Pets, like people, may suffer from a variety of eye diseases or injuries that require topical ophthalmic medication. It is important that only appropriate ophthalmic products prescribed by the veterinarian for that specific patient be used. Even a product that has been previously prescribed for the same patient should not be used for a current problem without consulting the veterinarian. Otherwise, serious consequences, even blindness, may occur.
Irritated or inflamed eyes may be quite painful, and many pets resent application of topical medication. It is important to adequately restrain the animal to avoid injury or trauma to the patient or to the person administering the medicine. Your veterinarian will discuss appropriate techniques of restraint with you.
Solutions, suspensions, and ointments are the topical forms of medication most often prescribed by veterinarians. Solutions and suspensions are easier to apply than ointments and are less likely to cause injury to the animal. Suspensions, unlike solutions, must be shaken prior to use. The dropper bottles are held a couple of inches away from the eye and the solution can simply be dripped (one drop only) into the eye. On the other hand, the ointment tube must be held very close to the eye (but not touching) prior to application. The ointment tube tip can, therefore, inadvertently be jabbed into the eye, resulting in injury, should an inadequately restrained pet move its head unexpectedly or suddenly. Ointments may also cause blurred vision for a few minutes following application, which may be worrisome for the pet. An advantage of ointments, however, is that they require less frequent administration than do solutions or suspensions. The pet’s own blinking reflex will spread the medicine, whether ointment or drop, evenly over the eye surface.
When using a solution or suspension, the eyelids are usually spread apart (with animal’s nose pointed toward the ceiling) and one drop is squeezed from the bottle onto the eyeball. Avoid applying more than one drop at a time, since the second drop will simply wash out the first drop and cause more blinking, which also decreases the effectiveness of the drops. Do not touch the tip of the container to the eye or surrounding structures to avoid contamination of the bottle’s contents with micro-organisms. Following application, the cap should be tightly replaced, and the medication should be stored in a cool, dry place (unless otherwise directed by your veterinarian or pharmacist) out of the reach of children and pets.
When administering an ophthalmic ointment, the lower eyelid is gently retracted, exposing the lining (conjunctiva) of the lower lid. Before applying, a small amount (a strip about one-eighth inch long) of the ointment should be squeezed out and discarded. This step will eliminate any dried ointment that may have collected at the end of the tube, which if applied to the eye, can cause irritation. A strip of ointment one-fourth to one-half inch long (depending upon your veterinarian’s directions) should then be deposited into the space between the conjunctiva and the eyeball. Do not allow the applicator tip to touch the eye to avoid contamination of the medication and possible injury to your pet. Replace the lid tightly and store appropriately.
If both a solution or suspension and an ointment must be applied to the eye, apply the drop first; wait five minutes; then apply the ointment. The same time period should lapse between successively applied drops. Ointments serve as a barrier to other topically applied medications. If the ointment is used first, wait 30 minutes before applying a second ointment or a drop.
Applying ophthalmics can be challenging for an owner and may require assistance from another person for adequate restraint. Tell your veterinarian if you are unable to apply the medication, since there may be alternative treatment options available. Also, call your veterinarian immediately if the eye condition worsens (e.g. if there is an increase in redness or discharge). Your veterinarian will also tell you any other signs of danger that need to be reported. Some eye conditions can worsen rapidly and must be re-evaluated by the veterinarian to avoid possible permanent vision loss.
Peiffer, Robert L Jr. and Peterson-Jones. Small Animal Ophthalmology, 2nd ed. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders. 1997.
Pratt, Paul W. ed. Medical, Surgical, and Anesthetic Nursing for Vet. Technicians, 2nd ed. Goleta: American Veterinary Pub., 1994.