Servicing Service Dogs’ Eyes

For many people, the term “service dog” probably brings to mind images of guide dogs helping blind people.

As far back as the Middle Ages dogs helped the blind. More recently, dogs have been helping the blind since World War I.

Now there are service dogs to help not only the blind, but those who are hearing-impaired, physically impaired, suffering from stress disorders, or a multitude of diseases. These ever-present, incredibly patient, loving, and loyal attendants add a whole new dimension to the bond between people and their dogs.

People who live with service dogs not only want their dogs to be in tip-top physical condition, they depend on them to be so. But one thing that is sometimes neglected is an eye check-up for the dog.

Dogs do rely on their senses of hearing and smell much more than humans do. But dogs also need their sight, especially service dogs that may have to “see” for their human. Due to their disabilities, the dogs’ humans may not notice signs of eye trouble as quickly as other people might.

The month of May has been designated National Service Dog Eye Exam month as a way of reminding service dog companions to have their dogs’ eyes checked. In May, many places throughout the country even offer free eye check-up days for service dogs, with vets or veterinary ophthalmologists donating their time to give the dogs free eye exams.

dog eyes

istockphoto/SangSanit

How does a veterinarian check a dog’s eyes?

Most people are accustomed to eye exams that require verbal feedback from the patient. That obviously doesn’t work well for dogs—so what type of routine eye exam is performed?

Your vet may track your dog’s vision by throwing a cotton ball around the office to see if your pet follows it with his eyes. She may have you let your pet walk around the office to see if he bumps into furniture. The vet may also reach toward your dog’s eye with her finger to see if he blinks.

A light shone in your dog’s eyes lets the vet see if the pupils constrict. The vet will check the tissues around the eyes, the eyelids, the tear ducts, and the eyes themselves for inflammation that could indicate an injury or disease. They will also check for cataracts.

If an injury to the eye is suspected, your vet may put a dye to help ulcers or abrasions show up that are not visible to the naked eye. And, like humans, a dog’s eyes may be tested for glaucoma. The pupils might also be dilated to examine your dog’s optic nerve, retina, and other parts of the inner eye.

What are some signs my dog might have problems with his eyes?

If you suspect your dog has injured one or both eyes, get him to the vet right away. If your dog is rubbing his eye or eyes, keeping one eye closed, acts like he’s having problems seeing, has a discharge in one or both eyes, or there is an abnormal appearance to one or both eyes, take your dog to the vet. Problems caught early on may help protect your dog from needless pain, and also may help save his sight.

Service dog or not, your dog needs his eyesight protected as long as possible. Make sure your vet includes an eye exam as part of your dog’s routine wellness check-up.

Meet the Author: Pam Hair

Pam Hair is a pet industry copywriter with Fuzzy Friends Writer, where she combines her three passions: a love of animals, a strong desire to help other people, and the joy of writing. She has been a pet parent over the years to dogs, cats, and a variety of rodents. Currently she and her husband share their home with two guinea pigs.

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