These are dramatic, but not uncommon or even difficult operations. Dogs manage quite well with only one eye and the cosmetic effect is often kinder than people imagine, with the cavity covered over with hairy skin, that with time sinks into the socket. I’ve included a description of the surgery below which may be slightly uncomfortable reading for some, so please proceed with caution.
How will my dog be prepared for surgery?
The dog is always anaesthetised in order to keep them still, calm and to prevent any pain. The vet will choose drug combinations that stop the eye from moving around during surgery (people’s eyes often move around during sleep). The area surrounding the eye is clipped of hair, cleaned and made sterile.
Part of the sterile technique is to place drapes (those green, table cloth things from old hospital dramas, or their modern paper equivalents) over the hairy areas of the dog. Keeping the hairy areas covered up limits exposure of the surgical wound to bugs.
The operation, technically known as Enucleation, is usually performed with the eye closed. To do this, the surgeon sews the eyelids together. They might leave a length of suture material dangling, or leave some large loops attached to the eyelids to make a ‘handle,’ so that the eye can be steadied (but not pulled!) while the surgeon works in the surrounding tissues. The eye sits in a soft pocket of pink tissue known as the conjunctiva.
What is involved in the Enucleation surgery?
The surgeon cuts an eliptical (eye-shaped!) incision around the (sewn closed) eyelid and then slowly, a little at a time, sets about separating the eyeball in its conjunctival sac from the soft tissues behind it, working little by little, all the way round. The eyeball has several muscles attached to it; this is how we move our eyes. When a muscle is reached, the surgeon cuts though it. Thus the eye becomes looser in its socket as the operation progresses. However, it is still important that the surgeon does not pull too hard.
This is because, at the back, the eye is attached to the brain by the thick optic nerve. This must eventually be cut, along with any blood vessels, which are tied off first to prevent bleeding. Most vets use curved ‘grabbing’ instruments known as haemostats for this.
When the eye has gone, surgeons may leave a drain in place for several days, which guides any fluid build-up to the outside. This can be removed easily in a consultation. There may well be swelling of the cavity and surrounding tissues, which will disappear in time. Most vets will recommend good pain relief.
Recovery and prognosis
It is possible to put a prosthesis (a false eye) in the place of the old one, but this is uncommon in Britain. It has no known benefit to the dog, except possibly in cases where the owner cannot otherwise tolerate its visual appearance. In general, however, once the swelling as gone and the hair grown back, the physical appearance isn’t as shocking as most owners expect. The absence of an eye often escapes stranger’s notice at first glance.
The dog will lose some depth of vision and you may notice a lack of accuracy when they’re chasing a ball. But in general having only one eye is tolerated well by dogs and they can enjoy a great quality of life.
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