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A Common Eye Problem
in Chow Chows

"Entropion" is the medical term for an eye condition in which the eyelids turn inward toward the eyeball instead of outward as they should.  Entropion is a common problem in many breeds of dogs including Chow Chows and appears in other forms of livestock such as sheep.  Even humans can have entropion!

When eyelids turn inward, they allow the dog's eyelashes and fur to rub against the eye causing irritation, excessive tearing and pain.  Left untreated, this irritation can cause infections and painful ulcers on the surface of the eye that lead to blindness.  

The most common causes of entropion are: 

Heredity .... the tendency toward entropion can be an inherited defect.  If one or both parents of the dog have the condition, they are likely to pass it on to their offspring.  Therefore, veterinarians suggest that dogs with entropion should not be used for breeding. 

Irritation from dust, allergies, injury, etc. .... temporary minor eye irritations can cause some Chows to squint and rub their eyes which creates a vicious cycle - the more they squint and rub, the more it hurts and the more they squint and rub!  Eventually, this can cause the muscles sorrounding the eyelid to spasm and force the eyelid to turn inward, creating an entropion condition.  In some cases, the dog's eyelashes may be growing in the wrong direction and are irritating the eyeball as well.

Some people believe that loose skin and wrinkles on the heads of some Chows contributes toward entropion, however it is important to know that entropion occurs in Chows with plain heads and long, narrow muzzles just as often as it does in dogs with heavier heads.  

Relief for entropion:

Entropion that is caused by a temporary eye irritation can sometimes be relieved by using appropriate medication prescribed by your veterinarian.  In many cases, though, entropion needs to be corrected surgically. 

Surgery to correct entropion is a fairly straightforward procedure that most veterinarians are able to perform.  It may help to think of it as an "eyelid tuck" - depending on which eyelid is involved (upper or lower, sometimes both), a small amount of skin is removed and the eyelid sewn into its proper outward-turning position.  In cases where muscle spasm is believed to be the culprit, the veterinarian may choose to also alter the muscles under the eyelids to prevent spasms from recurring. 

Most veterinarians shave the area around the eye before surgery.  Some dogs' eyelids swell after surgery but you shouldn't be alarmed - it may make your dog look awful but the swelling will disappear in a couple of days.  It's important that the dog not be allowed to rub his eyes before the stitches are removed (10-14 days) so your veterinarian will probably send your dog home with an "elizabethan collar", a large soft plastic cone that attaches to your dog's regular collar and is designed to prevent him from scratching his face.  Most dogs don't like wearing the cone at first but quickly become accustomed to it. 

The cost of entropion surgery seems to vary greatly from doctor to doctor.  You may need to get estimates from several vets in your area to find a reasonable price for your budget.  Keep in mind, though, that cheapest is not necessarily best!

Baby puppies with entropion occasionally outgrow the condition so some veterinarians prefer to delay surgery until the puppy reaches adolescence.  You should not neglect the puppy's eyes, though, while hoping the problem will go away!  The veterinarian should prescribe daily eye drops or ointment to relieve irritation during this time to keep them from becoming worse.  In severe cases, "eye tacking" may be recommended to provide temporary relief while the puppy matures enough for surgery.   Eye tacking involves temporary sutures that hold the eyelid in its proper position for up to two weeks.  Some veterinarians are willing to perform entropion correction surgery on puppies as young as eight weeks so discuss the situation with your doctor to determine what options may be best for your dog.  For a few dogs, one surgical correction is not enough and they may need a second surgery later in their lives. 


Q:  I have spoken to a breeder about buying a puppy.  She offers a warranty against certain health problems like hip dysplasia but the warranty doesn't cover entropion.  Why not?

A:  Entropion can be an inherited condition but can also be acquired as a result of temporary eye irritation.  (see the above paragraphs on causes of entropion)  Because the breeder has no control over what happens to your puppy once you take it home, all she can really do to protect your puppy from entropion is to use entropion-free breeding stock and to have your puppy examined by a veterinarian before purchase to ensure that it is entropion-free at the time of sale. 


Q:  I've been to visit three breeders so far and I don't know what to think.  In the first litter, the puppy I liked had entropion but the breeder said it would grow out of it.  In the second litter, one of the parents seemed to have entropion and so did some of the puppies but the breeder said it was "no big deal.   Almost all Chows have it".  The third breeder didn't know what the word "entropion" meant.  What should I do?

A: Keep looking for a breeder who is knowledgeable and honest about health problems!   Some puppies do grow out of an entropion condition but no breeder can say for sure whether a particular puppy will.  You should not be expected to buy a puppy with an obvious problem and no way of knowing whether the problem will resolve on its own.   If this breeder isn't being honest with you about entropion, s/he might not be honest with you about other potential health problems either. 

In the second instance, the breeder is dead wrong.  Almost all Chows do not have entropion!  This breeder is contributing to the problem by using defective breeding stock that are passing the condition on to their puppies.  Please do not support this person's misguided efforts by buying one of these puppies. 

In the third case, this person may be well-meaning but doesn't have enough knowledge about dogs to be producing puppies responsibly.  A breeder has a responsibility to the dogs and to you, the buyer, to become educated about canine health and aware of a breed's common health conditions before breeding a litter.  Without this knowledge, s/he could unknowingly produce puppies with serious defects that may not show up until later in the dog's life. 


Q:  I found a Chow at an animal shelter and I'd really like to adopt her but she has entropion.  Should I forget it and look for another dog?

A:  Not necessarily.  In most cases, entropion correction surgery is a one-time expense.  Discuss it with your veterinarian to see if the cost is within your budget.  If you really like the dog, the expense may be well worth the lifetime of love she will give you!


This article was written and copyrighted by Vicki DeGruy. Reproduction for other than personal home use is prohibited. Contact us for reprint permission.

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