Your Puppy’s First Eye Exam

Puppies experience several medical evaluations in their young lives to make sure they are off to a happy, healthy start. One of the things you can expect your veterinarian to do is examine your puppy’s eyes.

Why an eye exam?

Sight is a vital part of any dog’s life, so it is important for a veterinarian to evaluate your pup’s eyes on a regular basis. Many eye injuries and disorders are easier to treat if caught early, as well as being less painful and stressful. If you ever notice something wrong with your puppy’s eyes, such as excessive tearing or squinting, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible.

What to expect

For a routine eye exam, your veterinarian will look into your puppy’s eyes with lights and lenses that allow her to see their internal structures. Your pup’s eyes may need to be dilated, which is done with drops just like in a human eye exam.

The veterinarian may also perform eye reflex tests by gently tapping your puppy’s eyelids, and waving fingers and shining a penlight into each eye. These simple tests tell the veterinarian that the nerves that process sight and protect your puppy’s eyes from damage are working properly.

If you are seeing a veterinary ophthalmologist or if an eye problem is suspected, more tests will be done. One is the Schirmer Tear Test, in which a small strip of paper is placed under your puppy’s eyelid to measure tear production. Fluorescein stain is placed into the eye to check for scratches or ulcers on the cornea. This stain is neon green and washes away as your puppy blinks, but if your puppy has a scratch or ulcer on the cornea, the stain will stick in that spot.

A tonometer is used to check for glaucoma, or high pressure in the eye. Different models vary, but all tonometers involve gently tapping the surface of the eye so the device can calculate the pressure. Your veterinarian may choose to place a drop of topical anesthetic first to numb the eye and make the experience more comfortable.

Getting your puppy ready

Most dogs handle eye exams really well and don’t mind the drops or tests. The best way to prepare your puppy for that first eye exam is to get him used to being handled, especially around his face. Whenever you are snuggling, be sure to pet his face, even running your hand over his eyes. Practice gently holding his head and muzzle in your hands, starting with just a second or two and gradually increasing the time. If he struggles, release him and go back to petting or a shorter length of time holding his head. Eye exams are fairly quick, so he will need to hold still for only a short amount of time and can take breaks.

To prepare your puppy for eye exam tools, hold an object in your hand and praise when he investigates it. Then give him a treat so that he has to reach past the object with his face right next to it. Do this two to three times on each side of your puppy’s head.

Another helpful thing to do ahead of time is to teach your puppy to sit. This makes it easy for the veterinarian to look at the eyes while you support your pup’s rear and pet him. Praise him for being a good dog during the exam.

Most important, stay calm! If you are happy and relaxed, your puppy will be too.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.