An enucleation is the surgical removal of an eye. This is usually done for conditions in which the eye is chronically painful, especially if the eye no longer functions visually.
Why would a pet need to have their eye removed?
If your pet’s eye is injured beyond repair, has a cancer growing on or inside the eye, or is constantly painful due to a condition such as severe glaucoma, your vet may recommend removal of the affected eye.
Of course, this isn’t a first line treatment. Your vet will first determine what’s involved with saving the eye — but unfortunately, sometimes restoring vision isn’t possible.
When a condition causes blindness and chronic pain, your vet will discuss with you whether an enucleation may be the best option for your pet’s comfort and quality of life.
In many cases, enucleation may also be less expensive than long-term eye medications, monitoring, and treatments. So, it may make more sense to remove a non-functional eye with a severe injury or disease, especially if leaving the eye in place presents a risk of complications or pain.
What are signs your pet may have an eye issue?
For conditions that lead to enucleation, eye changes are usually noticeable at home, especially if they happen suddenly.
Symptoms may include a very red eye, an eye that bulges out of the socket, one eye being significantly larger or smaller than the other eye, and severe cloudiness, squinting, or other eye changes. Your pet may also show generalized signs of pain or of not feeling well.
Don’t worry, not all of these symptoms mean an enucleation is in your pet’s future. Some symptoms, such as squinting, could be a symptom of a condition that is easily treated. But it’s important not to wait on vet care, because eye problems can get worse quickly if not addressed.
How is the need for an enucleation diagnosed?
Your veterinarian may use simple tests to determine whether or not your pet still has vision in the affected eye, including whether their eyeball movements and reflexes are normal.
Also, the vet may use tests such as an eye stain (to look for corneal ulcers) or a device to measure the eye pressure, to determine the overall health of the eye. The exam may also include dilating your pet’s pupil with special drops, so they can have a look at the retina and other structures in the back of the eye.
The specific tests performed depend on your pet’s symptoms, and the information will be used to help determine the best course of treatment.
What is an enucleation surgery like?
For an enucleation, a vet surgeon or veterinary ophthalmologist removes the injured or affected eye. Along with the eye, some of the inner eyelid tissues are also removed, so that tear production won’t drain into the pocket where the eye was.
Then, sections of the eyelid are stitched closed over the eye socket. This results in your pet looking like their eye is closed, rather than having a “hole” where the eye was.
This ocular surgery is usually straightforward, and pets feel much more comfortable after surgery if their eye was causing them pain.
Can you prevent enucleation?
The best way to prevent an enucleation is to prevent conditions that lead to it, such as:
- Preventing traumatic injuries (like being hit by a car) by keeping your pet indoors or on a leash.
- Seeking prompt treatment for eye infections, especially for young kittens. Cats are prone to viral infections of the eye, and severe infections during kittenhood are a common cause of eye damage in kitties.
- Following your veterinarian’s recommendations for treatment and monitoring to keep conditions, like glaucoma or cataracts, under control.
- Keeping up to date with routine veterinary checkups to help detect any whole-body conditions that could affect the eye (such as high blood pressure).
Some conditions, such as neoplasia or a cancer of the eye, are unfortunately not always possible to prevent. But reporting any eye changes to your veterinarian right away is the best way to seek early treatment and prevent complications or spread of the disease to the rest of the body.
How do pets adjust to life with just one eye?
Our pets’ brains are wired a bit differently than our own. While we rely heavily on eyesight as a primary way to interact with the world, dogs and cats are more holistic — they use a combination of smell, sound, sight, and touch.
So, even though losing an eye will certainly require an adjustment, most dogs and cats do very well!
If the affected eye was causing a lot of pain, some pets may have a spring in their step very soon after surgery. This is because the pain relief made such an immediate improvement in their quality of life.
To help your pet adjust to their new normal as quickly as possible, try these tips:
- To avoid startling your pet, don’t approach your pet from the side where their eye has been removed — they’ll have a “blind spot” on that side. If you must approach, use your voice to talk to them, so they know you’re there.
- Introduce your pet to their regular physical activities — like stairs, jumping, and playing fetch — gradually once they’re recovered. Start small, so your pup or kitty can adjust to a different depth perception.
- Don’t make any big changes in the home (furniture arrangement, etc.) until your pet is recovered and used to taking in the world with one eye.
And, most importantly, offer plenty of love and support.
What does recovery look like?
Specific instructions may vary depending on your pet’s individual needs. But common post-surgery recovery may include:
- Pet-safe pain medication.
- An Elizabethan collar. The collar is necessary to prevent scratching and rubbing as much as possible, so your pet doesn’t accidentally remove their sutures or scratch the surface of their eye while trying to reach an itch.
- Plenty of TLC and bed rest.
Your vet surgeon will also let you know how to monitor your pet at home, and when they need to come in for a follwup and suture removal.