Ectopic Cilia or Eyelash Problems in Dogs

By Ernest Ward, DVM

Surgical Conditions

December 13, 2008

What are ectopic cilia?

blepharitisA cilium is a hair, and ectopic means growing out of place. Ectopic cilia are one or several hairs that grow abnormally through the conjunctiva and come into contact with the surface of the eye (cornea). These abnormal hairs most commonly occur on the upper middle eyelid.

"The offending hairs rub against the cornea, often causing intense pain and corneal ulcers."

The offending hairs rub against the cornea, often causing intense pain and corneal ulcers. These abnormal hairs must be removed or serious damage to the eye may occur. Ectopic cilia are most commonly diagnosed in young dogs and are very rare in cats.

Ectopic cilia are not the same as distichia. Distichia are abnormal rows of eyelashes that, due to abnormal conformation, rub against the cornea. Some breeds such as the American cocker spaniel normally have long eyelashes that may contact the cornea but cause no problem. When distichia causes corneal irritation or discomfort, they should be surgically removed.

Are certain breeds more likely to have ectopic cilia?

ectopic_cilia-1_2009Certain breeds have a higher incidence of ectopic cilia than others. Some of these breeds are:

  • Shih tzu
  • Lhasa apso
  • Dachshund
  • Shetland sheepdog
  • Golden retriever
  • Bulldog
  • Boston terrier
  • Pug

What are the clinical signs of ectopic cilia?

The clinical signs associated with ectopic cilia are those associated with corneal ulcers and eye pain. The eye and conjunctivae may appear reddened or inflamed with excessive tearing or discharge.

"Rubs or paws at the eye..."

The dog often rubs or paws at the eye because it is uncomfortable. Affected dogs often hold the eye tightly closed and blink uncontrollably (blepharospasm).

How are ectopic cilia diagnosed?

Diagnosis is usually made on physical examination. Some dogs will require topical anesthetics or sedatives to relieve the intense discomfort and allow a thorough examination of the adnexa (tissues surrounding the eye). Corneal staining will be performed to assess the cornea and to determine if any corneal ulceration is present.

How is the condition treated?

The treatment for ectopic cilia involves surgical removal of the offending hairs. There are several different surgical techniques that will successfully resolve the problem. Any secondary corneal ulcers will be treated with topical ophthalmic antibiotics.

What is the prognosis for ectopic cilia?

The prognosis for surgical correction of this condition is generally good. Some dogs may develop additional ectopic cilia later in life that will also require surgical removal. Your veterinarian will discuss a diagnostic and treatment plan for your dog to help you successfully treat this condition.

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