Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KCS) is a fancy word for Dry Eye, where tear production in the eye is insufficient, leading to inflammation and damage to the eye. It can occur in almost any species, but is most common in dogs. Certain breeds, such as Spaniel breeds, Shih Tzus, Labradors and Lhasa Apsos, among others are predisposed to dry eye in dogs. Dogs of any age can develop KCS, but it is most commonly diagnosed in middle aged to older dogs.
Signs include a persistent or recurrent conjunctivitis and general inflammation of the eye, a thick yellowish discharge that may form a film over the eyeball and a dull, dry looking cornea. This is a painful condition and if left untreated, can lead to full or partial blindness.
The most common cause of KCS is Auto-immune destruction (by the dog’s own immune system) of the tear glands. Other causes, such as certain drugs, certain viral infections, trauma to the area and hormone imbalances can cause dry eye. Some dogs are also born with defective tear glands.
Your vet can diagnose KCS with a Schirmer Tear Test, which uses a special strip of paper to check the amount of tear production over a minute. This test is also used for monitoring of treatment success. Autoimmune KCS is treated with Cyclosporine drops that suppress the local immune system and hence enhance tear production in the eye. Artificial tears can also be helpful but need to be administered every 2-3 hours if used on their own. If there is an infection preset secondary to the KCS, antibiotic eye drops may also be prescribed initially. In cases that do not respond to drops, surgery to redirect saliva into the eye for lubrication may be possible. This is a highly specialized procedure with some possible complications, so should only be used after all forms of medical management have been attempted.
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