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Enucleation: Eye Removal in Cats & Dogs

Learning that your cat or dog needs eye removal surgery can be upsetting, and you'll probably have lots of questions. Our veterinarians in Somerset explain pet eye removal, recovery times, potential complications, and more.

Enucleation in Cats & Dogs

Learning that your pet needs to have an eye removed can stir up many emotions: shock, worry, sadness and, of course, concern for your pet's health during the surgery and the healing process.

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

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 and transpalpebral. The transconjunctival approach to enucleation reduces the loss of orbital tissue and subsequent orbital collapse. The risk of hemorrhage is reduced, and the overall duration of the procedure is shorter.

Your veterinarian may opt for the transpalpebral approach if the eye is irreparably damaged. In this procedure, the entire eyeball is removed, including the contents of the conjunctival sac (eyelids, conjunctiva and nictitating membrane).

Occasionally, the vet may replace the internal contents of the eye with a prosthesis, giving the eye a more natural appearance. However, this method is not suitable for eyes with tumors or infections.

Pet Eye Removal Surgery: Procedure & Cost

Our staff will take your pet's vital signs before administering pre-anesthetic medication. Once sedation has been obtained, general anesthesia will be administered. Staff will then shave the fur around the affected eye and trim the upper eyelashes with fine scissors before using tape to remove the fine hairs from the skin.

The surgical procedure will follow the surgical approach you and your veterinarian have chosen based on the condition and needs of your pet's eye. The eyeball and eyelids will be carefully removed, and the wound will be sutured.

Stitches are used to close wounds. Some stitches are made of an absorbable, invisible material and will not need to be removed as they gradually dissolve. Most often, stitches are not absorbable and are visible on the surface of the skin. Your veterinarian will be able to tell you what type of stitches were used and when to return to have them removed.

Once the surgery is complete, the empty eye socket will be covered with skin. The cost of your pet's enucleation depends on many factors, including the pre-and post-operative care your pet requires. Ask your veterinarian for an accurate, detailed estimate of the cost of the procedure for your pet.

Pet Eye Enucleation: Potential Complications

In the event of infection, the eye area will remain swollen for a long time (longer than the week or so required for healing), and you may notice a discharge of pus from the incision. In this case, the infection requires drainage and antibiotics.

If you notice these symptoms and suspect your cat or dog suffers from a post-surgical infection, consult your vet as soon as possible.

When an animal's eyes are removed due to severe damage, vets sometimes find it difficult to remove the eye in one piece. A small fragment of the eye's back membrane may remain. If enough of this tissue remains, liquid secretions may continue to ooze from the incision. If this secretion is excessive, a second surgical procedure may be required to clean the animal's orbit completely.

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 will likely feel a small amount of pain and discomfort post-surgery. Most of this can be managed with medication. Ensure you 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 must 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 wounds 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 must be removed within 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 challenges, but it shouldn't be particularly different from having a fully sighted pet, as they adapt well. You can help them by: 

  • Moving any objects 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 care extra 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 

Surgery to remove pets' eyes is often recommended for eye conditions whose causes are unknown. Prevention is, therefore, not always possible. However, preventing eye trauma is a good start, and it's important to consult a vet immediately if you detect a problem.

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 eye surgery for pets? Maybe you're seeing symptoms of concern in your four-legged friend. Contact our vets in Somerset today to find out if there's a problem.

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