Saturday, March 1, 2014

Gerty's Indolent Ulcer

Gerty on January 5, 2014
This is Gerty. She is an older spayed Boxer who came in to see me on a Sunday.
Can you appreciate the squint in her left eye? And the mucous that is being produced? 

A squinting eye is a painful eye, and an eye that is producing green/yellow thick mucous is an eye that is sending massive numbers of white blood cells to it to try to beat off some villain or disease. If your pet ever looks like this it is time to see your vet. 

My first thought when I see one of these guys is that they have a defect on their cornea. We have all gotten an eyelash in our eye, and we all know how uncomfortable that can be. Some of us have even had the misfortune of getting a scratch on our cornea and know first hand that it is immensely painful! 

Your cornea is the clear covering of the globe of your eye. It is soft, flexible, and incredibly beautifully organized to repel water and yet stay clear enough to see through. It is made even more elegant by the constant necessity to be kept moist by an endless showering of tears that your eyelids distribute over it. Think of it like the windshield on your car. Can you imagine using your windshield wipers to clean your windshield without wiper fluid or rain?

We have all had a rock fly up on our windshield and chip the outer glass when we are driving. Well that sort of scenario can also happen to your cornea. If you get a piece of... well, almost anything/something in your eye, Or, if you are blinking without tears (wiper fluid), Or, if you are older and more susceptible to disease and damage, your cornea can can ulcerate (think of that chip in your windshield) and it will cause not only pain (squinting), but also excessive tearing that leads to white blood cell recruitment (mucoid ocular discharge) and a subsequent visit to see me.

The needed tools for a fluorescein test.

On physical examination an ulcerated cornea looks a little cloudy/milky, or blueish. Sometimes there are even small blood vessels that can be seen crawling down from the sclera (white part of the eye) to try to deliver more healing powers to the wound. But, to the naked eye a cornea can be hard to see. It is also difficult to see the borders of the ulcer. To help with this we use a fluorescent dye to highlight the ulcer. The dye will stick to the area of the eye that has a wound. 

After the stain is applied we use a black light to clearly see the extent of the damage. The fluorescein stain allows us to see;
  1. How big the ulcer is, and,
  2. How deep the ulcer is.

The whole family gets involved in this diagnostic test.
It helps my clients understand the ulcer and helps build compliance to come back for re-checks,
and it is just plain, super cool and fun!

A little messy at first.

Can you see Gerty's ulcer?
(Hint, it is from 5 o'clock to 9 o'clock on her eye.)

The medications I sent Gerty home on.
A lubricant and an antibiotic.
I also sent her home with an e-collar, because we all want to rub a painful eye,
BUT this will ALWAYS make things worse!
Gerty came back four days later for a re-check. The eye was very gradually improving, so we continued the course of her treatment. Usually ulcers need about a week or two to heal.

Every eye ulcer that I see is given written take home instructions and told to 
"call me immediately if the eye worsens!"
I also schedule a re-check in 3-5 days.
These are vital,,eyes get better FAST, and can worsen just as fast.
Those ulcers can eat through the cornea and cause the eye to rupture!

Understand what an ulcer is, what treatment options are needed and when you should come back.
AND, if you think things are not getting better (in a few days) OR if you ever think that the eye is worsening RETURN ASAP!

Gerty returned again on January 25th. Unfortunately, this time the ulcer looked more like an old chronic non-healing ulcer. So, it was time for a new strategy! We switched to  stronger antibiotic and discussed referral to an ophthalmologist, surgery, running additional diagnostics and the long term consequences to vision if we couldn't diagnose and treat her eye.

Still squinting

Conjunctiva is red (red = angry).

And even without the stain you can see the cloudy ulcer is still there.
We talked about referring Gerty at this point because I was concerned about the chronicity, severity, and possible underlying causes that would be influencing the eye and making it reluctant to heal. After a long discussion we decided to try a last treatment option.

On February 4, 2014, Gerty returned for a grid keratotomy for her indolent ulcer.

A few drops of a topical ophthalmic anesthetic.
A numb eye is a happy eye!

A few minutes to let the anesthetic numb the eye, but already it feels better!

The ulcer has deposited a thick layer of non adherent cells on the defect..but the ulcer is not healing.
An indolent ulcer results when the newly recruited army of cells that are sent to the wound fail to adhere to the ulcer. It causes a sheet of cells in the ulcerated area, but unfortunately they just fail to stick to and stay put where they are needed. The ulcers, if left untreated, allow bacteria to pool and proliferate, this further prevents the ulcer from being able to heal. A long standing, untreated ulcer can lead to such significant edema (cloudiness) and scarring of the once soft flexible cornea, that it can become impossible to see through. Think of it like a blanket, or a foot of snow, on your windshield.
A cotton swab is used to remove the dead layer of non functional corneal cells.
If they didn't do their job it's time to remove them and let a new group of warriors try.
For some crazy reason, (truly, I don't know why?), Boxer's are predisposed to indolent ulcers. The treatment for these non-functional, incorrect healing ulcers is to remove the non-adherent sheet of cells, and the the eye a chance for  "do-over."

I applied a few drops of an anesthetic, waited a few minutes for it to work, and then just apply a cotton swab to...

..peel off the layer of cells.

The next part of the procedure is to give a fresh bed of "ready to stick to it" tissue. This is called a grid keratotomy. The procedure involves using a small needle to scratch the surface across and beyond the borders of the ulcer. This cross-hatching pattern allows a path for the cells to follow as they migrate in and try to again heal the wound.

Gerty went home again with an e-collar and antibiotics. She returned a few days later for her re-check. Most dogs that undergo a grid keratotomy heal within 7 days.

Re-Check appointment Sunday February 16, 2014

No squinting, and no redness!

A happy healthy girl with two normal happy healthy eyes!

Special Thanks to Gerty's family for letting me use her photo's her story and for alllll of those many re-checks..and to Gerty for always being such a patient good girl with alll of those re-checks!

If you have a pet question of any kind, or if you have a pet photo, experience, or just want to meet other pet enthusiasts you can find us at, or share pet stuff with me on Twitter @FreePetAdvice. Or I'm at the clinic, Jarrettsville Vet

Related stories: 

Anatomy of the Eye

The Eye, Timing Matters

Golden Retriever Uveitis

Eyelid Masses, Surgery

Enucleation Surgery

Cherry Eye Surgery

Wren, the apple of my eye,
whose eyes aren't perfect either..
but, that's another story for another day.


  1. Such an interesting story and Gerty is magnificent. There is no way my pup would be that patient- mild conjunctivitis was challenging enough

    1. It takes a calm patient pup to allow so many people to not only hold their head still, but also hold their eye open while we drag a needle across it..
      Gerty is a very very good girl.

      Thanks so much for visiting! I am enjoying your blog!!.


  2. I stumbled across this looking for information on dog ulcers! What a story! Yikes! I was hoping to get some advice...if my dog has a history of ulcers, can I buy generic nexium online and give it to him? I had a roommate that gave her dog his Nexium and it seems to work ok. This is what Im trying to order: