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What’s wrong with my cocker spaniel’s eye?

Vet Neil McIntosh advises a reader

Cocker spaniel’s eye problem

Q: I hope you can help me. I attach a photograph of my cocker spaniel’s eye which is worrying me. As you can see in the photo there is a film in the lower right corner of her eye. The pupil also seems to be to be ‘off-centre’.

I asked the vet about it who told me it was just an infection and gave me some eye drops but I’m not convinced. We have to wipe the dog’s eyes every morning to clear them up. The gunk only appears over-night, unlike true conjunctivitis. (Read more on canine conjunctivitis here.)

What does the vet say?

I am afraid I agree with you and not your vet. It doesn’t look like this is a simple conjunctivitis. I am afraid it looks like your cocker is suffering from Horner’s syndrome (named after the Swiss ophthalmologist, Johann Friedrich Horner), which is a fairly common unilateral neurological disorder of the eye.

The picture clearly shows paralysis of the third eyelid (in the inside lower corner of the eye). This makes it look like the pupil is out of position. Additionally, there is ptosis (drooping of the eyelids), miosis (constriction of the pupil) and enophthalmus (recession of the eyeball into the socket).

The conjunctiva often looks red and poor lid movement results in the overnight gunk. There is no real treatment and, bluntly, patients either get better or they don’t. Read how to treat your dog’s pollen allergies.

Over time you may notice your cocker suffering from wasting of the right side facial muscles.

What has caused this?

Often the reason for the eye problem is not discovered. However possibilities for it occurring could include:

  • Middle ear infections producing head shaking and loss of balance
  • Recent jugular blood sampling
  • Bite wounds to the neck
  • Facial trauma

The condition is more common in golden retrievers than working cocker spaniels and generally in middle age to older dogs, although this won’t console. In rare cases there could also be a thoracic, mediastinal or spinal tumour – but I stress that this is in rare cases.

This article was originally published in 2014 and has been updated.