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Enucleation: Eye Removal in Cats and Dogs

Learning that your cat or dog needs eye removal surgery can be shocking, and you'll likely have many questions. In this post, our Tigard veterinarians explain pet eye removal in detail. We also discuss recovery time, potential complications, and more.

Enucleation in Cats & Dogs

Finding out that your pet needs an eye removed can invoke many emotions, including shock, alarm, sadness, and of course, concern for your pet's health during surgery and the recovery process.

The procedure to surgically remove a pet's eye is called enucleation, and it is normally performed by a veterinary ophthalmologist or ocular specialist.

Your vet may recommend this permanent and irreversible solution if:

  • Your pet's eye is badly or irreparably damaged
  • Your pet's eye pain is unmanageable
  • Your pet has an untreatable eye condition or tumor

There are two types of enucleation surgery: transconjunctival or transpalpebral. The transconjunctival approach to enucleation reduces orbital tissue loss and subsequent orbital sinking. There is less risk of hemorrhaging and the procedure time is faster overall.

Your veterinarian may opt for the transpalpebral approach if the eye is damaged beyond repair. During this surgery, the entire eye globe, including the elements contained by the conjunctival sac (eyelids, conjunctiva, and nictitating membrane) is removed. 

Sometimes, a veterinarian may be able to replace the inner contents of the eye with a prosthesis, which creates a more natural-looking eye. However, this is not appropriate for eyes with tumors or infections. 

Pet Eye Removal Surgery: Procedure & Cost

Hospital staff will take your pet's vital signs before pre-anesthetic drugs are administered. After sedation is achieved, general anesthesia will be started. Staff will then shave the fur around the affected eye and trim the upper eyelashes with fine scissors before using tape to remove fine hair from the skin.

The surgery will be completed depending on the surgical approach you and your veterinarian have chosen based on your pet's eye condition and needs. The eyeball and eyelids will be carefully removed and their wound stitched.

Stitches are used to close wounds. Some stitches or made of absorbable, invisible material and will not have to be removed because they gradually dissolve. More often, stitches are non-absorbable and are visible on the skin's surface. Your vet can discuss which kind of stitches were used and provide instructions on when to return to have them removed. 

Once the surgery is complete, the empty eye socket will be covered by skin. While the eye may remain swollen for a week or so, the scar should hardly be visible once the fur grows back.

The cost of your pet's enucleation surgery will depend on many factors, including their pre-operative and post-operative care needs. Ask your vet for a specific, detailed cost estimate of your pet's procedure.

Pet Eye Enucleation: Potential Complications

If infection occurs, the eye area will remain swollen for an extended period of time (longer than the week or so it would normally take to heal), and you may notice pus draining from the incision. In this case, the infection would require drainage and antibiotics. 

If you notice these symptoms and suspect your cat or dog may have a post-surgical infection, check in with your vet as soon as possible. 

When a pet's eyes are removed due to severe damage, vets sometimes have difficulty removing the eye in one piece. A small fragment of the rear eye membranes may remain. If enough of this tissue is left, fluid secretion may continue to ooze from the incision. If this is excessive, a second surgery may be required to completely clean the pet's eye socket. 

Recovery After Eye Removal Surgery

This procedure is a permanent solution for eye conditions that have not or will not respond to treatment. Completely removing an eye that's been damaged by injury, infection, or disease will ideally eliminate the issue and prevent 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 - There may be some mild bruising and swelling soon after your pet's surgery. It's normal for this to worsen in the first 24 hours, then ease gradually over the first week of recovery.

Weeping - You may see a small amount of blood-stained fluid come from your pet's wound or, occasionally, from the nose. This is because the tear ducts are connected to the inner nostrils. Contact your vet for further instruction and care if there are more than a few drips. Blood dripping from the nose should diminish about two to four days after the operation. 

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

Protect the Wound - You'll need to 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 wound 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, it's important to keep them indoors as they recover. 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 need to be removed within about 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 surrounding environment, 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 its challenges, but shouldn't be particularly different from having a fully sighted pet, as they tend to adapt well. You can help them by: 

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

Pet eye removal surgery is often recommended when eye conditions that have unknown causes. As such, prevention is not always possible. But preventing eye trauma is a good start and seeking veterinary care immediately if you detect a problem is important. 

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 Tigard veterinary team today to find out of there's anything wrong.

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