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Eye Care for Pets - A Comprehensive Guide to Support Eye Health in Dogs and Cats

Eye Care for Pets - A Comprehensive Guide to Support Eye Health in Dogs and Cats

Your pet's eyes are their gateways to this world. So are you doing all you can to support one of their most precious organs?

There’s an old English proverb that says the eyes are the windows to the soul.

And every pet parent can tell you, that’s just as true for animals as it is for humans.

Your pets tell you so much with their eyes…

They light up with excitement when you walk in the door, and they look at you with their eager eyes when they are begging to play.

Or when they are hurt or frightened, their eyes provide important signals that let you know they need help or comfort.

If your dogs do something mischievous, their eyes communicate shame. And when your cats want space to be left alone, their eyes will let you know it.

Besides the role they play in communicating with you, your pets also rely on their eyes to enjoy all their regular activities, such as running, jumping, playing fetch and chasing toys.

Your pets’ eyes are among their most precious – and complex – organs. And because they are so important to our pets’ well-being, they warrant special care to help keep them working at their best.

Before we go into eye care for pets, let’s take a look at some of the unique and interesting features of cat and dog eyes…

Your Pet’s Eyes – Species-specific Abilities Designed for Active Living and Survival

As a general rule, a mammal’s eyes don’t see as clearly as the eyes of a bird or a reptile. Some scientists think this may be because mammals’ ancestors used to live more nocturnal lives.

Many birds and reptiles have eyes designed to see detailed images for daytime hunting. Mammals, such as dogs, cats and humans, on the other hand, have eyes that pick up movement more than detail and adjust to changing light levels.

Each animal species has unique eye functions that help them navigate their world. In dogs and cats, these fascinating features include:

Anatomy of Pet's Eye
  • Very large pupils to see well – better than their humans – in dim light conditions.
  • Dogs’ eyes have a circular iris muscle, the same as humans.
  • Cats’ eyes have a figure-eight muscle that closes the iris way down to a slit, giving them better focus than dogs and humans.
  • Dogs and cats have more rods than cones in their eyes. Rods are used for detecting movement, while cones perceive colour and details.
  • Cats and long-nosed dogs have a “visual streak” that allows them to focus sharply at a distance and gives them great peripheral vision.
  • Instead of a visual streak, short-nosed dogs have high-density vision cells that give them an advantage in reading their owner’s facial expressions.
  • Cats and dogs have a third eyelid, called the nictitating membrane, that works as a thin shutter to protect the eyeball.

Even though they’re now domesticated and don’t rely heavily on these features for pure survival, they still play a big part in how they experience and interact with the world…

Understanding How Your Pets See the World

Colour, shape, movement, details… all of these compose the picture your pets take in through their eyes – their picture of the world.

Because your dogs or cats have fewer cones in their eyes, they see colours less vividly than you do, with yellow, green and blue being the clearest.

They also see better in the dark than you, with a layer of special reflective cells, called the tapetum lucidum, that reflects and enhances any light entering their eyes.

While there are exceptions, the dog’s eye’s anatomy supports seeing forms and movement rather than sharp images with detailed features. Your dogs rely heavily on their keen sense of smell to “read” their world, so for them, vision is secondary.

While your cats also rely on their highly developed sense of smell, sight is a little more important for them.

The unique slit-shaped design of the iris muscles in a cat’s eye’s anatomy allows them to see well in dim light, and their ability to focus on objects and detect movement is highly refined…

Your cats need only one-sixth the amount of light to see that you do. But don’t believe any stories you hear about cats being able to see in total darkness. Their capabilities don’t go that far.

And your dogs require around twice as much light for seeing as cats, but only one-third as much as you, giving them exceptional night vision as well.

Dogs and cats have evolved in a natural world where darkness offers advantages – and sometimes, the key to survival. Wild dogs escape to their dens to rest in safety and away from the glaring sun.

In the wild, cats and dogs move freely in ever-changing light conditions. In contrast, domesticated pets live in an artificially lit world that can be stressful for them and their eyes.

That said, Dr Karen Becker recommends having at least one space in your home where your pets can retreat into darkness, or at least escape the continuous glare of artificial fluorescent lights.

And if your pets spend a lot of time outdoors, be sure they have access to a shady spot.

How Healthy Are Your Pet's Eyes?

Your pets' eyes can provide valuable clues about their health because they're connected to both the vascular and neurological systems.

Do you know the characteristics of healthy eyes? The ASPCA offers 9 eye health tips that can help you recognise healthy eyes and spot clues to issues that warrant a visit to your veterinarian:

    1. Sit facing your pets in a brightly lit area and look into their eyes.

      With dogs, the eyes should be clear and bright, and the area around the eyeball, the sclera should be white. The pupils should be equal in size and there shouldn't be tearing discharge or any crust in the corners of his eyes.

      If there is cloudiness, a change in eye colour, a yellow-tinged sclera, unequal pupil sizes, or a visible third eyelid, check with your vet.

    2. Take a closer look by gently rolling down your pet's lower eyelid with your thumb until you can see the lining. It should be pink, not red or white.

    3. Clean your pets' eyes gently to remove dirt and discharge. Use a damp cotton ball, wiping outward from the corner of the eye, and use extreme care not to touch their eyeball or scratch his cornea.

      If you notice persistent runny eyes and discharge, please see your veterinarian. Your pet may have an infection.

    4. Keep hair trimmed around your pets' eyes. Using scissors with rounded tips, carefully trim the hair around your dogs' eyes to keep their vision clear and prevent hair from poking and scratching.

    5. Avoid using irritating soaps, shampoos, and topical sprays or lotions. Protect your dogs' eyes before bathing them or applying ointments or flea-control formulas.

    6. Watch your pet's behaviour. Do they frequently paw or rub their eyes? Do they frequently squint?

    7. As much as dogs love feeling the wind in their face, when you drive with your pets, make sure their heads stay inside the car. The wind can dry your dog's eyes or cause potential irritation, infection, or injury if a bug or debris hits their eyes.

    8. Know your pets' breed's reputation for their eye health. Are they from a breed that might need a little more attention to maintain optimal eye health?

    9. Schedule regular well-pet checkups and be sure your vet checks your pet's eyes during each visit.

Paying attention to these easy practices and important cues of eye care for pets will help you keep your pets’ eyes healthy. Then, if an issue arises, you can catch it early before it worsens.

A Special Group of Cats and Dogs You Should Keep an Especially Close Eye On

Every pet owner should follow these tips of eye care for dogs and cats, but there’s a special group that warrants extra attention.

Being in this group is no guarantee your pet will have eye trouble, but the animals in this group are more prone to develop eye issues than other pets.

These animals, beloved by many pet parents for their sweet faces, are known as brachycephalic breeds.

The word brachycephalic, which comes from Greek, means “short head.” Sometimes they’re described as “flat-faced.” Whatever word you use to describe them, they have short snouts and widely-spaced eyes.

Cat and dog breeds in this category include:

  • Persian
  • Himalayan
  • Burmese
  • Bulldog, French and English
  • Pug
  • Boston Terrier
  • Boxer
  • Pekingese
  • Shih Tzu

These pets have nasal bones that are more compact than other pets, making their eyes more prominent in their faces. Sometimes, this prominence can expose their eyes to injury or make it difficult for their eyelids to completely cover their eyes when closed.

These are both issues that require attention from a veterinarian.

Following the ASPCA tips will help you spot issues that need a vet’s attention early on and help you optimise eye health support in dogs or cats that are brachycephalic.

Also, pay special attention to your pets’ eyes if they have long hair around their face that can cause irritation to their eyes. This includes breeds such as Maltese, Sheepdogs and Poodles.

Irrespective of the breed, your fur family’s eyes will only benefit from increased attention and eye care for pets as they age. It’ll also help them maintain their normal active lifestyle.

How Normal Ageing May Affect Your Pet’s Eyes?

Just as changes occur in your eyes as you get older, changes also occur in your pet’s eyes as a normal part of the ageing process.

A common change that many cat and dog owners notice is the clouding of the lens, often seen in dogs over the age of six and cats over the age of ten. Called “nuclear sclerosis,” this cloudiness usually develops in both eyes and can be alarming if you don't know it’s a normal and painless process of ageing.

Nuclear sclerosis comes on gradually, and even though your pets may not see as well up close – much like a middle-aged person needing reading glasses – they adapt well to the minor changes in vision it causes.

Dogs often experience another normal change when the tapetum lucidum, the layer of reflective cells that help with night vision, begins to get thinner.

If your dogs become hesitant to go outside at night, it may be due to this process, which decreases their night vision. Extra lighting can help ease his uncertainty.

On the flip side, some dogs become more light-sensitive as they age.

When this happens, it’s because the muscle in the iris that constricts the pupil weakens, making bright light less tolerable. This is also a normal change that progresses slowly and shouldn't interfere greatly with your dog’s everyday living.

If you notice any changes in your pet’s eyes that appear suddenly, or anything that starts to concern you, don’t delay a visit to your veterinarian.

Now that you have a good picture of what’s normal, let’s take a look at ways you can help your pets maintain healthy vision and ocular function.

How These Special Phytonutrients Promote Healthy Vision and Eye Function?

A healthy diet rich in antioxidants is key to supporting your pets’ vision and eye health.

Antioxidants are special phytonutrients (“phyto” is Greek for “plant”) that help protect your pets’ cells by fighting free radicals in their bodies and provide special eye care for cats and dogs.

To understand how antioxidants work, consider the case of a bicycle that’s left outside in the rain…

As the oxygen molecules in the water react with the iron in the metal, a chemical reaction takes place called oxidation. We know it as rust, a sign of breakdown and decay.

It’s not much different with your pet’s body – or your own, for that matter.

In the body, unstable oxygen-containing molecules are called free radicals. And they travel throughout your pet’s body searching for electrons to steal from stable molecules. When they succeed, the exchange of electrons that takes place is called oxidation.

Without antioxidants to absorb excessive free radicals, your pet’s body experiences oxidative stress. Even though it’s not visible, like the rust on a bicycle, damage as a result of too many free radicals takes place in your pet’s cells.

Eye tissues are especially sensitive to this oxidative stress from free radical damage.

Antioxidants pair with the unstable free radical molecules, helping to neutralise them and minimise oxidative stress on your pet's cells.

Making sure your pets eat a healthy quantity of antioxidants is important for their vision and eye health, especially if your pets are ageing or if they are dogs with shorter muzzles and protruding eyes.

Feed Your Pets These Superfoods to Boost Their Antioxidant Intake

Plant foods are rich in antioxidants, such as polyphenols, vitamins and minerals. But cats and dogs are natural carnivores, which means they need to eat mostly meat.

So, how do they get enough antioxidants?

In the wild, they eat prey, and the stomachs of those prey contain small amounts of fruits and vegetables. While it’s only a small amount, it’s crucial to maintaining their health. And the same is true for your pet.

That’s why Dr Karen Becker recommends feeding pets a species-specific diet with natural antioxidants as the ideal way to support your pet’s vision.

Here are some of the best vegetable, fruit, and protein sources of antioxidants for your pet's eyes. Also, Dr Becker recommends feeding your pets raw (unless otherwise noted) and in the case of fruits and veggies, gently pureed for optimal digestion:

  • Blueberries - Carotenoids, phytonutrients, and flavonoids
  • Carrots - Vitamin A and beta-carotene.
  • Kale - The antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin.
  • Broccoli - Beta-carotene.
  • Sweet Potatoes - Beta-carotene and anthocyanins (always serve your pet well-cooked)
  • Eggs - Lutein, sulfur, and cysteine (feed lightly cooked or raw if your pet tolerates them)
  • Sardines and Salmon - Omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA (any raw salmon MUST be deep-frozen for at least 7 days before feeding)

If you’re still feeding your pets a commercial diet, you can boost their antioxidant intake by mixing in some of these foods.

Every step you take to improve your pet’s diet, no matter how small, can promote good eye and overall health.

For more healthy feeding ideas and a how-to guide for introducing your pet to a species-appropriate diet, see the newest edition of Dr. Becker's Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats, available online.

This King of the Carotenoids Delivers Mighty Antioxidant Benefits for Your Pet’s Eyes

Carotenoids are an important class of colourful antioxidants that includes beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein.

Responsible for the bright yellow, orange and red hues of many fruits and vegetables, as well as the reddish colouring of some sea creatures, they help promote healthy vision.

Among this class of antioxidants, one stands out for its exceptional bioactivity…

Astaxanthin, known as the “king of the carotenoids,” possesses antioxidant capacity up to…

  • 65 times more powerful than vitamin C
  • 54 times more powerful than beta-carotene
  • 5 times more powerful than lutein

Astaxanthin exhibits very strong free radical scavenging ability, helping to protect your pet’s cells, organs and tissues from oxidative damage. It’s also far more effective than other carotenoids at “singlet oxygen quenching,” a process that helps stop a certain type of oxidation.

Your pets can’t make their own astaxanthin, so they must obtain it from their diet. There are only a small handful of sources, and they all have one thing in common…

They eat the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis.

This little aquatic organism is typically found in shallow bodies of water that dry up from time to time, such as rock pools along the seacoast.

It generates astaxanthin as a protective response when its water supply dries up. Then the water rises again, and it gets consumed by sea animals such as wild salmon, krill, shrimp and lobster.

The only way to get astaxanthin naturally is to eat something that’s in the food chain of the microalgae or the original source of the red antioxidant pigment itself.

Bark & Whiskers™ Eye Support features astaxanthin from Haematococcus pluvialis to provide its super-antioxidant power for supporting optimal vision and eye health.

Can Antioxidants That Protect Plants From Excess Light Also Protect Your Pet’s Eyes?

Among the carotenoids that promote health in your pet’s eyes, two are most notable.

These powerful polyphenols promote healthy eye function by fighting free radicals that have the potential to cause damage to cells.

They are found in high concentrations in parts of the eye that are crucial for clear sight and play an important role in supporting normal visual function. However, your pets’ bodies don’t produce these antioxidants, so they must be supplied through diet.

These antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin, are found in many leafy green plants, colourful fruits, and vegetables.

And in dogs, they are found in high concentrations in a part of the eye called the macula.

The macula is a tiny little spot at the back of the retina with big responsibilities. It contains a high concentration of photoreceptor cells that perform the job of detecting light, perceiving colour and delivering the fine details of your pets’ central vision to their brains.

Talking about cats, they don’t have a macula, but lutein and zeaxanthin are found in high concentrations in their retina, the part of the eye that receives and organises visual information.

In nature, lutein and zeaxanthin have been observed to function in plants by absorbing excess light energy to prevent damage from too much sunlight, especially from high-energy sunrays.

Another powerful eye support herb included in this formula for eye care for pets is Bilberry. This little shrub, with fruit like blueberries, is loaded with anthocyanins.

Anthocyanins are another type of antioxidants that support your pet’s healthy eye function.

In particular, they are found in his eyes’ aqueous humor, the thick watery substance that surrounds the lens and cornea. The aqueous humour maintains healthy eye pressure and transports antioxidants and other nutrients to other eye tissues.

And last of all, Dr Becker included vision-supporting antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E.

These vitamins also act as antioxidants, adding yet another line of defence against free radicals that might cause damage to your pets’ eyes.

Help Your Pet’s Eyes Thrive with Six Potent Antioxidants for Ocular Health

Dr Becker has designed this powerful lineup of six antioxidant vitamins and herbs to provide a broad range of free radical-fighting support targeted for your pets’ vision and ocular health.

You want them to enjoy the kind of health that allows them to run, jump, play fetch, chase toys and be your buddies throughout their lives. And supporting their eyes with potent nutrients will help ensure they can do just that.

Bark & Whiskers™ Eye Support delivers top-choice antioxidant ingredients that help nourish their eyes so they can stay active and engaged in the life they love.

And in this unique blend, Dr Becker has put together:

  • Astaxanthin – From Haematococcus pluvialis, one of the most bioavailable natural sources of astaxanthin, rather than synthetic sources. The astaxanthin used in this formula is made with a special non-toxic CO2 extraction method that yields a pure, top-quality product with 10% astaxanthin, compared to a typical 5 to 7% yield for other products.
  • Zeaxanthin – Sourced from Marigold flowers, not synthetic like some supplements
  • Lutein – Also sourced from Marigold flowers
  • Bilberry fruit
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E

These eye-supporting nutrients for eye care for pets are then combined in a natural liver-flavoured powder that’s easy to feed to your pet. It also has the advantage of being room-temperature stable.

Help Your Pet Enjoy an Active Life With Antioxidant Power to Promote Their Vision and Eye Health

Whether your pets are young or old, their eyes play an important role in how they interact with the world. They depend on their vision for normal, healthy mobility and interaction with their people.

And your pets’ eyes are complex, sensitive organs that can flourish with a little extra care to keep them functioning at their best.

Bark & Whiskers™ Eye Support makes it easy to provide that extra care with the free radical-fighting power of antioxidant nutrients that support your pets’ ocular health.

Dr. Mercola Pet Products
Jul 2020
Dr. Mercola Pet Products

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