There’s an old English proverb that says the eyes are the windows to the soul.
And every pet parent can tell you, that’s just as true for animals as it is for humans.
Your pet tells you so much with her eyes…
They light up with excitement when you walk in the door, and she looks at you with eager eyes when she’s begging to play.
When she’s hurt or frightened, her eyes provide important signals that let you know she needs help or comfort.
If your dog does something mischievous, his eyes communicate shame. And when your cat wants space to be left alone, his eyes will let you know it.
Besides the role they play in communicating with you, your pet also relies on his eyes to enjoy all his regular activities, such as running, jumping, playing fetch and chasing toys.
Your pet’s eyes are among his most precious – and complex – organs. Because they are so important to his wellbeing, they warrant special care to help keep them working at their best.
There are several things you should pay attention to as you monitor your pet’s eye health, and a few simple things you can do to help protect his eyes so he can enjoy an active life well into old age.
First, let’s take a look at some of the unique and interesting features of cat and dog eyes…
Your Pet’s Eyes – Species-Specific Abilities Designed for Active Living and Survival
As a general rule, a mammal’s eyes don’t see as clearly as the eyes of a bird or a reptile. Some scientists think this may be because mammals’ ancestors used to live more nocturnal lives.
Many birds and reptiles have eyes designed to see detailed images for daytime hunting. Mammals, such as dogs, cats and humans, on the other hand, have eyes that pick up movement more than detail and adjust to changing light levels.
Each animal species has unique eye functions that help them navigate their world. In dogs and cats, these fascinating features include:
- Very large pupils to see well – better than their humans – in dim light conditions.
- Dogs’ eyes have a circular iris muscle, the same as humans.
- Cats’ eyes have a figure-eight muscle that closes the iris way down to a slit, giving them better focus than dogs and humans.
- Dogs and cats have more rods than cones in their eyes. Rods are used for detecting movement, while cones perceive color and details.
- Cats and long-nosed dogs have a “visual streak” that allows them to focus sharply at a distance, and gives them great peripheral vision.
- Instead of a visual streak, short-nosed dogs have high density vision cells that give them an advantage in reading their owner’s facial expressions.
- Cats and dogs have a third eyelid, called the nictitating membrane, that works as a thin shutter to protect the eyeball.
Even though they’re now domesticated and don’t rely heavily on these features for pure survival, they still play a big part in how they experience and interact with the world…
Understanding How Your Pet Sees the World
Color, shape, movement, details… all of these compose the picture your pet takes in through her eyes – her picture of the world.
Because your dog or cat has fewer cones in her eyes, he sees colors less vividly than you do, with yellow, green and blue being the clearest.
He also sees better in the dark than you, with a layer of special reflective cells, called the tapetum lucidum, that reflects and enhances any light entering his eyes.
While there are exceptions, most dogs see forms and movement rather than sharp images with detailed features. Your dog relies heavily on his keen sense of smell to “read” his world, so for him, vision is secondary.
While your cat also relies on her highly-developed sense of smell, sight is a little more important for her.
The unique slit-shaped design of her iris muscles allows her to see well in dim light, and her ability to focus on objects and detect movement is highly refined…
Your cat needs only one-sixth the amount of light for seeing that you do. But don’t believe any stories you hear about cats being able to see in total darkness. Her capabilities don’t go that far.
Your dog requires around twice as much light for seeing as a cat, but only one-third as much as you, giving him exceptional night vision as well.
Dogs and cats have evolved in a natural world where darkness offers advantages – and sometimes, the key to survival. Wild dogs escape to their dens to rest in safety and away from the glaring sun.
In the wild, cats and dogs move freely in ever-changing light conditions. In contrast, domesticated pets live in an artificially lit world that can be stressful for them and their eyes.
I recommend having at least one space in your home where your pet can retreat into darkness, or at least escape the continuous glare of artificial fluorescent lights.
And if your pet spends a lot of time outdoors, be sure she has access to a shady spot.
How Healthy Are Your Pet’s Eyes?
Your pet’s eyes can provide valuable clues about his health because they’re connected to both the vascular and neurological systems.
Do you know the characteristics of healthy eyes? The ASPCA offers nine tips to help you recognize healthy eyes and spot clues to issues that warrant a visit to your veterinarian:
- Sit facing your pet in a brightly lit area and look into his eyes.
With dogs, the eyes should be clear and bright, and the area around the eyeball, the sclera, white. The pupils should be equal in size and there shouldn't be tearing, discharge or any crust in the corners of his eyes.
If there is cloudiness, change in eye color or a yellow-tinged sclera, unequal pupil sizes, or a visible third eyelid, check with your vet.
- Take a closer look by gently rolling down your pet’s lower eyelid with your thumb until you can see the lining. It should be pink, not red or white.
- Clean your pet’s eyes gently to remove dirt and discharge. Use a damp cotton ball, wiping outward from the corner of the eye, and use extreme care not to touch his eyeball or scratch his cornea.
If you notice persistent runny eyes and discharge, please see your veterinarian. Your pet may have an infection.
- Keep hair trimmed around your pet’s eyes. Using scissors with rounded tips, carefully trim the hair around your dog’s eyes to keep his vision clear and prevent hairs from poking and scratching.
- Avoid using irritating soaps, shampoos and topical sprays or lotions. Protect your dog’s eyes before bathing him or applying ointments or flea-control formulas.
- Watch your pet’s behavior. Does he frequently paw or rub his eyes? Does he frequently squint?
- As much as dogs love feeling the wind in their face, when you drive with your pet, make sure his head stays inside the car. The wind can dry your dog’s eyes or cause potential irritation, infection or injury if a bug or debris hits his eye.
- Know your pet’s breed’s reputation for eye health. Is he a breed that might need a little more attention to maintain optimal eye health?
- Schedule regular well-pet checkups, and be sure your vet checks your pet’s eyes during each visit.
Paying attention to these easy practices and important cues will help you keep your pet’s eyes healthy. Then, if an issue arises, you can catch it early before it worsens.
A Special Group of Cats and Dogs You Should Keep an Especially Close Eye On
Every pet owner should follow these tips, but there’s a special group of animals that warrant extra attention.
Being in this group is no guarantee your pet will have eye trouble, but the animals in this group are more prone to develop eye issues than other pets.
These animals, beloved by many pet parents for their sweet faces, are known as brachycephalic breeds.
The word brachycephalic, which comes from Greek, means “short head.” Sometimes they’re described as “flat-faced.” Whatever word you use to describe them, they have short snouts and widely-spaced eyes.
Cat and dog breeds in this category include:
- Bulldog, French and English
- Boston Terrier
- Shih Tzu
These pets have nasal bones that are more compacted than other pets, making their eyes more prominent in their faces. Sometimes, this prominence can expose their eyes to injury or make it difficult for their eyelids to completely cover their eyes when closed.
These are both issues that require attention from a veterinarian.
Following the ASPCA tips will help you spot issues that need a vet’s attention early on and help you optimize your brachycephalic pet’s vision and eye health.
Also, pay special attention to your pet’s eyes if she has long hair around her face that can cause irritation to her eyes. This includes breeds such as Maltese, Sheepdogs and Poodles.
Whatever your pet’s breed, her eyes will benefit from your increased attention as she ages to help her maintain her normal active lifestyle.
How Normal Aging May Affect Your Pet’s Eyes
Just as changes occur in your eyes as you get older, changes also occur in your pet’s eyes as a normal part of the aging process.
A common change that many cat and dog owners notice is a clouding of the lens, often seen in dogs over the age of six and cats over the age of ten. Called “nuclear sclerosis,” this cloudiness usually develops in both eyes and can be alarming if you don't know it’s a normal and painless process of aging.
Nuclear sclerosis comes on gradually, and even though your pet may not see as well up close – much like a middle-aged person who needs reading glasses – he adapts well to the minor changes in vision that it causes.
Dogs often experience another normal change when the tapetum lucidum, the layer of reflective cells that help with night vision, begins to get thinner.
If your dog becomes hesitant to go outside at night, it may be due to this process, which decreases his night vision. Extra lighting can help ease his uncertainty.
On the flip side, some dogs become more light-sensitive as they age.
When this happens, it’s because the muscle in the iris that constricts the pupil weakens, making bright light less tolerable. This is also a normal change that progresses slowly and shouldn't interfere greatly with your dog’s everyday living.
If you notice any changes in your pet’s eyes that appear suddenly, or anything that starts to concern you, don’t delay a visit to your veterinarian.
Now that you have a good picture of what’s normal, let’s take a look at ways you can help your pet maintain healthy vision and ocular function.
How These Special Phytonutrients Promote Healthy Vision and Eye Function
A healthy diet rich in antioxidants is key to supporting your pet’s vision and eye health.
Antioxidants are special phytonutrients (“phyto” is Greek for “plant”) that help protect your pet’s cells by fighting free radicals in her body.
To understand how antioxidants work, consider the case of a bicycle that’s left outside in the rain…
As the oxygen molecules in the water react with the iron in the metal, a chemical reaction takes place called oxidation. We know it as rust, a sign of break down and decay.
It’s not much different with your pet’s body – or your own, for that matter.
In the body, unstable oxygen-containing molecules are called free radicals, and they travel throughout your pet’s body searching for electrons to steal from stable molecules. When they succeed, the exchange of electrons that takes place is called oxidation.
Without antioxidants to absorb excessive free radicals, your pet’s body experiences oxidative stress. Even though it’s not visible, like the rust on a bicycle, damage as a result of too many free radicals takes place in your pet’s cells.
Eye tissues are especially sensitive to this oxidative stress from free radical damage.
Antioxidants pair with the unstable free radical molecules, helping to neutralize them and minimize oxidative stress on your pet's cells.
Making sure your pet eats a healthy quantity of antioxidants is important for her vision and eye health, especially if your pet is aging or if she is a dog with a shorter muzzle and protruding eyes.
Feed Your Pet These Superfoods to Boost Her Antioxidant Intake
Plant foods are rich in antioxidants, such as polyphenols, vitamins and minerals. But cats and dogs are natural carnivores, which means they need to eat mostly meat.
So, how do they get enough antioxidants?
In the wild, they eat prey, and the stomachs of those prey contain small amounts of fruits and vegetables. While it’s only a small amount, it’s crucial to maintaining their health. And the same is true for your pet.
I recommend feeding your pet a species-specific diet with natural antioxidants as the ideal way to support your pet’s vision.
Here are some of the best vegetable, fruit, and protein sources of antioxidants for your pet’s eyes. I recommend feeding them raw (unless otherwise noted) and in the case of fruits and veggies, gently puréed for optimal digestion:
- Blueberries – Carotenoids, phytonutrients and flavonoids
- Carrots – Vitamin A and beta-carotene
- Kale – The antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin
- Broccoli – Beta-carotene
- Sweet Potatoes – Beta-carotene and anthocyanins (Always serve to your pet well cooked)
- Eggs – Lutein, sulfur and cysteine (Feed lightly cooked or raw if your pet tolerates them)
- Sardines and Salmon – Omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA (Any raw salmon must be deep-frozen for at least seven days before feeding)
If you’re still feeding your pet a commercial diet, you can boost her antioxidant intake by mixing in some of these foods.
Every step you take to improve your pet’s diet, no matter how small, can promote good eye and overall health.
For more healthy feeding ideas and a how-to guide for introducing your pet to a species-appropriate diet, see my newest edition of Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats, available in the Mercola Market.
This ’King of the Carotenoids Delivers Mighty Antioxidant Benefits for Your Pet’s Eyes
Carotenoids are an important class of colorful antioxidants that includes beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein.
Responsible for the bright yellow, orange and red hues of many fruits and vegetables, as well as the reddish coloring of some sea creatures, they help promote healthy vision.
Among this class of antioxidants, one stands out for its exceptional bioactivity…
Astaxanthin, known as “king of the carotenoids,” possesses antioxidant capacity up to…
- 65 times more powerful than vitamin C.
- 54 times more powerful than beta-carotene.
- 5 times more powerful than lutein.
Astaxanthin exhibits uniquely strong free radical scavenging ability, helping to protect your pet’s cells, organs and tissues from oxidative damage. It’s also far more effective than other carotenoids at “singlet oxygen quenching,” a process that helps stop a certain type of oxidation.
Your pet can’t make his own astaxanthin, so he must obtain it from his diet. There are only a small handful of sources, and they all have one thing in common…
They eat the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis.
This little aquatic organism is typically found in shallow bodies of water that dry up from time to time, such as rock pools along the seacoast.
It generates astaxanthin as a protective response when its water supply dries up. Then the water rises again, and it gets consumed by sea animals such as wild salmon, krill, shrimp and lobster.
The only way to get astaxanthin naturally is to eat something that’s in the food chain of the microalgae or the original source of the red antioxidant pigment itself.
Bark & Whiskers™ Eye Support features astaxanthin from Haematococcus pluvialis to provide its super-antioxidant power for supporting optimal vision and eye health.
Can Antioxidants That Protect Plants From Excess Light Also Protect Your Pet’s Eyes?
Among the carotenoids that promote health in your pet’s eyes, two are most notable.
These powerful polyphenols promote healthy eye function by fighting free radicals that have the potential to cause damage to cells.
They are found in high concentrations in parts of the eye crucial for clear sight and play an important role in supporting normal visual function. However, your pet’s body doesn’t produce these antioxidants, so they must be supplied by her diet.
These antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin, are found in many leafy green plants and colorful fruits and vegetables. And in dogs, they are found in high concentrations in a part of the eye called the macula.
The macula is a tiny little spot at the back of the retina with big responsibilities. It contains a high concentration of photoreceptor cells that perform the job of detecting light, perceiving color and delivering the fine details of your pet’s central vision to his brain.
Your cat doesn’t have a macula, but lutein and zeaxanthin are found in high concentrations in his retina, the part of the eye that receives and organizes visual information.
In nature, lutein and zeaxanthin have been observed to function in plants by absorbing excess light energy to prevent damage from too much sunlight, especially from high-energy sunrays.
Another powerful eye support herb included in our Eye Support formula is Bilberry. This little shrub, with fruit that look like blueberries, is loaded with anthocyanins.
Anthocyanins are another type of antioxidants that support your pet’s healthy eye function.
In particular, they are found in his eyes’ aqueous humor, the thick watery substance that surrounds the lens and cornea. The aqueous humor maintains healthy eye pressure and transports antioxidants and other nutrients to other eye tissues.
Last of all, I included vision-supporting antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin E. These vitamins also act as antioxidants, adding yet another line of defense against free radicals that might cause damage to your pet’s eyes.
Help Your Pet’s Eyes Thrive with Six Potent Antioxidants for Ocular Health
I designed this powerful lineup of six antioxidant vitamins and herbs to provide a broad range of free radical-fighting support targeted for your pet’s vision and ocular health.
You want her to enjoy the kind of health that allows her to run, jump, play fetch, chase toys and be your buddy throughout her life. Supporting her eyes with potent nutrients will help ensure she can do just that.
Bark & Whiskers™ Eye Support delivers top-choice antioxidant ingredients that help nourish her eyes so she can stay active and engaged in the life she loves.
In this unique blend, we’ve put together:
These eye-supporting nutrients are combined in a natural liver-flavored powder that’s easy to feed to your pet. It also has the advantage of being room-temperature stable.
Help Your Pet Enjoy an Active Life With Antioxidant Power to Promote Her Vision and Eye Health
Whether your pet is young or old, her eyes play an important role in how she interacts with the world. She depends on her vision for normal, healthy mobility and interaction with her people.
Your pet’s eyes are complex, sensitive organs that can flourish with a little extra care to keep them functioning at their best.
Bark & Whiskers™ Eye Support makes it easy to provide that extra care with the free radical-fighting power of antioxidant nutrients that support your pet’s ocular health.
Help protect one of your pet’s most precious and complex organs so you can enjoy years of active companionship together. Help her enjoy the benefits of vibrant, healthy vision, and order Bark & Whiskers™ Eye Support today.