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What's Causing the Eye Gunk in My Shih Tzu?

Shih Tzus are prone to eye trouble, so it might be cause for concern.

 |  Sep 4th 2012  |   8 Contributions


Here's a question I received not long ago:

We have a 10-year-old Shih Tzu, Toby, who seems to be having greater problems with gunky eyes. What would you recommend for resolving this problem? Is Angels' Eyes safe and effective?

Tim

Port Ludlow, WA

I get questions about "eye boogers" all the time. Usually people want to know whether the accumulation of mucus at the corners of their dog's eyes is a sign of a medical problem.

Some dogs develop these simply because they lack fingers with which to remove them. Although people generally imagine tears as being simply watery, it turns out that tears are quite complex chemically. They consist of three primary components: the watery portion with which we're all familiar as well as a fatty component and a component that contains mucus.

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Shih Tzu puppy by Shutterstock.com.

Over time, the watery component of tears evaporates but the mucus does not. This can lead to a small amount of crust or mucus in the corner of the eye. If you rub your eyes after waking up in the morning, you've encountered a natural and normal accumulation of mucus.

However, I'm sorry to say that 10-year-old Shih Tzus are especially prone to chronic eye trouble. Their shallow eye sockets (and consequently bulging eyes) predispose them to a condition called lagophthalmos, in which the eyelids do not properly cover the eye. They also frequently suffer from keratoconjunctivitis sicca, or dry eye. Entropion and ectropion, which are problems with the eyelids themselves, are also disproportionately common in the breed. All of these problems can cause excessive mucus. They also can be painful and can cause significant complications if they're not properly addressed.

Excessive mucus may also be a sign of a short-term problem such as an infection, trauma to the eye, or foreign objects in the eye. All of these problems may compromise vision.

Eyes are among the most sensitive parts of the body, so any dog that might have an eye problem should see the vet as soon as possible. Tim, your vet should be able to determine whether the "gunk" in Toby's eyes is caused by a problem that needs to be treated.

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Shih Tzu puppy by Shutterstock.com.

Angels' Eyes is designed to prevent tear stains in dogs, which occur when naturally occurring pigments found in tears stain light hair with a rusty discoloration. They are not generally a sign of a health problem -- any dog with white hair is prone to them. The active ingredient is an antibiotic called tylosin, which according to the manufacturer binds with the pigments when the product is used daily.  

I am not a fan of administering drugs to treat cosmetic problems, so I don't generally recommend Angels' Eyes. Be aware that many people have reported to me that the product works, and the margin of safety for tylosin is high -- but I still don't recommend it.

Got a question for Dr. Barchas? Ask our vet in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. (Note that if you have an emergency situation, please see your own vet immediately!)

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