By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker
Doggles (doggy eyewear) are an undeniably adorable fashion statement.
But since many dogs aren’t really into accessorizing, what many pet parents want to know is whether protective eyewear is beneficial for dogs in the same way it is for humans. Generally speaking, there are three reasons for doggy eye protection:
- To protect the eyes from injury
- To protect the eyes of dogs with certain conditions from sun exposure
- To calm dogs with certain disorders
The Need for Eyewear Depends on Your Dog’s Breed, Health and Lifestyle
Some breeds are at higher risk for eye problems, which can make them good candidates for protective eyewear, as well as certain working dogs and dogs that are partially or totally blind.
Breeds prone to disorders of the eye include brachycephalic dogs with pushed in faces. These breeds, such as the Bulldog, Pug and Shih Tzu, have prominent or protruding eyeballs that are much more likely to develop abrasions, ulcers, cuts and other injuries. Protective eyewear can be very helpful for brachys.
Greyhounds and a few other breeds are predisposed to an eye problem called pannus (also known as chronic superficial keratitis), an autoimmune disorder that causes chronic inflammation of the cornea and is exacerbated by sun exposure.
The condition usually starts as a lesion on the outside part of the eye and spreads across the cornea. The lesion often resembles spots that can range in color from light grey to brown or black. Left untreated, pannus can engulf the entire cornea and cause permanent blindness. Eye drops are the standard treatment, and many dogs with the condition wear eye goggles when they are outdoors.
Protective eyewear is also a good idea for dogs with vision loss and persistent trauma to the eyes. And specially trained canines such as search and rescue, cadaver and police dogs may also benefit from protective eyewear depending on working conditions and potential risk of exposure to foreign objects, punctures, abrasions and other eye irritants.
Postoperative Dogs May Benefit From Protective Eyewear
In certain cases, a dog recuperating from eye surgery may need protective eyewear to preserve her vision. A dog whose eyes are very irritated can cause severe damage to the cornea by scratching or pawing at her face, or rubbing her head along the ground or a piece of furniture. However, most post-op dogs are fitted with an E-collar instead due to the potential for eyewear to move around and do more harm than good.
How About Dogs Who Spend Time Outdoors on Sunny Days?
When it comes to protecting canine eyes from the sun, aside from dogs with pannus like the Greyhound, there’s no evidence to suggest ultraviolet rays contribute to diseases of the eye in dogs. And while UV rays have been linked to the development of squamous cell carcinoma in human eyes, the condition is extremely rare in dogs.
However, some older dogs develop an age-related change called iris atrophy in which the muscles controlling the pupils of the eye are no longer able to shrink the pupil down to the size of a pinprick. This means the pupils remain dilated, which makes the eyes more sensitive to light.
Dogs with iris atrophy may benefit from wearing Doggles outdoors on sunny days and in other brightly lit environments. In addition, dogs with an existing painful eye injury such as a scratched cornea may also benefit from protective eyewear when out in the sun. Needless to say, if your dog is squinting, has red eyes or tearing, or is pawing or rubbing at his eyes, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian. Eye conditions can rapidly progress from mild to severe, so the sooner your pet is seen by your vet, the better.
Eyewear for Dogs With Storm Phobias or Carsickness
Dogs with thunderstorm phobia need lots of help staying calm during events they perceive as stressful. Eye shades that either block all light or diffuse the light can help some dogs relax during thunderstorms. You can try a pair of tinted Doggles or a basic eye mask intended for humans. This intervention is usually profoundly beneficial at calming stressed dogs or it’s an epic fail. If your dog says no way to Doggles, don’t force it.
Among the many things you can do to help a dog carsickness is to drive with the windows down as much as possible (not all the way down, just enough to let fresh air in). And while it’s not a great idea to allow your dog to stick her head out the window, if it seems to help her feel more comfortable, just make sure she’s very securely harnessed in, and invest in a pair of Doggles to protect her eyes from sudden rushes of air, bugs and flying debris.
If you’re not sure if your dog should be wearing protective eyewear, I recommend talking with your veterinarian.