A dog’s eyes that can effortlessly grab your attention and steal your heart. However, it can be concerning if you look into those familiar eyes and notice that one eye gazes in a different direction or droops, a condition known as lazy eye
So, why does your dog suddenly have a lazy eye? A lazy eye in dogs, also called strabismus, can result from genetics, injuries, or nervous system dysfunctions. Other possible causes include tumors, vestibular issues, hydrocephalus, and immune-mediated myositis.
Seeing a lazy eye in your pet can understandably raise multiple questions and concerns. If you’ve noticed a sudden lazy eye in your furry friend, read on to learn more about the possible conditions and what you can do about it.
7 Reasons Your Dog Has a Lazy Eye
There are many reasons your dog might suddenly display a lazy eye, from simple genetics to other more serious disorders. The best way to treat your dog properly is to know the signs and symptoms of each.
If you have a new puppy or adopted a stray from a shelter, you may notice your dog’s lazy eye at first. It’s easier to pin a lazy eye on genetics with puppies since you will see it right from the start.
But if you adopt an older dog, you may not know how long the lazy eye has been present.
Regardless, some dogs have this condition simply because of their genetics. Certain breeds are more likely to have physical differences in their eyes. These breeds include:
- Boston Terriers
- Golden Retrievers
- Shar Pei
- Irish Wolfhound
If you own one of these breeds or a mix of one or more, there’s a good chance that your dog’s lazy eye is just an inherited trait. It results from a gene that weakens the eye muscles and usually occurs from birth; however, some dogs may develop it later.
If your dog has a genetically weaker eye muscle, it’s likely not causing pain or discomfort.
Another medical issue that can cause a lazy eye in a dog is a tumor. Depending on where a tumor grows in your dog’s body, it can impact the nerves and muscles around the eyes and the brainstem.
Some dogs can get tumors on, inside, or around their eyes, which can cause the muscles to malfunction. This malfunction can lead to abnormal eye movements and a lazy eye.
Tumors that grow on the backside of the eyeball can cause it to jut forward, leading to a swollen eyelid and a lack of movement capabilities.
In addition, tumors on the brainstem can impact a dog’s balance and the nerves responsible for controlling eye movement.
In the case of orbital tumors, sometimes surgery is the only option. Removing the mass can help minimize the risk of more complicated issues and reduce the chance of recurrence.
3. Vestibular Issues
Vestibular issues can sound serious, but it’s just a fancy way of saying problems with the inner ear. Dogs rely on their vestibular system to help them maintain balance for standing, walking, and running without falling over.
The vestibular system is also critical in maintaining eye coordination and controlling your dog’s eye muscles, which are important in moving its eyes.
There are plenty of issues that can impact this system, including the inner and middle ear. From old age and genetics to infections and nerve diseases, many things can negatively affect its operation.
Anything that damages the vestibular system can cause instability, disorientation, and irregular eye movements.
If your dog suddenly develops a lazy eye accompanied by a loss of balance, appetite, or energy, it could be dealing with a vestibular problem.
4. Nervous System Dysfunction
Like people, a dog’s body has a central nervous system. Nervous system problems can cause various issues impacting different parts of the body.
Nervous system dysfunctions can come from birth defects, infections, poisonings, nutritional deficiencies, and inherited disorders. They can also arise from injuries and cancers and can include autoimmune diseases.
Dogs may also get tumors somewhere within the nervous system.
If your dog suddenly has a lazy eye that he didn’t have before, he may have suffered an injury to his brain, spinal cord, or nerves.
Injuries such as falls, accidents, and trauma can cause damage to the head or face, which can damage the eye muscles and cause a lazy eye. Nerve damage can also cause changes to the way the eyes function and move.
If your dog suffers blunt force to the zygomatic bone, he could suffer a fracture that can lead to a serious lazy eye. This bone connects the jaw to the skull and sits just below the eye.
If your dog was recently in an accident and is suddenly displaying a lazy eye, contact your vet immediately for proper treatment of the injury.
If your dog suddenly has issues with his eyes and eye movements, he may be suffering from hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus is a neurological disorder where too much cerebrospinal fluid builds up in the brain.
Hydrocephalus comes with many possible symptoms, such as an altered mental state, a head tilt, head pressing, seizures, and loss of motor control. It can also lead to vision loss and irregular eye movements, such as a lazy eye.
Birth defects can lead to hydrocephalus, but injury, tumors, or an infection can also cause it. It’s most common in very young or very old dogs, and toy breeds are at the highest risk of contracting it.
Dog breeds most susceptible to hydrocephalus include the pug, Maltese, toy poodle, chihuahua, Pekingese, Boston terrier, English bulldog, pomeranian, and Yorkshire terrier.
7. Immune-Mediated Myositis
Myositis refers to the inflammation of muscles in dogs. Myositis can happen for several reasons, including parasites, drugs, and cancerous processes. However, the one most likely to cause issues is immune-mediated myositis.
Immune-mediated myositis means that your dog’s immune system is hyperactive. When this happens, the skeletal muscles become inflamed and damaged. Because these muscles can include those which control your dog’s eyes, this condition can cause strabismus in some cases.
What to Do About Your Dog’s Lazy Eye
There may not be much that you can do about your dog’s lazy eye. However, there are a few options to consider if you have concerns.
Talk to Your Vet
The first and the best thing you can do for your dog if you notice he suddenly has a lazy eye is to contact your vet. While this issue could be genetic or a simple fix, it can also be a significant problem.
It never hurts to go to the experts, and when it comes to your furry family member, you want to do everything you can to make sure they’re comfortable, happy, and out of harm’s way.
Your vet can assess your dog, evaluate his symptoms, and perform the tests needed to make a proper diagnosis. You and your vet can build a plan of attack to treat whatever the issue may be.
And if it turns out that there is no issue, you can go home confident that your pup is just fine.
Practice Muscle Therapy at Home
Did you know that you can treat your dog with muscle therapy from the comfort of your own home? Muscle therapy is a fantastic option for dogs with a lazy eye due to genetics and no underlying issue causing the symptom.
Muscle therapy is super easy, and you can do it anytime.
To perform muscle therapy, use a toy, treat, or even just your finger. Hold your object of choice in front of your dog, ensuring it sees the object and locks its gaze.
Move the object (or your finger) to your dog’s nose slowly, then bring it back and do it again. You can repeat this several times, but don’t tease your dog too long with a treat or a toy. It’s safe to do multiple times a day –be sure to remain patient with your dog.
There are no guarantees with this therapy method, but you may see improvements in the appearance and movement of your dog’s eye over time. Since there’s no risk and minimal effort involved, it’s worth it.
In some cases, surgery may be an option for dogs who suffer from abnormal eye conditions. Typically, more severe cases are eligible for surgical options. The following conditions may be treatable with specialized surgeries:
- Vestibular disease
Surgery may not be necessary for all the above conditions, but it may be an option. More severe cases may necessitate surgery, so it’s important to discuss your options and the risks with your vet before deciding.
Clean the Ears
As we mentioned earlier, issues with the middle and inner ear can lead to a lazy eye in the future. One of the best ways to prevent middle and inner ear issues is to keep your dog’s ears clean.
Develop and maintain a consistent ear cleaning routine to protect your dog’s ears from infection. It’s best to use a clean, soft cloth and a vet-approved dog ear cleaner. Gently wipe the outer part of your dog’s ear to remove dirt and debris.
How Can I Identify a Lazy Eye in My Dog?
A lack of focus in the eyes and a deviation in direction of one or both eyes is characteristic of lazy eye. In most cases, it will be obvious that your dog’s eyes appear to be looking in different directions from one another.
Dogs with strabismus may only be impacted in one eye, while others have the condition in both eyes. Your dog may look cross-eyed, or his eyes may look in opposite directions away from his nose.
For a complete diagnosis, your vet will want to perform a physical exam, and they may perform other tests, including X-rays or an MRI, to assess tissue and potential damage.
Does a Lazy Eye Hurt Dogs?
A lazy eye owing to genetics, will not cause your dog any pain or discomfort. In most cases, lazy eyes don’t bother dogs at all. What can cause your dog discomfort are other symptoms that come with the potential cause of said lazy eye.
For example, if your dog’s lazy eye is due to vestibular disease, his eyes may not bother him, but he could have an upset stomach. Additionally, a lazy eye due to severe injury may also cause your dog pain.
Do Thyroid Issues Cause a Lazy Eye?
Dogs can be diagnosed with thyroid eye disease. Thyroid disease is an autoimmune disease that impacts the eye muscles and the fatty tissue behind the eyes. In this disease, a dog’s eyes can become inflamed and cause them to bulge.
The inflammation and bulging of the eyes can make one or both eyes appear lazy, so a thyroid issue could be what’s behind the odd look of your dog’s eyes. Thyroid eye disease can also make it difficult for a dog to close its eyes and can lead to vision problems down the road.
Is a Lazy Eye Life-Threatening for a Dog?
A lazy eye is not a life-threatening condition for a dog in most cases. However, more serious instances will require immediate and, sometimes, long-term care.
Various cases of lazy eye can require medication or even surgery to resolve, and situations that involve malignant tumors could be life-threatening.
It’s always best to contact your vet with any questions about your dog’s health. These professionals will have the most accurate and helpful answers to your questions.
Will a Lazy Eye Go Away on Its Own?
It’s not uncommon for puppies to look cross-eyed when they’re born, but they will usually grow out of it quickly. However, any genetic cause of a lazy eye will probably not disappear.
As we mentioned earlier, you can perform therapy at home with your dog if he has a lazy eye due to genetics. Consistent practice of these methods may result in the straightening of the eyes, but there are no guarantees.
It can be shocking to notice a change such as a lazy eye in your perfect furry pet, but there’s no need to panic. The best thing you can do for your canine is to get him a vet appointment as quickly as possible so a professional can assess the cause and potential treatments.
While it’s possible (and likely) that nothing is seriously wrong with your dog, it’s still a good idea to get a full assessment done – just in case. You and your dog will feel much better afterward.