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Distichiasis: Eyelashes Irritating the Eye in Dogs
Drs. Foster & Smith, Inc.
Race Foster, DVM
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Distichiasis is a condition in which small eyelashes abnormally grow on the inner surface or very edge of the eyelids. Both upper and lower lids may be involved. Some breeds are affected more commonly than others, suggesting that it is an inherited trait. Cocker Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, Boxers, and Pekingese are among those most commonly affected.

What are the symptoms of distichiasis?

The abnormally-placed hairs growing from the lids irritate the cornea as they rub against it. The affected eye will become red, inflamed, and may develop a discharge. The dog will typically squint or blink often, much like a person with a hair or other foreign matter in the eye. The animal will often rub the eye against objects such as the furniture or the carpet. In severe cases, the cornea may become ulcerated and appear bluish in color from the aberrant hair or from self-mutilation by the pet.

What are the risks?

Eyelash touching cornea
Left untreated, severe corneal ulcerations and infections usually develop. The hairs can cause severe irritations and without treatment, the condition usually worsens. As stated, the animal may further irritate the eye through scratching or rubbing against it to the point of self-mutilation. Blindness can also result if infections develop.

What is the management?

The abnormal eyelashes are best removed through the use of surgery or electroepilation. With electroepilation, a fine needle is passed into the hair follicle and an electric current destroys the hair and its roots. This procedure may need to be repeated after several months. This is because all of the abnormal hairs may not have developed at the time of the first treatment. When these follicles do start to produce hairs, they will need to be treated.

If surgery is performed, the lid is actually split and the areas where the abnormal hairs grow are removed. Both procedures require anesthesia and a full recovery is expected. Antibiotic eye drops may be used following surgery to eliminate infections.

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