This article was updated on March 5th, 2023
Seeing a dog with a ruptured eye is every bit as scary as it sounds. Even after years of practice, seeing a dog eye rupture can still make me jump, and it’s even more traumatic for the dog! Fortunately, this isn’t something that the majority of dog parents are going to see every day (we hope!), so let’s talk about what exactly happens when the eye of a dog ruptures and what you should do about it.
What Does it Mean to Have a Dog Eye Rupture?
While you may be thinking of a rupture as a sort of explosion, like a dam or a water pipe breaking, fortunately, when it comes to eyes, that’s not usually the case. Instead, an eye rupture occurs when all six layers of the cornea somehow get perforated. With this kind of damage, there’s nothing left to hold the fluid in the eye in anymore and it will leak out, basically deflating the globe.
What you’re going to see is a painful eye that causes a pup to squint, keep the eye closed, rub or paw at the eye, and possibly lots of drainage and watering. The eye may also appear red or cloudy blue and be shrunken or shriveled.
Of course, there are the rare instances where some kind of trauma actually causes the eye to burst, but those are pretty rare.
Causes of Eye Ruptures in Dogs
As we already said, in order for an eye to rupture, all six of the layers of the cornea need to be perforated. Just how does this happen?
1. Corneal Ulcer
Most corneal ulcers stem back to some kind of trauma. It may be an errant claw to the eye, a foreign object like a grass seed, or even a bite wound that starts the process off. If severe enough, the initial trauma may cause the eye to rupture. If less severe, the trauma may cause a corneal scratch or ulcer first. A corneal ulcer has varying degrees of severity that if left untreated can progress to the point it is affecting all layers of the eye until there is nothing left to contain it.
Corneal ulcers will often start off as tearing and squinting that will later turn cloudy and red. Corneal ulcers need to be treated as soon as possible to prevent an infection as well keep the ulcer from going deeper.
Your vet will diagnose a corneal ulcer by using a special stain eye drop that will cling to the exposed layers of the cornea, showing a green color in the eye. Most moderate to mild corneal ulcers are treated with eye drops, while more severe ones may require surgery.
2. Puncture Wounds
Here’s an injury that gets right to the point. A puncture wound to the eye can easily, and quickly, break through all six layers, rupturing the eye and allowing the inner fluid to leak out. Puncture wounds be caused by cat claws, sticks, grass seeds, or other household objects.
Similar to a corneal ulcer, a puncture wound may affect one or more of the six corneal layers and will be treated based on the severity. Minor puncture wounds will require eye drops to prevent an infection and promote healing, and more severe ones will need surgery.
Most of the time, a dog’s eyes do a pretty good job of keeping infections away. They have a natural barrier and flushing mechanism that removes most harmful bacteria. However, if something unnatural, such as an injury or underlying health condition, is at play, an infection can easily set in. Untreated, infections have the ability to inflame and weaken the surrounding tissues, including the layers of the cornea. If this happens to an extreme point, an infection can lead to a rupture of the eye in dogs.
Mild infections are commonly treated with antibiotic eye drops. More moderate ones may require additional oral antibiotics, and severe ones may require a surgical lavage system.
You may have noticed that trauma is an underlier for many of the issues we already talked about. It is often the inciting cause for puncture wounds and corneal ulcers, but it can also be the direct cause of an eye rupture. Any kind of crushing or blunt force trauma to the eye can, rarely, pop the eye like a balloon. This would come in the form of being hit by a car, kicked by a horse, etc. There may also be broken bones in the face, brain trauma, and other issues as well.
Depending on what exactly happened, surgery may be needed to repair surrounding damages.
Do You Need to See a Vet for Eye Ruptures in Dogs?
The short answer is yes, always. Eye ruptures are not something to deal with at home, for any length of time. Consider these an emergency not just because the earlier you get treatment the better chance of saving the eye, but also because an eye rupture can be extremely painful.
Most of the time, your vet will be able to tell that your dog’s eye is ruptured just by looking at it. However, if the rupture is small and very little fluid has leaked out, they may have to take their examination further by testing the pressures in the eye, staining the cornea, and using an ophthalmoscope to get the best look.
If your pup has experienced head trauma, x-rays may be taken as well to check for fractures.
Most exams are going to cost you $50-$200. For x-rays, look to pay an additional $100-$200.
Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.
Eye ruptures need surgery, it’s as simple as that. That surgery, if the rupture isn’t as severe, may be done to try to save the eye and will need a veterinary ophthalmologist. More often than not, if the rupture is severe, the eye will need to be removed. Rest assured, enucleation, or removing the eye, isn’t as traumatic as it sounds. It removes the pain and most dogs adjust very quickly to having one eye. Enucleations can be performed by most general veterinarians.
The cost for surgery to either try to repair the eye or to remove it is going to vary but look to pay $400-$1,000 for removal, and $1,000+ for surgical repair by a veterinary ophthalmologist.
What is the Recovery After an Eye Rupture in a Dog Like?
Since your pup is undergoing surgery, there is going to be a recovery period. If the eye is removed, that recovery period is fairly short. Basically, you’re just wanting for the skin to heal and helping them adjust to seeing with one eye.
You can help your dog adjust at home by not changing anything for them. Even though they will have one fully functional eye, they may have a little trouble with depth perception for a while. Try not to move furniture, take a walk in a new area, or otherwise introduce anything new while they adjust to this.
If your dog has had their eye repaired, the process may be a little longer. That eye will more than likely remain covered for 7-10 days to allow the cornea to heal. This may be with a bandage or with a dog’s own eyelids. Medications will be given to help with pain, and inflammation, and to prevent infection. You’ll want to keep your pup fairly quiet to prevent them from bumping that eye or further injuring it.
Other concurrent injuries or illnesses will be treated as well. Some of these injuries, especially broken bones or brain injuries may take several weeks to heal.
How to Monitor a Corneal Ulcer or Infection to Prevent a Rupture
Eye issues are nothing to play around with. While the eyes may heal very quickly, they can also get worse very quickly. Usually the first signs of an eye problem will be excessive watering, squinting, rubbing the eye or a cloudy blue color. If you notice anything off about your dog’s eyes, be sure to see a vet right away. If your dog is diagnosed with a corneal ulcer or an eye infection, be sure to follow your vet’s instructions and give medications as prescribed.
You don’t want to cut the course of medications short or allow your pup to do something they aren’t supposed to otherwise you run the risk of making a bad eye problem worse. Make sure your dog’s eye is getting less and less sore with each day of treatment. They should start holding it open more often, paw at it less, and have less watering. Corneal ulcers will often turn red and look worse before they get better. This is just a natural part of the healing process as a blood supply is established to feed the injury. However, if you are ever concerned about how your dog’s eye is healing, don’t hesitate to contact your vet.
Disclaimer: This website's content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian for healthcare decisions. Read More.