Taking Care Of Your Small Animal Pet’s Eyes

Know what to watch for and some common causes of eye problems in small animal pets.

hamster face
© Courtesy of Leticia Materi, PhD, DVM 
A pet with discharge from the eyes likely needs a visit to the veterinarian to determine the cause.

A very common reason that small rodents like hamsters, rats and mice visit the veterinarian is due to discharge from the eyes. Because many of these animals hide illness, spend much of the day sleeping or can be very shy around humans, changes to the eyes often goes unnoticed until disease is very advanced. A few simple steps can help owners determine whether or not their pet is experiencing eye trouble.

Evaluating Eyes
1. Monitor the eyes for cleanliness. The eyelids and the fur around the eyes should be free from debris. Discharge from the eyes can make the eyelids or fur around the eyes appear wet or sticky. In some cases, there can be a foul odor from the skin, or fur might be lost due to constant wetness or from excessive grooming. Be sure to check the fur on the front arms as it may become matted from grooming discharge away.

2. Look for symmetry. Look at the pupil of each eye to determine if they are the same size. Examine the eyelids to ensure that one side is not puffier than the other. Also, look at how much the eyes protrude/bulge. The eyes should be symmetrical in all ways. An eye that appears to bulge more could indicate glaucoma or there could be disease behind the eyeball causing it to be pushed outward.

3. Look at the eyeball. Does there appear to be a hazy film on the eye or in the pupil? Do you see redness or white debris within the globe? These are signs of trouble and warrant a visit to your local veterinarian.

4. Red tears. Rats, mice, Mongolian gerbils, guinea pigs and Syrian hamsters have a specialized gland (the Harderian gland) by the eye that releases porphyrin, a red-tinged product that can make the tears look pink or red. However, excessive red tears can be a sign of trouble.

Causes Of Eye Trouble 
There are several reasons why eye trouble can occur. The two main categories would be environmental irritant or medical problems.

Environmental irritants: It is very important that the proper bedding be used. Cedar shavings and dusty bedding can be very damaging to the eyes of rodents. Cages need to be cleaned often to prevent urinary ammonia levels from rising. Use cleaning products that are safe like dish soap and vinegar to clean cages and rinse thoroughly.

Medical conditions: There are many reasons why a pet can develop eye disease. Below are a few. Seek veterinary care if you have concerns about your pet’s eyes.
1. Bulging eyes. An eye can appear enlarged either because it has been pushed out of the socket (i.e., abscess or tumor behind the eye, trauma) or it has glaucoma. Glaucoma is a condition where the eyeball itself becomes larger.
2. Conjunctivitis. Infection or inflammation of the lining of the eyelids can lead to swollen, red or crusty eyes.
3. Cataracts. The lens of the eye can become cloudy.
4. Corneal scratches/ulcers. Due to trauma or infections by bacteria, fungus or virus.

Note: This article is meant for educational purposes only and in no way represents any particular individual or case. It is not for diagnostic purposes. If your pet is sick, please take him or her to a veterinarian.

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