Back when I was in grooming school, the instructor asked a seemingly innocent question. “What would you do if a dog’s eye popped out?” I was dumbstruck. Trust me on this; my jaw doesn’t drop that often. But there it was, on the floor. It had never occurred to me that this could happen. Eyes can just pop out of a head?? Anything else I should be aware of?

The answer to that is yes. As the loss of vision or even the eye itself can happen quickly, prompt veterinarian treatment is essential. It is why you should take a good look at the pet’s eyes during the check-in process. Look for excessive blinking, squinting, discharge, blood, cloudiness, bulging eyes, rubbing, or redness, as well as closed eyes. All of which could indicate a pre-existing condition that may be aggravated during grooming. Bring any concerns to the owner’s attention beforehand.

“Eye health should be assessed prior to the grooming. It is imperative to protect the eyes during the grooming and to know what conditions exist in advance. You want the pet owner to know it was pre-existing and not caused during the shave/bath. Any variations from normal should be mentioned and the owner should be advised to seek out immediate veterinary attention.” –Dale Krier- DVM- Creature Comforts Mobile Veterinarian- Sherman, Conn.

The structure of an eye is both complex and delicate. It is this combination that may set the stage for irreversible complications. The eye is composed of three layers: the sclera, uvea, and retina.

Anatomy of the eye

The sclera is the outer layer. It protects and maintains the shape of the eye and is often referred to as “the whites of the eye.”

The cornea or uvea is the pigmented area of the eye. It has three components: the iris, ciliary body, and choroid. The cornea contains the blood vessels, which feeds the eye and is responsible for light absorption.

The retina contains the rods and cones, as well as triggers nerve impulses to the brain. The rods “see” in black and white and in lowlight. The cones “see” in color and need bright light. It is hypothesized that dogs and cats see mainly in black and white because their retina is mainly made up of rods. The nerve impulses sent to the brain are what create the image. In addition, both dogs and cats have a tapetum. It is a membrane that reflects light at night. It’s why we can see their eyes when a light is shined on them at night.

In addition, the eyes have eyelids, eyelashes, and the third eyelid. The eyelids contain the lacrimal gland, which produces tears. These tears keep the cornea moist. There is a drainage system that leads the tears to the nasal cavity. Eyelashes are found on the upper lids only. The third eyelid is also known as the haw or nictating membrane. The third eyelid is located under the lower eyelid near the nose. Its function is to keep debris out of the eye.

What are the concerns facing a groomer?

Grooming product, such as shampoo or coat spray, in eye. This can lead to ulceration, burns, and abrasions. The irritation may cause the pet to scratch at their eyes leading to infections, both fungal and bacterial. Pets with bulging eyes, such as Pug, Shih Tzu, and Pekinese have more eye surface available for environmental debris. The best defense is exercise caution with any products around faces. There are eye ointments available, but you must be careful with the applicator tip touching the eye. This could irritate the eye and contaminate the contents of the ointment. In addition, the ointment creates a greasy discharge. If you get product in the eye, rinse with eyewash for ten minutes and notify the owner.

Tips of ointment tubes, clipper blades and clip-ons, scissors, combs, and brushes coming in contact with the eye can cause injury. A pet scratching at his or her eyes due to irritation will also cause eye injury.

If an object becomes embedded in the eye, such as a scissor or clip-on, do not remove! Removal can cause far more damage. Only a veterinarian should remove an object embedded in the eye.

Cataracts can result from head trauma from a fall or a thrashing pet hitting their head against a grooming arm.

Dogs with shallow eye sockets and large eye openings are prone to proptosis, otherwise known as protruding eyeball. While it may be more common for Pugs and Shih Tzus, any dog presenting these physical characteristics may be at risk for enucleation. Enucleation is when the eye pops out of the socket. For such dogs, I have the owners sign a waiver, forgo use of loops and will stop the groom if they struggle. Should the eye pop out, cover the eye with a cool damp cloth and call the veterinarian to inform them you are on the way. There is a very short window to save this eye.

What pre-existing eye conditions impact grooming?

Entropian. The eyelashes fold in rather than out, causing the lashes to rub against the cornea. In itself, this can cause scar tissue, infections, and blindness. This pet’s eye s are more sensitive if there is product contact. This pet may also be in pain and pose a bite risk.

Cherry eye. The third eyelid slips out of place and swells. The risk is a contact injury by grooming equipment used around the face. Breeds pre-disposed are Beagles, Bloodhounds, Boston Terriers, Bulldogs, Bull Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Lhasa Apsos, Saint Bernards, and Shar Peis.

Glaucoma. Increased pressure within the eye causes the eyeball to swell. The eye appears swollen and bloodshot. This is painful and this pet may pose a bite risk.

Dry eye. This pet does not have normal eye lubrication. Any product in the eye will cause more damage. There is usually a gooey, yellowish discharge associated with this. Some of the causes include head injury, antibiotics, and immunological disorders.

Hardened discharge. Many times we are uncertain as to the degree of injury underneath. I have seen everything from minor irritation to open wounds.

Conjunctivitis or Pink Eye. It is an inflammation or infection in the outer part of the eye. The eye will appear puffy, red, along with a discharge. Allergies, systemic diseases, or foreign bodies cause pink eye. Certain strains are zoonotic. It can pass between other pets, as well as to yourself.

As groomers, we are limited in our ability to treat eye prooblems as we can often cause more damage if we try. To minimize our liability, ensure that the owners are present during the intake and take note of any eye concerns that need to be addressed by a veterinarian BEFORE grooming as well as note any necessary precautions for chronic conditions. If an eye injury occurs during grooming – minutes matter – time is best spent in contact with a veterinarian for specific instructions and to give them time to prepare for the pet’s arrival. Since the potential exists for both the loss of vision and eye, leaving for the veterinarian in a timely manner can make that difference.