Removing a dog’s eye: reasons and post-op care

Enucleation. It’s a scary-sounding word and it’s a scary procedure for most pet parents. No pet parent wants to be told their dog’s eye needs to be removed (enucleation) but several medical conditions may necessitate this.

Rusty Koonin (17) with her ulcerated eye before enucleation surgery

If a dog is in severe pain from a medical condition of the eye, or the condition can lead to blindness the veterinary surgeon may have no other choice. Obviously the goal is always to try to save the eye.

Should the eye have to be removed, the procedure is called enucleation. It sounds horrifying but is, in fact, a fairly common procedure and dogs adapt very well afterwards.

When is enucleation needed?

• Severe trauma such as a puncturing or perforation of the eyeball. Dogs with prominent eyes such as bulldogs and pugs are more prone to injuries because their eyes bulge out.

• Diseases in or around the eye such as cancer or glaucoma

All of these conditions have two things in common: they are painful and they can cause blindness if left untreated.

Are there alternatives to enucleation?

Your vet will do everything possible to save the eye, taking into account the risk of blindness and the pain your dog is suffering. Discuss all options with your vet and ask for a second opinion if you’re uncomfortable with your vet’s response. However, your vet should always have your pet’s best interests at heart and he/she should perform a battery of tests before opting for surgery.

Rusty’s eye socket was stitched closed after the eyeball was removed


What happens after surgery?

After the eyeball has been removed, the edges of the eyelids are permanently stitched together. Long term, the eye socket may have a sunken appearance. Some vets will use special stitches to avoid this. Some pet parents ask that a silicone or plastic ball is inserted into the eye socket for cosmetic reasons but if infection or cancer was the reason for the surgery, this is not an option. Dogs recover well with minor pain initially following the surgery.

Post-op care

To protect the eye while the incision is healing, dogs are sent home wearing a plastic collar for a while and with pain medication and antibiotics. There may be some swelling or bruising and mild oozing from the wound. Discuss post-op care with your vet and what you can expect. It is important to arm yourself fully with this knowledge.

Long-term results

Most dogs will be back to their usual selves within days of surgery. There will be some adaptation of mobility needed but animals are remarkable and soon your dog will be back on his/her feet and roaring around the back garden as he or she always was.