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Distichiasis in Dogs

What Is Distichiasis in Dogs?

Distichiasis in dogs constitutes one of several anomalies wherein abnormal eyelash growth occurs. In this scenario, the eyelash emerges from the aperture of a meibomian gland along the eyelid margin rather than from the usual lash line. The meibomian glands reside along the inner margin of the eyelid and contribute to the eye’s tear film. When a hair sprouts from the gland, it can rub against the cornea, resulting in irritation.

A single eyelash sprouting from the meibomian gland is termed a distichia (plural: distichiae). Typically, multiple distichiae are present, and both eyes are often affected. Most dogs develop distichiasis at a young age, frequently before reaching 1 year old.

Upon close examination, the abnormal eyelashes are usually visible against the cornea. Some dogs may exhibit thicker lashes that are discernible from a distance, while others may have only a few fine hairs that require close inspection to detect. Soft eyelashes may not cause discomfort to your dog.

In certain instances, coarse or stubby eyelashes can provoke significant eye irritation by poking the corneas. Similar eyelash conditions that induce corneal irritation include ectopic cilia or trichiasis. An ectopic cilium refers to an eyelash that grows inward from the eyelid towards the cornea instead of emerging from a gland opening. Trichiasis occurs when hairs from a normal location point towards the cornea, such as a regular eyelash curling inward or long hairs from the muzzle poking the eye.

Distichiasis is a prevalent condition in dogs, so it should be considered if your dog experiences chronic eye irritation.

Symptoms

The indications of distichiasis in dogs encompass:

  • Eyelashes extending from the eyelid margin and resting on the cornea
  • Excessive tearing (epiphora) from the eye
  • Frequent blinking, squinting, or challenges in keeping the eye open
  • Attempts to paw at the eye
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Corneal ulcers

Causes

Distichiasis arises from persistent inflammation within the meibomian glands. While the development of distichiae can be spontaneous, there is also a probable genetic element involved.

  • Breeds prone to distichiasis comprise:
  • Shih Tzu
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Golden Retrievers
  • English Bulldogs

Diagnosis

Veterinarians typically diagnose distichiasis through a physical examination alone. However, if other eyelid abnormalities are suspected or if examination of the eyelid margin is hindered by your pet’s behavior or excessive blinking, sedation might be necessary.

In cases where an eye ulcer is suspected, veterinarians may administer a special stain known as fluorescein and examine the eye under a blue light to detect any corneal injuries.

To facilitate examination and offer temporary relief for your dog, veterinarians may also administer a numbing eyedrop into the eye.

Treatment

If distichiasis isn’t causing irritation for your dog, treatment may not be necessary. In mild cases, the veterinarian might suggest using a lubricating gel or ointment to alleviate irritation.

Another approach could involve attempting to remove the abnormal hairs through plucking to assess if the irritation subsides. Typically, this procedure requires sedation. If irritation diminishes after plucking but reoccurs upon hair regrowth, then the corneal irritation is likely due to the distichiae.

Hair typically regrows within four to six weeks, but the new growth may be thicker, potentially increasing the risk of corneal abrasion or ulcers.

For a more permanent solution, veterinarians may recommend cryotherapy (freezing the affected area), electrolysis (using an electric current to eliminate the hair follicle), or surgical removal. These procedures are performed under general anesthesia.

Surgical removal is viable if only a few offending lashes are present in a small area. However, surgery carries the risk of causing eyelid deformity. Both electrolysis and cryotherapy might necessitate multiple sessions to address all distichiae.

Living and Management

If your dog doesn’t require surgery presently, remain vigilant for signs indicating that the eyelash has begun to bother them, such as eye discharge or squinting.

Following any procedure involving the eye, it’s crucial to prevent your pet from scratching or rubbing their eye on surfaces. A recovery cone should be worn for a minimum of seven to 10 days.

Unfortunately, doughnut-shaped e-collars may not be effective for dogs recovering from an eye procedure, as they can still rub their eye against the floor or furniture. It’s advisable to opt for a cone-shaped recovery collar and adhere to your veterinarian’s recommendations regarding its duration of use.

Your veterinarian may also prescribe antibiotic and/or anti-inflammatory eyedrops to prevent infection or alleviate pain following the procedure.

With the permanent removal of the hairs, your dog can expect a favorable prognosis.

Prevention

While you cannot prevent your dog from developing distichiasis, it is advisable to refrain from breeding dogs with distichiasis to minimize its occurrence in subsequent generations.

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