Shih Tzu And Eye Problems

Shih tzu and eye problems.
ID: 157148584 © thisislove | Depositphotos

Shih Tzu And Eye Problems

What is it with shih tzu and eye problems? The comparatively flat face of the shih tzu, together with the shallow eye sockets and protruding eyes leads to several potential eye problems, particularly regarding injuries to the cornea. Once the surface of this protective layer has been breached, it is likely that an infection will follow. The nature of these injuries mean they are usually very painful and vision can be reduced, with permanent blindness in the worst cases.

Here, then, are the most common eye problems that a shih tzu may encounter. There is no reason to presume that your shih tzu will ever suffer from any of these eye problems, just be aware that the shih tzu breed, in general, is known for a higher than average incidence of these ailments.


Keratitis is an inflammation of the cornea initiated by a scratch or puncture, probably caused by abrasive particles in the wind, contact with foreign objects or by the dog actually inflicting it himself by rubbing the eye with his paw. If you let your shih tzu put his head out of the window of the car as you drive along, there is a high risk of him contracting keratitis. Keratitis can further be complicated by progressing to a corneal ulcer.

A shih tzu leaning out of a car window.
ID: 116903368 © Chaoss | Dreamstime


  • The dog squints with one eye.
  • Watery eye.
  • A bright redness on the eye.
  • Partial or total blindness in severe cases.


  • This condition can be treated with antibiotics, painkillers and eye drops, even if an ulcer is present.
  • The veterinarian may sew the third eyelid over the eye to keep the wound clean.
  • If an ulcerated cornea will not heal, then surgery may be necessary.


This condition is certainly prominent with shih tzu because of their shallow eye sockets. The eyeball gradually moves forwards over time until it eventually pops out and the eyelids close behind it, which is very painful for the dog.


  • Initially, there will be an inflammation of the eye.
  • The eyeball slowly protrudes from the eye socket more and more each day.
  • Possible blindness.


  • It is most likely that surgery will be needed to replace the eye into its socket.
  • Antibiotics to prevent infection after surgery.
  • In extreme cases, complete removal of the eye to prevent further suffering.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

PRA is a progressive deterioration of the photoreceptors in the retina. This disease is passed on genetically.


  • At the onset, the dog will experience night blindness and will tend to bump into things in the dark.
  • As the disease progresses, daytime vision will also deteriorate until total blindness sets in.


  • Regrettably, there is no treatment for this disease but it can be diagnosed early on which will give plenty of time to prepare the dog for what is to come.

Retinal Dysplasia

This is a condition of the retina where vision is impaired by the appearance of streaks or rosettes. In dogs, it is most likely to be genetic, although there is an outside chance that a virus, drugs or a lack of vitamin A may be the cause.

Once diagnosed, usually by a veterinary ophthalmologist, the condition rarely gets worse.


  • Partial blindness, causing the dog to bump into things.
  • In the case of a completely detached retina, total blindness.


  • There is no known effective treatment but the dog does get used to living with the condition.

Harderian Gland Prolapse (Cherry Eye)

This is a disease where the tear glands of the third eyelid become detached and settle as a swollen, red mass in the corner of the eye, hence the term “cherry eye”. The tear duct needs to be put back in the correct position as it provides oxygen and nutrients to the eye.

If a shih tzu is going to suffer from this condition it will usually be at an early age and, more often than not, it will affect both eyes at once.


  • Gland moves around due to a loose connection.
  • Can lead to swelling.
  • Excessive discharge.
  • Bloody ulceration.
  • Conjunctivitis.
  • Temporary blindness until treatment is given.


  • If diagnosed early enough, the glands can be successfully, professionally massaged back into position.
  • If this is not possible, surgery to reposition and secure the gland is necessary.


As a shih tzu reaches his senior years he becomes more susceptible to cataracts, cloudy occlusions of the lenses of the eyes. Age-related cataracts are inherited and usually so small that the dog can still see quite well in spite of them.

Cataracts can form for other reasons, such as diabetes, a nutritional deficiency or past eye injuries, and these tend to be larger, sometimes completely covering the lenses causing complete blindness.


  • The lenses of the eyes become more cloudy, either partially or totally. This will still have to be positively diagnosed as cataracts as the symptoms are very similar to nuclear sclerosis, a natural age-hardening of the lenses that causes long-sightedness.


  • Treatment may be unnecessary as shih tzu will still get on well with impaired vision.
  • If deemed necessary, cataracts can be surgically removed to restore sight.
A shih tzu with bulging eyes.
ID: 93951322 © Nathan0834 | Depositphotos

Entropion (Abnormal Eyelid)

Entropion is a genetic condition where either or both eyelids are turned inwards towards the eyeball causing irritation, scratching, infection or even a corneal ulcer. If a dog has it, it is usually diagnosed before it is one year old.


  • Watery, excessively teary eyes.
  • Inflammation of the eye.
  • Rubbing of the eye with the paws.


  • In a few minor cases, eye drops can treat the condition.
  • Mild cases will need surgery to turn the eyelid the correct way round.
  • Severe cases merit facial construction surgery when the dog has reached adulthood.

Epiphora (Wet Eye)

Epiphora is not a disease in itself, rather it is a symptom brought on by one of several other problems, particularly a tear duct blockage, an abnormality of the eyelid or, quite simply, an overproduction of tears caused by another disease or allergy.

A healthy shih tzu, like other dogs, is constantly, naturally lubricating its eyes from the tear glands. Normally, the excess will drain away through the tear ducts into the nose. With epiphora, the excess drains off over the face, making the face wet to some extent depending on how bad the problem is.


  • Reddish brown stains on the hair below the eyes.
  • Itchy or infected skin.
  • A strange odor.
  • A wet face.


  • Surgery to unblock the tear ducts if blocked.
  • Surgery to widen the tear ducts if too narrow.

Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)

Again, this is not a disease in itself, more a symptom of one of several other eye afflictions. Conjunctivitis is a swelling of the lining of the eyelid, the conjunctiva, brought about by an allergy, infection, foreign body, parasite or condition such as glaucoma. It is possible for just one eye to be affected but if that is the case it will normally quickly spread to the other one. Usually, though, both eyes will be affected anyway.


  • Clear or green discharge.
  • Redness of the whites of the eyes.
  • Swollen eye surroundings.
  • Squinting.
  • Excessive blinking.
  • Pawing at the eyes.


  • Treatment will largely depend upon what the underlying cause is.

Ectopic Cilia

This is the abnormal growth of eyelash hair or hairs actually through the eyelid where they come into contact with the eyeball, causing further problems.


  • Excessive twitching of the eye.
  • Epiphora.
  • Severe pain.


  • Surgical removal of the offending hairs.

Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KC5 or Dry Eye)

Bruno with a scar on his left eye.
Bruno’s scarred left eye © Shih Tzu Steve

This condition is brought about by a lack of sufficient fluid to lubricate the eye causing the eyeball to dry out, leaving it sore, itchy and open to infections. It is usually due to a problem with the tear gland, for example, a swelling or a reduction of tissue due to a reaction from the autoimmune system.


  • A thick, sticky discharge from the eyes.
  • A dry appearance of the eyes.
  • Conjunctivitis.
  • Keratitis.
  • Pigmentation of the cornea.
  • Squinting.
  • Very painful.


  • Frequent application for life of ointment or drops containing tear stimulants and tear replacements.
  • Antibiotics and anti-inflammatories to treat any secondary infections or diseases.


Pressure builds up on the optic nerve due to either the eye’s inability to drain fluid or a secondary eye disease. The condition may be successfully treated if diagnosed early enough but it doesn’t usually get noticed until it’s too late. It is a sad fact that up to 40% of dogs that contract glaucoma lose their sight in the affected eye.


  • Extreme pain from the pressure.
  • Blinking and squinting,
  • The eyeball may recede to the back of the head.
  • Enlargement of the eyeball.
  • Bluing of the cornea.
  • Redness in the white of the eyes.
  • Dilated, unresponsive pupil.
  • Noticeable loss of vision.
  • General deterioration of the eye.


  • If the disease has been discovered in the early stages, medication to lower the pressure on the optic nerve and keep it at the correct level.
  • If the disease has previously gone unnoticed and the optic nerve is damaged beyond repair, surgery will be needed to remove the eye.
  • If only one eye is affected, every precaution will be taken to prevent the disease from spreading and preserve the good eye.

Keep An Eye On Your Shih Tzu’s Eyes

Your shih Tzu’s large eyes protrude from the shallow sockets, leaving them susceptible to trapping foreign bodies that can lead to inflammation and infection that can be made worse if he scratches at them with his paws. As well as that, there are the genetic diseases that may be underlying.

For these reasons, regularly check your shih tzu’s eyes for abnormalities and reactions. If he is pawing at his eyes frequently, there is probably something wrong. If you suspect anything, contact your vet immediately. The sooner any ailment is diagnosed, the better the chances of a full recovery.  

I sincerely hope that your shih tzu never encounters any of these problems and, I stress again, there is no reason to think that he or she will. If you have any questions or comments about this post, shih tzu in general, or this website, please use the comments form below or contact us here.

See you next time,

Shih Tzu Steve.

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