I always thought I was the best dog mom. My dog gets high-quality food — truth be told, Jake probably eats better than I do! He sees the vet each year for a checkup, and Jake has even come on family vacations — he has liked the accommodations at the Hard Rock in Orlando best so far.
But then I learned about ophthalmologists for dogs (and other animals), and suddenly I felt like I was the worst dog mom. Dogs have owned me my whole life, and I have never taken any of them to an eye doctor. I did not even know there was such a thing as a veterinary ophthalmologist! Shame on me!
We think Jake is around 14 now, so in an effort to make up for all of the years he’s never had an eye exam, I took him to see Dr. Rob Swinger, Diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists, one of just 350 in the world.
Jake and I visited his office in Hollywood, Florida. The waiting room was jam-packed with dogs and cats. I later learned that the office is booked solid six days a week.
After Jake sniffed and checked out Dr. Swinger in the exam room, I embarrassedly told him that Jake had never had an eye exam. He immediately made me feel better and said that as long as companion animals have annual visits with their primary vet, and barring any eye injury or disease that may occur, most dogs don’t ever need to see a veterinary ophthalmologist.
“Most of my clients are referred to me by their general vet, who suspects an eye problem that is outside the scope of their knowledge,” Dr. Swinger said. Those problems include cataracts, cloudy eyes, glaucoma, ulcerations, and eye injuries and infections.
Obviously, if your pet develops any of these eye issues, or if an eye problem is getting worse despite therapy or medication prescribed by your general veterinarian, well, then it’s time to take your dog for a visit with a specialist such as Dr. Swinger.
Since Jake is a big dog, a vet tech held Jake during the eye exam, with both sitting on the floor — smaller dogs sit up on the exam table. Jake was not too thrilled about this, but he’s a pretty cooperative guy.
“First we make sure the corneal nerves are fine and make sure the patient can blink,” Dr. Swinger said as he looked at Jake’s eyes using what looked like a large jewelry loupe.
He pointed out that Jake has a little fleshy mass on his eyelid. He said it was not something I needed to worry about right now, but that it may irritate him in the future.
Then, to check Jake’s tear production Dr. Swinger did what is called a Schirmer tear test. He stuck thin strips of paper into his eyelids. It looked painful, but the doctor assured me it didn’t hurt. The whole test took about 60 seconds, and results were instant. Fortunately, Jake’s tear production was just fine.
Dr. Swinger then put fluorescein stain eye drops into Jake’s eyes. The drops turned his eyes green — he looked like he had green contact lenses in and was wearing green eyeliner. The drops make any scratches or abrasions show up under blue light.
Then Dr. Swinger put numbing drops into Jake’s eyes to check for glaucoma, a very serious eye disease in which the pressure inside the eye increases, causing irreversible damage to the retina and optic nerve. Signs of glaucoma include bulging/swollen eyes, redness, cloudiness, and vision loss. Jake’s pressure was 13 — normal is about 12. No glaucoma and no dry eye! So far so good!
Dr. Swinger saw that Jake does have some degree of cloudiness in his eyes, and this means that as he ages, the lens is getting thicker. Jake’s vision may be blurry and his depth perception will become compromised as he gets older.
Wearing a headset that is basically a more advanced and customized binocular, Dr. Swinger next looked at Jake’s optic nerve to see if he saw any lesions.
Fortunately, Jake had a great exam without any real problems evident. Dr. Swinger said he didn’t need to see him again unless that fleshy mass begins to irritate him. Good news all around!
To find a board certified veterinary ophthalmologist in your community or learn more about this specialty, visit the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists website.
Read more about dog eye health and care on Dogster:
About the author: Jennifer Cohen has been rescuing animals since she was 10-years-old. She lives in South Florida with her 12-year-old twin daughters, who recently received the Animal Hero Kids Award; their rescued dog, Jake; and their rescued parrot, Sam.