Pet Owner’s Guide 101: Corneal Ulcers in Dogs

Corneal ulceration is painful. It may also lead to blindness, and if left untreated, necessitate the removal of the eye.

Before catastrophizing into extremes, however, it’s important to spot corneal ulceration, its different levels of severity and mildness, what treatment methods there are, when those treatments are considered, and how to avoid the more serious of corneal ulcerations.

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Table of Contents


As the cornea is transparent, corneal ulcerations may not be visible to the naked eye. In order to see them, veterinarians add a fluorescent stain to the dog’s eye.

However, there are signs of corneal ulcerations that are more noticeable and that pet owners can look out for even at home.

Fluorescent stain is added by the vet to the dog’s eye to check if there is corneal ulceration.

Excessive watering of the eyes

Natural watering of the eyes, or lacrimation, is important in keeping your dog’s eye moist. 

If your dog’s eyes are producing tears excessively or more than usual, however, it may then be a symptom of corneal ulceration.

What does excessive lacrimation look like?

Excessive lacrimation may produce tear stains on your dog’s face. You can observe this by checking whether or not the fur under your dog’s eyes is wet.

If the fur under their eyes is always wet but the dog is not newly bathed, or only that part of their face is wet, then the lacrimation is already excessive.

Conjunctivitis in a dog’s eye.


Just as in humans, conjunctivitis in dogs may be observed from the white part of the eyes turning reddish.

Whitish opacity

When it comes to injury on other parts of the body, inflammation may look pinkish. In the eyes, the inflammation manifests in the form of an opaque white film.

Eye twitching

Blepharospasm or eye twitching is another symptom of corneal ulceration.

This blinking and twitching is involuntary. As amusing as it may be to think that our dogs wink at us, involuntary eye twitching is their way of telling us that they might need a little check-up. 

Risk Factors

Breeds prone to corneal ulcerations include: pugs, bulldogs, and shih tzu’s. These brachycephalic breeds have prominent eyes.


The primary cause of corneal ulceration in dogs is trauma. This trauma usually comes from dog fights and play, though it may also occur from the dog’s rubbing their head against surfaces of door mats and kennels. 

Including trauma, causes of corneal ulcers in dogs are:

  1. Trauma or physical injury
  2. Genetic factors, breed of dog
  3. Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS)
  4. Cushing syndrome
  5. Infections (less common in dogs than in cats)

If the latter causes of corneal ulceration sound intimidating, do not worry; consult a vet so they may rule out the accurate cause and provide the best treatment option for your pet.

Later in this article, we’ll discuss one corneal ulceration case we received in our Clinic, and how our veterinarians arrived at both the diagnosis and appropriate treatment method. 

Treatment Methods

Before determining the treatment appropriate to your dog’s needs, vets first asses the state of your dog’s eye. The extent of damage on the eye determines which treatment method is best.

One treatment method for corneal ulcerations in dogs is to temporarily close the eyelids of the affected eye in order to protect it and allow it to heal. 

In humans, eye patches are used. Given the impracticality of attaching an eye patch to even the most well-trained dogs, their eyelid is used to cover the eye instead. Covering the eye means conducting an operation in which the eyelids are sewn temporarily.

Upon recovery, the dog’s eyelids are un-sewn by the vet, and prescribed medicinal eye drops.

For some cases, dead tissue may first need to be removed from the cornea and replaced. This is called corneal grafting. The dead tissue is removed because it can no longer heal. Corneal scarring may be addressed with laser surgery.

Removal of the eye

The eye heals. Enucleation or removal of the dog’s eye is unnecessary unless the damage is major. 

The severity of damage corresponds to the parts of the eye affected.

Parts of the eye

Regarding corneal ulcerations, parts of the eye we are concerned with are the epithelium, stroma, and descemet’s membrane

Among the three, the epithelium is the outermost layer of the eye. When only the epithelium is damaged, this may be called a corneal abrasion. Corneal abrasion or corneal erosion is superficial trauma to the eye. Such shallow cuts heal in 3 to 5 days.

Next, we have the stroma. Compared to the epithelium, the stroma is further inside the interior of the eye. When the damage reaches the stroma, it already requires the aid of a vet.

Finally, we have the Descemet’s membrane. The Descemet’s membrane is the innermost layer among the three. This membrane is critical. Enucleation is considered when damage penetrates this layer. 

In order to avoid a descemetocele developing and necessitating enucleation, it is important not to leave corneal ulceration untreated. While the damage is still on the epithelium and stroma layers, have your pet receive medical attention from a vet.


As previously mentioned, the primary cause of corneal ulceration is trauma. Trauma usually occurs in aggressive dog play and dog fights.

However, in a corneal ulceration case we handled in our Clinic, the dog did not have other dogs to play or fight with; neither were there cats.

The owners were puzzled that their dog’s eye was damaged. When we examined the dog, we found that he had another health concern: ear mites.

Our patient was teeming with ear mites, which caused him to keep scratching at his ears and face. It is likely that in the process of relieving himself from itching, he accidentally scratched his eye as well.

Fortunately, the corneal abrasion did not reach the Descemet’s membrane

Our senior veterinarian performed a minor operation on the dog’s eyelid, closing the conjunctival flap to protect the eye, and prescribed medicine to aid healing.

Because the owner brought the dog to the vet in a timely manner, the dog’s eye was saved from enucleation.

Puppy Eyes for Life

Photo by Charles on

Corneal Ulceration FAQs

“Will my dog’s eye be removed?”

Not all cases of corneal ulceration need to have the eye removed. It depends on the severity of the damage to the eye. For more information, see Treatment Methods.

“Can corneal ulceration cause blindness?”

If left untreated, the corneal rupture may progress to irreparable damage. Timely check-up and treatment can prevent this.

“Does corneal ulceration heal on its own?”

Corneal ulceration is damage to the eye that has reached a relatively deep layer called the stroma. Medical attention from a vet is needed, in order to prevent the ulceration from progressing.

Once the damage has progressed into an even deeper layer called the Descemet’s membrane, urgent medical attention is needed in order to avoid losing the entire eye. Consult a vet before this happens.

“How long do corneal abrasions heal in dogs?”

It may take 3 to 10 days for corneal abrasions to heal. Superficial corneal abrasions heal more quickly, while deeper corneal ulcerations take longer to heal. Corneal ulcerations left untreated may result in the damage progressing to the Descemet’s membrane, leading to the leaking of the descemetocele, at which point, enucleation or removal of the eye may be needed. Timely treatment, however, can prevent the need for enucleation.

“What’s the difference between corneal ulceration and corneal abrasion?”

Corneal ulceration may result from an abrasion in the cornea. If there is corneal ulceration, there is corneal abrasion.

“My dog keeps blinking. What does this mean?”

Frequent involuntary twitching of the eye could mean several things. If coupled with other symptoms such as excessive watering of the eyes or a white film on the eye, one possible case is corneal ulceration

It is best to consult a vet in person. However, this article on corneal ulcerations provides basic information to know.

“My dog’s eyes are always wet. Should I be concerned?”

This is called excessive lacrimation. Although it’s normal for your dog’s eyes to self-lubricate, excessive tears may be a symptom of a medical concern. Check for other symptoms and consult a vet.

If the symptoms include eye damage or eye twitching and blinking, you may read this article on a medical concern that has excessive lacrimation as a symptom

Our Clinic is also open for consultations.

“There’s a white film on my dog’s eye. What’s a good eye drop?”

If your pet has received a diagnosis from your vet, you may browse a catalog of products we carry.

Otherwise, do know that the white film may be a symptom of underlying medical concerns. It is best to consult a vet for advice and treatment best suited to your fur-baby’s needs.

If you need more information before going to the vet, you may read this article on corneal ulcerations, one medical concern that has the white film as its symptoms. Do consider the treatment best suited to your fur-baby’s needs, arrived at with proper diagnosis.

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