Introducing a puppy to a household of cats—what could go wrong? If introductions are hasty or the cat feels cornered, a swatted warning is usually the feline go-to for saying back off. But things can go wrong if the swat lands home, especially if those claws are aimed for the eyes.
Some dogs get lucky and leave the encounter with a scratched eyelid. Last year I saw a young Labrador with a torn lower eyelid (courtesy of a cornered cat) receive an ophthalmology consult, which recommended surgery. That was because the laceration was extensive and parallel to the eyelid margin, meaning the blood supply was compromised and the wound likely wouldn’t heal well on its own.
A few months later, a German shepherd puppy—a Father’s Day present—came in for a torn 3rd eyelid, gained just minutes after the pup entered his new home and began chasing the household cat. The 3rd eyelid (also called the nictitating membrane) contains a major tear gland, so ensuring the health of the 3rd eyelid is important for maintaining the health of the eye. This puppy’s 3rd eyelid was damaged enough that the supporting T-shaped cartilage was exposed. The ophthalmology service was again consulted, and the ophthalmology resident performed the tricky surgery to reappose the torn, swollen tissue.
More recently, a bouncy German shorthair presented for squinting and ocular discharge after a run-in with a cat. With some topical and systemic pain medications on board, we were able to open his eyelids and take a look—and our hearts dropped. The pup’s eye was ruptured: The cat’s claw had gone completely through the cornea and lacerated the lens, and the ocular discharge the owners noticed was aqueous humor from inside the eye. Enucleation (removal of the eye) was one option, certainly cheaper but also not ideal for a 3-month-old puppy. Surgical repair of the lacerated cornea and medical management was a better option because it would preserve vision, although to what extent would remain to be seen. Repairing the lacerated cornea with corneal sutures or a conjunctival graft would prevent further leakage of aqueous humor, but continued medical management would be needed to reduce intraocular inflammation and infection, which can damage the retina. Also, the damaged lens would develop a cataract as it healed, which would also reduce vision.
All in all, cat scratches involving the eye are serious business, and as always prevention is the best medicine.