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Enucleation: Eye Removal in Cats & Dogs

Our veterinarians in Vienna provide information on pet eye removal surgery, including recovery times and potential complications, to help you understand the process and feel more at ease.

What is Enucleation in Cats & Dogs?

Enucleation is a surgical procedure that involves the removal of an eye. This procedure is performed on both cats and dogs for various medical reasons. While removing an eye may seem drastic, enucleation can significantly improve the quality of life for pets suffering from severe eye conditions.  Enucleation is typically considered when other treatments have failed or when an eye condition poses a significant threat to the pet’s health and well-being.

Common reasons for enucleation in cats and dogs include:

  • Severe trauma - Injuries resulting from accidents, fights, or other incidents can cause irreversible damage to the eye.
  • Chronic infections - Persistent infections that do not respond to treatment can necessitate the removal of the affected eye to prevent further complications.
  • Glaucoma - Uncontrolled glaucoma can lead to severe pain and blindness. Enucleation is often the best option to alleviate the pet’s suffering.
  • Cancer - Tumors within or around the eye that cannot be effectively treated with medication or less invasive surgeries may require enucleation.
  • Severe corneal disease - Advanced corneal diseases that cause significant pain and vision loss may lead to the decision for enucleation.
  • Congenital defects - Some pets are born with eye abnormalities that compromise their quality of life and may benefit from enucleation.

How to perform an Enucleation on pets?

There are two types of enucleation surgery: transconjunctival and transpalpebral. The transconjunctival approach reduces the loss of orbital tissue and subsequent orbital collapse. It also reduces the risk of hemorrhage and shortens the overall duration of the procedure.

Your veterinarian may opt for the transpalpebral approach if the eye is irreparably damaged. In this procedure, the entire eyeball is removed, including the contents of the conjunctival sac (eyelids, conjunctiva, and nictitating membrane).

Occasionally, the vet may replace the internal contents of the eye with a prosthesis, giving the eye a more natural appearance. However, this method is not suitable for eyes with tumors or infections.

Pet Eye Removal Surgery: Procedure & Cost

Our staff will take your pet's vital signs before administering pre-anesthetic medication. Once sedation has been obtained, general anesthesia will be administered. Staff will then shave the fur around the affected eye and trim the upper eyelashes with fine scissors before using tape to remove the fine hairs from the skin.

The surgical procedure will follow the surgical approach you and your veterinarian have chosen based on the condition and needs of your pet's eye. The eyeball and eyelids will be carefully removed, and the wound will be sutured.

Stitches are used to close wounds. Some stitches are made of an absorbable, invisible material and will not need to be removed as they gradually dissolve. Most often, stitches are not absorbable and are visible on the skin's surface. Your veterinarian will be able to tell you what type of stitches were used and when to return to have them removed.

Once the surgery is complete, the empty eye socket will be covered with skin. The cost of your pet's enucleation depends on many factors, including the pre-and post-operative care your pet requires. Ask your veterinarian for an accurate, detailed estimate of the procedure's cost.

Pet Eye Enucleation: Potential Complications

If the area around the eye remains swollen for an extended period of time after surgery, and you notice a discharge of pus from the incision, it may be a sign of infection. In this case, the infection will require drainage and antibiotics.

If you suspect that your cat or dog has developed a post-surgical infection, it's important to consult your vet as soon as possible.

Due to severe damage, it can be challenging for vets to remove an animal's eyes in one piece. Sometimes, a small fragment of the eye's back membrane may remain, leading to the continued oozing of liquid secretions from the incision. If this secretion is excessive, a second surgical procedure may be necessary to clean the animal's orbit fully.

Recovery After Eye Removal Surgery

This procedure offers a permanent solution for eye conditions that have not responded to treatment or are unlikely to respond in the future. Completely removing a damaged eye due to injury, infection, or disease ideally eliminates the issue and prevents the condition from spreading.

Here's what you can expect and some actions to take to ensure your pet's recovery from surgery goes as smoothly as possible:

Bruising - Soon after your pet's surgery, some mild bruising and swelling may occur. It's normal for this to worsen in the first 24 hours and then ease gradually over the first week of recovery.

Weeping - It's important to note that a small amount of blood-stained fluid may come from your pet's wound or, occasionally, from the nose. This happens because the tear ducts are connected to the inner nostrils. If there are more than a few drips, it's important to contact your vet for further instruction and care. Additionally, blood dripping from the nose should diminish about two to four days after the operation.

Pain - Your cat or dog will likely feel a small amount of pain and discomfort post-surgery. Most of this can be managed with medication. Ensure you administer all medicines correctly once your cat or dog has returned home. Contact your vet if your cat or dog is still in severe pain. Once healing is complete, the surgical area should be pain-free and comfortable. 

Protect the wound - You must prevent your cat or dog from pawing at or damaging the surgical site to avoid infection or reopening the wound, especially in the first 3-5 days post-surgery. Your pet should wear their e-collar (Elizabethan collar, also referred to as a head cone). The incision has healed, and your vet says it can be removed (usually within 10-14 days). Your pet should be able to eat and drink with the collar in place, but if you have concerns, check with your vet about removing the collar at meal times. Make sure your pet is well-supervised if you do remove the e-collar. If you have other pets living in your home, you'll also need to stop them from licking your pet's wounds and sutures by separating them from your pet during your pet's recovery.

Keep your cat or dog indoors - If your pet normally ventures outside, keeping it indoors as it recovers is important. This decreases the risk of injury or infection.

Administer medication as directed - Your vet will prescribe pain medication to be administered while your [et recovers, likely for a week or so after surgery. Make sure to provide this as instructed.

Make sure your pet gets lots of rest & TLC - Arrange a warm, comfortable, quiet place for your pet to rest and recover after the surgery.

Provide soft food - If your pet is experiencing pain or a loss of appetite, soft food may help. Try warming their normal food slightly or giving them something with a strong scent, such as tuna.

Return to your vet for stitch removal - Stitches typically must be removed within 7 to 14 days after the operation.

Monitor whisker regrowth for cats - After enucleation surgery, whiskers won't typically grow back for six to eight weeks. Since cats use their whiskers to sense their surroundings, they should be monitored and protected during this timeframe, as cats without whiskers are prone to becoming imbalanced. 

Life After Eye Removal Surgery

Many pet parents wonder, "What happens when my pet loses an eye?". Some worry for their pet's safety and ability to enjoy a good quality of life.

Owning a one-eyed pet will come with challenges, but it shouldn't be particularly different from having a fully sighted pet, as they adapt well. You can help them by: 

  • Moving any objects the same height as your pet's head may cause harm or injury (since your pet will not be able to see from the side where they've had the eye removed). 
  • If your pet has a condition that may threaten the remaining eye, take other preventive measures as directed by your vet.
  • Speak to them when approaching on their blind side to avoid startling them. Tell guests to do the same and care extra when bringing small children and other animals around your pet. 

Most pets respond well to partial blindness and resume regular activities quickly. 

Enucleation Prevention in Pets 

Surgery to remove pets' eyes is often recommended for eye conditions whose causes are unknown. Prevention is, therefore, not always possible. However, preventing eye trauma is a good start, and it's important to consult a vet immediately if you detect a problem.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Do you have questions about surgical eye procedures for pets? Perhaps you are seeing concerning symptoms in your furry friend. Contact our Ophthalmology surgeon in Vienna today to find out if there's anything wrong.

New Patients Welcome 

Hope Advanced Veterinary Center is always accepting new patients! Our board-certified vets and specialists are passionate about restoring good health to Vienna's pets.

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