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Non-Ulcerative Keratitis (Corneal Inflammation) in Dogs

What Is Non -Ulcerative Keratitis (Corneal Inflammation) in Dogs?

Non-ulcerative keratitis, or corneal inflammation, in dogs refers to inflammation of the clear outer layer of the eye, known as the cornea. This condition does not involve a disruption in the top layer of the cornea, unlike ulcerative keratitis. A dog’s eye consists of various layers and structures, including the cornea, sclera (white tissue), iris (colored portion), and pupil.

During acute non-ulcerative keratitis, the cornea may appear normal initially, but a subtle cloudiness or haziness may be noticeable in some cases. As the condition progresses chronically, dark pigmentation may develop on the cornea. Ulcerative keratitis, on the other hand, involves a disruption in the top layer of the cornea and requires veterinary diagnosis.

There are different types of non-ulcerative keratitis in dogs:

  • Infectious keratitis: Caused by secondary bacterial, fungal, or viral infections.
  • Chronic superficial keratitis (pannus): Commonly seen in German Shepherds and characterized by brown pigmentation on the cornea.
  • Pigmentary keratitis: Most prevalent in brachycephalic breeds and caused by exposure to irritants in the air, also known as exposure keratopathy.
  • Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS): Frequently observed in brachycephalic breeds like Cocker Spaniels and West Highland Terriers, possibly having an autoimmune component.

Treatment for these conditions varies, highlighting the importance of accurate diagnosis and testing by a veterinarian.


Symptoms of non-ulcerative keratitis (corneal inflammation) in dogs manifest visually and non-specifically, including:

Visual symptoms may include:

  • Color alteration, ranging from white cloudiness or haze to brown discoloration.
  • Vascularization, the appearance of blood vessels in the cornea.
  • Eye discharge, which can be white, green, yellow, or clear.
  • Squinting.
  • Redness in the sclera surrounding the eye.
  • Inflammation of surrounding soft tissue areas.

Nonspecific symptoms may include:

  • Lethargy.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Impaired vision.


Causes of non-ulcerative keratitis (corneal inflammation) in dogs vary and identifying the correct cause is crucial for prognosis and treatment. The primary causes of non-ulcerative keratitis include:

  • Dry eye (reduced tear production) resulting from:
    • Sleeping with eyes open.
    • Autoimmune conditions like keratoconjunctivitis sicca.
  • Trauma.
  • Exposure to chemical irritants.
  • Contact with air pollutants and substances such as dirt, dust, and particles.
  • Trichiasis (eyelashes rubbing against the cornea).
  • Infections (bacterial, viral, fungal).
  • Breed predispositions, including brachycephalic breeds, German Shepherds, and Cocker Spaniels.
  • Associated with other ocular diseases such as glaucoma, neoplasia, and anterior uveitis.


To diagnose non-ulcerative keratitis in dogs, veterinarians typically initiate the diagnostic process with a comprehensive physical examination, along with blood work, urinalysis, and potentially x-rays to rule out any underlying causes of inflammation beyond the eye. Eye-specific testing involves:

  • Fluorescein stain: A small quantity of green fluorescein dye is instilled into both eyes and then rinsed with eye wash. A black light is utilized to highlight areas of dye uptake in the eye. Green fluorescence indicates the presence of an ulcer.
  • Schirmer tear test: This test helps diagnose dry eye. Two small strips of tear testing paper are inserted between the eyelid and the cornea for a brief period. The tear film ascends the paper, enabling the veterinarian to evaluate tear volume adequacy.
  • Ocular culture: A sample of fluid surrounding the cornea is collected via a small swab and sent to the laboratory for bacterial analysis and culture growth assessment.


Treatment for non-ulcerative keratitis (corneal inflammation) in dogs varies depending on the underlying cause of the inflammation. Common treatment options include:

  • Antibiotics: Prescribed to address bacterial infections, with the choice of antibiotics tailored to the specific bacteria identified.
  • Steroids: Also known as anti-inflammatories, these medications help alleviate pain and inflammation. However, they are not recommended if an ulcer is present.
  • Lubricants: Used to provide moisture and relief to the affected eye.
  • Immunosuppressive medications: Such as Atosporin,, may be prescribed if dry eye contributes to the dog’s keratitis.

While numerous home remedies exist for treating eye infections in dogs, it’s crucial to consult with a veterinarian before using them. Many homeopathic medications lack FDA approval, and their usage may impede healing and exacerbate clinical symptoms.

Living and Management

The recovery and management of non-ulcerative keratitis (corneal inflammation) in dogs depend on the underlying cause of the inflammation. The duration of recovery varies accordingly. Many dogs with non-ulcerative keratitis may require lifelong therapies, especially if the condition is associated with an autoimmune disease or chronic superficial inflammation like pannus. However, in cases stemming from trauma, infection, or confirmational issues like trichiasis, full recovery is achievable once the underlying cause is identified and appropriately treated.

While it may not be feasible to entirely prevent non-ulcerative keratitis, certain predisposed factors can heighten a dog’s susceptibility to this condition. For instance, brachycephalic breeds are more prone to trauma and secondary infections. Cocker Spaniels have a heightened risk of developing dry eye, whereas German Shepherds are predisposed to pannus. While complete prevention may not always be attainable, initiating discussions with your veterinarian upon noticing any abnormalities is crucial in halting the progression of the disease.

Non-Ulcerative Keratitis (Corneal Inflammation) in Dogs FAQs

How do you treat an inflamed cornea in dogs?

If no ulceration is present, your veterinarian may suggest using anti-inflammatories, such as topical steroids, in addition to antibiotics and lubricants as necessary.

What causes inflammation in a dog’s eyes?

Inflammation can result from irritation, infection, or immune system activation.

Can I give my dog human eye drops?

While some human and dog eye medications overlap, certain ones can be harmful, depending on the underlying condition. It’s essential to consult your veterinarian before administering any topical or oral medications.

How can I treat my dog’s eye infection at home?

Currently, it’s not advisable to attempt home treatment without consulting a veterinarian. Inappropriate treatments may exacerbate the condition and lead to permanent vision impairment for your dog.

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