Australian Shepherd with third eyelid

Bindi, a 2.5-year-old female Australian Shepherd, came to us with an elevated third eyelid.

Dogs, like many animals, have a nictitating membrane, or third eyelid. This eyelid cleans and moistens the eye, provides antibodies to reduce the chance of infection, and protects the cornea.

Normally, a dog’s third eyelid is out of sight while the dog is awake – though it may be visible when the dog falls asleep, if he sleeps with his eyes slightly open. When you can see the third eyelid, as with Bindi, it is an indication that something is wrong.

When Bindi came to Springs Veterinary Care, we thought she had scratched her eye, causing her third eyelid to protrude for protection. We stained her eye to look for a scratch, but none was found. We gave her eye drops, but after three days of using the drops, she was having a hard time eating and had obvious facial swelling on the left side of her face.

Facial swelling is often a sign of inflammation or  infection from:

  • Dental disease
  • Injury
  • Snake bite
  • Foreign body

A foreign body could be something the pup chewed on that penetrated the body tissue, such as a stick or bone, or a quill or migrating plant material moving from the outside in. Once under the body tissue, the foreign body creates an inflammatory reaction that may stop it’s migration and an infection from bacteria on the foreign body.

Bindi is a nervous girl, so we sedated her to do a more thorough mouth and eye exam. We found bruising inside her mouth, but no wounds or foreign material. Without a definitive cause visible, Dr. Amanda Smith, Medical Director at Springs Veterinary Care, treated Bindi for a potential prior injury or foreign body and gave her antibiotics and steroids to help with the swelling.

This treatment worked well – for a while. At her final recheck, Bindi’s third eyelid was again elevated. Ideally, we would have done a CT scan on Bindi, but this was outside of her family’s budget. Instead, when Bindi was put under anesthesia for her spay, Dr. Smith checked again for a foreign body. She conducted a thorough oral exam, but still found no indication of a foreign body causing the suspected retrobulbar abscess.

Like many carnivores, dogs have an incomplete orbit for their eyes, which allows them to open their mouths wider, but leaves the orbital socket unprotected by the floor that protects humans’ eyes. Consequently, dogs’ eyes are more susceptible to trauma and infections of the eye than humans are. When an infection causes a pus-filled pocket to form behind the eyeball itself, it’s called a retrobulbar abscess.

Symptoms of a retrobulbar abscess include:

  • Bulging eye
  • Discharge from the eye
  • Fever
  • Bad breath
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite/pain while eating
  • Eye redness
  • Reluctance or refusal to chew
  • Swelling around the eye

Dr. Smith made an oral incision, behind Bindi’s molars, to drain fluid and purulent material, and, potentially, a foreign body caught in the fluid. No foreign body was ever found. This treatment worked for Bindi, and she is now doing great at home with her family!

If you notice any abnormalities with your dog’s eye, please call us right away at 512-829-6140.