Trip to the Emergency Vet: What to expect when your dog scratches her eye!

Kinsey’s had a bad run of luck these last few months. A stomach bug that had her vomiting once or twice a day, a foxtail wedged in her ear and a scratched cornea.

You might wonder, how does a dog scratch her cornea? Simple. Rabbits run beneath cacti to avoid crazed Labrador Retrievers.

It started as our usual evening walk along the wash. There were, unfortunately, quite a few rabbits and Kinsey, for some reason, found them particularly irresistible that night. I watched her stick her head deep into a cactus plant and thought to myself, I’m going to have to pull needles from her nose. What happened was, unfortunately, much worse.

That’s Quincy, walking along the trail that runs behind my house. Below the trail, water runs down from the mountains out to the Santa Ana River. We call it the wash.

We got back to the house and Kinsey began rubbing her face on my chair. It was unusual behavior, so I called her to me, and saw that she could not open her right eye.

I immediately took her into the bathroom and flushed the eye with saline solution. I did it three times, but it made no difference. When I looked in it, I couldn’t see anything. I hoped, after a few minutes, it would quit bothering her. Instead, she continued to rub it on the furniture and scratch at it with her paw.

Kinsey is not a complainer. For something to bother her that much, she had to be in pain. I don’t take chances with eyes, so it was off to the emergency vet.

The cacti are beautiful, and bloom every spring. Unfortunately, I’ve had to spend a good chunk of time pulling needles out of Quincy’s and Kinsey’s muzzles.

Amazing things occur in the waiting room of the emergency vet. I got to see a lot of them, as I had to wait for two hours.

A young woman came running in, sobbing hysterically, holding a tiny Chihuahua. She said it was having seizures. They took the puppy into the back. When I checked out, I asked about it. Turned out the dog had a spinal injury and had to be put down.

Another woman brought in a young, wild bird in a small box. They took it.

A rotund man carried his rotund fox terrier into the exam room. They left the door open, and when the dog had his temperature taken in his rear, they muzzled him.

A woman with dark hair held her brown, fluffy, smush-faced dog to her chest. When her dog walked, it tilted to one side. She believed the dog had a foxtail in her ear. Terrible things, foxtails.

Eventually, the vet came to talk to me. I told her the cactus story. Kinsey still wouldn’t open her eye. The vet took Kinsey into the back for an exam. Fifteen minutes later she returned and said: I’m perplexed. Your dog is obviously in a lot of pain. It took three of us to hold her down and look in her eye. I looked everywhere, pulled back her third eyelid, and couldn’t find a thing. We stained her eye, and there weren’t any scratches. I don’t know what’s going on. We gave her a shot for pain. I’m sending you home with antibiotics and pain medication. She’ll have to wear a cone, because we don’t want her to rub her eye and make it worse. You’ll need to watch her. If her eye turns blue or cloudy, she must come back immediately. If you don’t see any improvement in 48 hours, bring her back.

Up until that point, I’d felt pretty calm about the whole thing. I thought Kinsey had a cactus needle in her eye, they’d remove it, and she’d be fine. I didn’t even know a dog’s eye could turn blue. Blue had to be bad. Cloudy would most likely indicate blindness. A search dog can’t be blind.

On the drive home, I worried. How quickly would the eye turn blue? Was cloudy worse than blue? Once it was cloudy, how quickly would she go blind? How competent was this vet?

At home, even with the pain shot, she could hardly open her eye. When Sherlock the Golden Retriever got close to her, she growled at him. Kinsey never growls.

That night, I was up every couple of hours. I had to pull her eyelids back to check the eyeball. How could I even tell if her eyeball was blue or cloudy when I could hardly see it? It’s like she rolled it into the back of her head intentionally because she did not appreciate my inspection.

Just trying to help, Kinsey. Just trying to help.

By six o’clock the next morning, she could keep her eye open about halfway. At least now, when I checked it, I could actually see if it was blue and/or cloudy. Of course, being paranoid, I kept thinking it looked cloudy. But, then I’d look at the other eye, and it seemed the same. Or did it?


Luckily, I ran into a friend of mine that’s a large animal vet, and she checked Kinsey’s eye for cloudiness. She immediately diagnosed Kinsey with a scratched cornea. She told me that Kinsey needed to be out of the sun, and that I needed to watch her eye to see if it turned white or yellow. White or yellow was bad. It meant she had to go back to the vet immediately.

I felt better because she didn’t think Kinsey’s eye was cloudy, but also worse because now I had to make sure it didn’t become white, yellow, blue or cloudy. I took her with me everywhere that day, and checked her eye at frequent intervals. Who knew how quickly it could go south?

I’m happy to say Kinsey’s eye made a steady improvement. As the day went on the swelling decreased, and she opened her eye wider and wider. She had some clear drainage that continued for several days, and I had to put drops in every eight hours for a week.

Kinsey never got very good at walking around with the cone. She kept bashing into doorways. However, she did manage to eat and drink with it on. Nothing can stop that dog from eating.

After a week, I took her for a short, leashed walk on the wash to prevent any more cacti incidents.

So, after all of that, here are my tips for a dog with an eye injury:

Keep a bottle of saline solution in the house. If your dog won’t open her eye, hold it open and flush it out. Use a lot of saline, like a bottle’s worth.

Know the location of a good emergency vet. Some are honest, some are not. While I know a trip to the emergency vet will be more expensive than a regular vet, it shouldn’t be astronomically more. Kinsey’s trip cost me just over $200.

I don’t take chances with eyes. I rinsed it with saline, and gave it about ten minutes. Then, it was off to the vet. Don’t wait.

If your dog scratches her cornea, keep her out of the sunlight. It’s painful.

If your dog’s eye changes color, that’s bad, and she needs to go to the vet immediately!

While I hope this never happens to your dog, if it does, at least now you’ll have a better idea of what to expect. And I hope you find comfort in the fact that Kinsey fully recovered. Much of the time, with the help of a good vet, your dog will heal up just fine.





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