Certain Dog Breeds Prone to Losing Eyeballs

September 2, 2015

On a recent Sunday evening, New Yorker Oscar Q. was watching his three dogs play when he noticed something unusual about his five-year-old Shih Tzu, Buddy: The dog’s left eye was dangling from its socket.

Oscar immediately took Buddy to the Animal Medical Center, who referred him to the ASPCA Animal Hospital (AAH) the following day. At AAH, Buddy was assessed by Drs. Kristen Frank and Anna Podgorska, and on Tuesday, Dr. Maren Krafchik removed his eye.

Displacement of the eyeball out of the eye socket is a condition known as proptosis, and it often occurs after fighting with a larger dog or following trauma to the face or head.

“I wanted to save his eye, but as long as he’s alive, that’s what's more important to me,” said Oscar, adding that Buddy often plays with other dogs, but such a thing had never happened to him before.

Eye proptosis is not unusual in brachycephalic dog breeds—those with bulging eyes, short snouts and shallow eye sockets—like Shih Tzus, Pekingese, Pugs, Lhasa Apsos and Boston Terriers. For these breeds, even mild restraint or play can result in eye proptosis. Dog breeds with long noses and deep-set eyes are less likely to experience proptosis.

Because proptosis occurs most commonly after trauma, there are no real preventative measures pet owners can take. “Owners of brachycephalic breeds should be aware that their pet is predisposed to this condition and seek medical attention immediately in the event of proptos,” said Dr. Frank. “In certain cases, [eye removal] can be avoided with prompt medical and surgical intervention by a veterinarian.”

As of August 31, 35 eye removal surgeries have been performed at AAH this year for a variety of reasons, including infections and deformities of the eye, diseases of the eye, and trauma like Buddy’s.

On the bright side, eye removal is usually tolerated well by dogs and cats, and Oscar says Buddy is recovering well. “We treat our dogs like kids,” he said. “And Buddy is adored by everyone.”