The Eyes Have It

"The eyes are dark in colour, very large, bold and prominent, globular in shape, soft and solicitous in expression, very lustrous, and when excited, full of fire."

So describes the Standard the eyes of the Pug. Much of what makes a Pug so appealing is in the eyes - not of the beholder but of the Pug. A Pug with small or incorrectly shaped eyes just somehow does not look right.

But eyes that are correct according to the standard can also be the cause of a multitude of problems in the breed. If you have been around Pugs for any length of time, protecting their eyes from injury becomes almost a second nature in everything you do. Sharp corners, rose bushes, blades of grass, cats' claws, to name just a few examples, all become potential hazards that can result in an ulcer in the eye. Add to this the Pug's natural curiosity which almost compels it to stick its nose into anything even remotely interesting. And where ever the nose goes, the eyes are always perilously close.

But ulcers, although probably the most common eye problem in the breed, are not the only thing that can affect the eyes. I have compiled a listing of some of the eye problems the breed is prone to, some of their symptoms and causes as well as the most common treatments. I would like to point out that this is not intended to be a self-help guide to treating eye problems. Any eye abnormality, no matter how minor looking, is cause for a visit to the vet.

  • Cataracts
    Opacities in the lens of the eye.
    Causes:Cataracts can be inherited. Other causes of cataracts include: diabetes, trauma, inflammation, and puppy milk replacers.
    Treatment: Treatment for cataracts is surgical. If left untreated they can lead to complications such as glaucoma, retinal degeneration or retinal detachment

  • Corneal ulcer
    A wound in the surface of the eye.
    Signs: Squinting, bluish cloud on eye, tearing.
    Causes: Injuries, abnormal eyelashes that irritate the surface, lack of tear production, infections, and many others.
    Treatment:Depends on the type and depth of ulcer. Minor ones heal with just a topical antibiotic ointment, severe ones require more aggressive treatment, for instance the flapping of the eye by covering it with the third eyelid. Ulcers generally heal well, when treatment is started right away. Left untreated the cornea can perforate and in the worst case scenario the eye can be lost.

  • Distichiasis
    A condition where eyelashes grow from a part of the eyelid which does not normally produce hairs. These extra lashes often rub on the surface of the eye and cause irritation.
    Signs: Redness, squinting, discharge, or rubbing at the eye. Can cause corneal ulcers or erosions where the hairs touch the surface of the eye.
    Treatment: Removal of the lashes helps as do topical ointments which lubricate the eye. Surgical procedures used include cauterization (applying heat to the eyelid) or cryosurgery (freezing the lid). Both procedures kill the roots of the lashes and prevent the distichia from growing back.

  • Entropion
    An abnormal inward rolling of the eyelid. In Pugs a common location is the lower corner of the bottom lid closest to the nose.
    Signs: Blinking, tearing
    Causes: Believed to be genetic. Could also be exacerbated by an overly heavy overnose wrinkle pushing on the eye lid.
    Treatment: The only cure is surgery, which involves the removal of some skin and muscle along the eyelid margin. This is considered to be cosmetic surgery which renders the dog ineligible for show competition. After reconstruction, the lids should look normal. The patient should not be bred since the condition is probably inherited.

  • Exposure keratopathy syndrome
    The inability of the eyelids to close completely when the dog sleeps.
    Signs: Semi-closed eyes when Pug is sleeping. Eventually a noticeable stripe of pigmentation in the centre of the eye.
    Causes: Could be inherited, but just as likely it is a breed problem caused by the anatomy of the Pug eye.
    Treatment: A lubricant (such as Lacri-Lube) applied to the eyes at bedtime keeps the cornea from getting dry. Left untreated the exposed part of the cornea will eventually dry and pigmentation will form on it.

  • Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (Dry eye)
    A condition where one or both eyes do not produce a normal amount or type of tears.
    Signs: Red and painful eye with some discharge.
    Causes: Dry eye may be associated with some viral diseases, trauma, drug toxicity caused by some antibiotics, allergens, or anesthesia.
    Treatment: Topical tear substitutes, stimulation of existing tear production. Cyclosporine (Optimmune) is used to increase tear production and reduce inflammation

  • Pannus
    An immunologic eye disease characterized by blood vessels and scar tissue invading the cornea. by abnormal growth of tissue over the cornea.
    Signs: Fleshy growth on cornea
    Causes: Unknown but certain risk factors, such as ultraviolet light, altitude, and breed are thought to be involved. Believed to be an immune mediated disease.
    Treatment: Steroids (such as dexamethasone and prednisolone) provide some immunosuppression as a side effect. Cyclosporine (Optimmune), is an immunosuppressant and applied topically alone, or in combination with steroids often results in better control of pannus than the use of steroids alone.

  • Pigmentary keratitis
    An inflammatory condition of the cornea characterized by abnormal pigmentation.
    Signs: Brown pigmentation spots on the surface of the eye.
    Causes: Pigmentary keratitis is not caused by any single agent, it is generally the result of some kind of trauma to the eye.
    Treatment: Gentocin Dura-Film (a steroid) applied to the eyes daily is useful for the management of some cases of pigmentary keratitis. Some people have also had good results with the use of cyclosporine. A surgical procedure exists whereby the pigmentation is scraped off the eye. However, such a procedure is not of much use unless the underlying cause of the pigmentation is determined first and corrected.

  • Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA)
    A retinal disease that causes blindness.
    Signs: A slowly progressing disease, not painful, so your dog will not blink or squint or have reddened eyes. Some owners will notice a shine from their pet's eyes, caused by dilated pupils not responding to light as quickly as those of unaffected dogs. Another early sign of PRA is loss of night vision.
    Causes: In general PRA is considered an inherited condition, but the mode of inheritance is different in each breed.
    Treatment: There is no treatment for PRA.

As can be seen from the above list, many eye problems have similar symptoms. Only a thorough eye examination can determine the correct diagnosis and the proper treatment. A good routine to get into is getting your Pug's eyes examined annually by a veterinary ophthalmologist. The exam is very thorough, painless and affordable. While there are only a few veterinarians in Ontario who specialize in eyes, many clubs hold eye clinics in various parts of the province throughout the year.

Another good practice that breeders of Pugs could employ is having all their puppies' eyes checked before they go to their new homes. Puppies can be examined as early as at eight weeks, and while every problem is not detectable at that early an age, many of the ones affecting the Pug are. Entropion, distichiasis and exposure keratopathy syndrome, to name a few, can be detected in a young puppy. The benefit of an early exam is that a minor problem can be detected and treated, before it becomes a major one. Early detection will also aid a breeder in deciding which puppy is suitable for future breeding.