A doctor examining the eye of a German shepherd.

You trim your pet’s nails. You brush their coat. You might even scrub their teeth. But how do you care for your pet’s eyesight? Would you know if they were having vision problems? And how, exactly, does your veterinarian check your pet’s eyes?

Just as you might examine your pet’s skin periodically for lumps or bumps, it’s a good idea to make sure their eyes look healthy, too. Start by carefully trimming away any stray hairs that may rub against the eye. These hairs can be irritating and can damage the transparent surface of the eye called the cornea.

The white portion of the eye, or the sclera, generally shouldn’t look red or inflamed, and there shouldn’t be abnormal discharge or excessive tearing.

When should your pet have an eye exam?

Obviously, if your pet has an any sort of eye injury, call your veterinarian. But you should also make an appointment if:

An interior graphic detailing various signs that may indicate your pet should get an eye exam.

What’s involved in an eye exam?

Pets can’t read eye charts, so how does a veterinarian evaluate their vision? The doctor may watch your pet walk around the exam room or toss an object like a cotton ball to see if your pet’s eyes follow the object. He or she might perform the “menace response test,” which is to gently bring a finger close to the pet’s eye to see if they blink in response.

Your veterinarian will also examine the tissues around the eye and eyelids, looking for stray eyelashes that may rub against the eye and any unusual growths. He or she will inspect the surface of the eye itself and shine a light into the eyes to evaluate if the pupils constrict normally.

In some cases, it may be necessary to perform some more intricate eye tests. To determine if there is a corneal scratch or ulcer, a small amount of dye is placed in the eye. Damaged corneal tissue will take up the dye and appear green, making the injury visible on the transparent surface. The veterinarian may also test the pet’s tear production and measure the eye pressure to test for conditions such as glaucoma.

To assess the inside of the eye, your veterinarian may give your pet some eye drops to dilate (enlarge) the pupil. This enables the doctor to better evaluate the lens, the retina, the blood vessels and the optic nerve.

When should my pet see an eye specialist?

Your veterinarian may refer your pet to a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist if more advanced testing or procedures are needed or if the eye is not improving with current treatment. With advanced training and certification in eye care, these doctors can remove cataracts and insert new lenses to restore vision, help with severe eye injuries, and treat other conditions such as eye cancer, glaucoma and retinal diseases.

Some eye conditions can be painful and even result in vision loss. So if you have any concerns about your pet’s eyes, don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian.

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.