! My vet said it was due to a brain tumor pressing against the inside of her eyes, and it just coincidentally happened when her glucose went through the roof (which was also a coincidence, happening just after her heat cycle). What baloney! I insisted on a referral to an opthamologist. The opthamologist knew better, and also knew of an non-steroidal eye drop that would be safe for a diabetic. My girl got fixed and that fixed the uveitis too.