Nothing about Genevieve could be called pretty except her extremely thick eyelashes. Ultimately, they proved troublesome for the five-year-old English bulldog. Her vet diagnosed her with distichiasis, a condition directly related to her opulent eye fringe.
What is Distichiasis?
According to PetEducation.com, it’s a disorder that develops when extra eyelashes – medical name cilia – grow from the glands in a dog’s upper or lower eyelid. Instead of emerging from the skin surface of the eyelid, the hair follicle begins to develop deep within the glands.
The hair grows, exiting from the gland opening along the smooth surface at the edge of the dog’s eyelid. These abnormal eyelashes are known as distichia. They cause a problem when they rub against the dog’s cornea, resulting in irritation and tears and sometimes even abrasions.
Veterinarians consider distichiasis in dogs an inherited disorder, PetPlace.com reports. Many breeds are unfortunately predisposed to the condition. Among them are American cocker spaniels, toy and miniature poodles, golden retrievers and miniature long-haired dachshunds. The list also includes Shetland sheepdogs, Chesapeake Bay retrievers, English bulldogs, Lhasa apsos and shih tzus.
The number, size, relative stiffness and position of the dog’s eyelashes can cause symptoms to vary among affected pets. The eye eventually becomes red and inflamed. Owners might note a discharge or tearing from it.
The dog usually squints or blinks a lot, as if it has a hair or a foreign object in its eye. Rubbing the eye against furniture or carpeting is common. In the severest cases, a dog with distichiasis develops an ulcerated cornea with a bluish tinge caused by either the rogue eyelash or the dog’s rubbing.
Without treatment, these dogs can develop severe ulcerations of the cornea that become infected. Unless the pet gets prompt treatment, the condition of the eye typically gets worse. A dog can eventually become blind.
Some dogs with fine-textured distichia might require no treatment if they show no symptoms. Mild clinical symptoms usually dictate conservative management. American cockers in particular appear to easily tolerate their extra eyelashes and usually require only observation initially.
One way to medically manage distichiasis is to use an ophthalmic lubricant. It protects the cornea by coating the eyelashes with an oily film. Veterinarians usually start with this treatment for dogs whose only symptom is mild tearing. It’s also the treatment of choice if the dog isn’t a good candidate for general anesthesia and surgery, if there are just a few lashes causing the problem or if the lashes are short and fine.
When these lashes start to cause changes in the dog’s cornea, vets typically recommend surgery. The operation removes the lashes and attempts to kill the associated hair follicles.
However, since hair follicles can be difficult to obliterate, if the dog has just one or two troublesome lashes, a vet will consider removing the associated small portion of the eyelid. When at least several eyelashes cause a problem, the most common treatment is to cauterize the associated glands or freeze them using cryotherapy. One potential risk of either gland treatment is excessive scarring of the eyelid.
Unfortunately, many dogs with distichiasis experience regrowth of hairs. They face multiple surgeries, especially when eyelashes erupt at new sites.
Home treatment requires owners to give the dog all medications as directed and to bring the pet to all follow-up appointments the vet advises. Dogs treated medically instead of surgically should be evaluated at periodic intervals, particularly if they develop additional symptoms. Vets normally require rechecks for 8 to 12 weeks after surgery.
Other than breeding two dogs with this condition to each other, there are no recognized preventive steps to avoid distichiasis in dogs.