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Ophthalmologists provide many services to keep animals functioning

By Michelle Hall


No, they don't fit goats with glasses, but the ophthalmologists at Kansas State University's Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital do just about everything else for animals' eyes.

"We treat the animals to make them functional," said Dr. Harriet Davidson, associate professor of ophthalmology. "We are not concerned with making them able to read, for example. The object is to make them comfortable and functional in their environment."

ophthalmologistsDavidson said the two ophthalmologists, one resident and one technician see primarily dogs, followed by horses and then cats. They also have seen some exotic animals, including tigers, tapers, baby bison and even an eagle. Most animals' eyes are very similar, Davidson said, although they vary in shape and size and in the look of their retinas.

"Most patients are treated medically or a combination of medically and surgically," Davidson said. "We see a smattering of problems." She said the most common ailments they treat are corneal infections, cataracts and retinal problems; animals typically have similar problems with their eyes as humans do, although animals typically don't see as clearly as humans, but see motion better.

"We have the majority of the same technology as human ophthalmologists," Davidson said. "The only thing we don't do as well is vision assessment."

That's because it is difficult to hold the animals' eyes still or ask them to say what lenses are clearer for them, as humans do when they visit the eye doctor.

What they can do for animals with infections, cataracts and other eye problems are nearly what humans can expect from their ophthalmologists and are much more advanced than what a general veterinarian can do, Davidson said.

They have instruments to evaluate the back of the eye, for example, to see how the retina is functioning, as well as lasers, ultrasounds and an operating microscope for surgery that projects the image of the eye's layers on a television screen.

For corneal infections, doctors typically prescribe eye medications, but can also surgically remove part of the cornea if the infection is severe. For humans, corneal transplants are more common, but Davidson said in animals, a graft using the membrane covering the eye works just as well and is less expensive.

"We're not so concerned about what the animal looks like," she said.

For cataracts in animals, Davidson said they have the same instrumentation human ophthalmologists do to remove and replace the lens.

"Although this surgery can be done in many species, it is typically done in dogs," she said.

They also perform plastic surgery in the ophthalmology department. One example is a treatment for dogs with "droopy" eyelids that roll in.

"One type of surgery puts a suture in the eyelid and pulls it up like a venetian blind," Davidson said.

Of course, not everything they do is routine surgery. Recently, they saw a horse that had run a stick through his eyelid, pinning it closed.

"We pulled the stick out, and luckily it hadn't punctured his eye," Davidson said. "We cleaned the ulcer that had formed and repaired the eyelid."

In the ophthalmology department, the resident takes in all emergencies, evaluates the patient and treats them medically. Emergencies typically include animals getting poked in the eye. If surgery is required, either Davidson or her colleague, Dr. Alan Brightman, is called in to help.


Photo: Dr. Alan Brightman examines a patient with the help of students Tracey Jackson, left, and Nicole Porter, right.

Spring 2003