This is a common problem in all corneal ulcers, but especially in dogs with round and bulging eyes. Being a French bulldog, Baby’s eyes were bulgier than most.
The central portion of the cornea- the surface of the eyeball- is most vulnerable to injury, on account of its extra protrusion and that same bulbous exposure means healing is often poor.
The see-through surface of the eye is bereft of blood vessels, to allow light to pass through to the lens and then to the retina. In other areas of the body, blood vessels provide the elixir for repair, so on the cornea, a scratch or ulcer is up against it when compared to an ulcer on the tongue or a nick in the skin.
In order to get Baby’s ulcer to heal I needed to carry out a fiddly procedure called a grid keratectomy, whereby the dead surface cells of the eye ulcer are debrided back to healthy corneal tissue by scraping the lesion with a hypodermic needle.
It sounds horrendous but, done under full general anaesthetic, it works very well to kick start the recovery process. I explained my proposal to Baby’s owner, who trusted my plan.
Sometimes, the notion seems so counterintuitive that the description of the procedure evokes revulsion from a worried owner: “You’re going to scratch the surface of my dog’s eye with a needle? And you expect that will help?” I took her through to prep, where I introduced her to the assembled collection of nurses. I absolutely love the 1980s film Dirty Dancing. It’s soppy, I know, but we are all allowed guilty pleasures and I couldn’t resist levering in the obvious joke.
“This is Baby. She has a corneal ulcer, which I need to fix. The question is, where can we put her?” I asked.
“Kennel four and five are free. So is the walk in one, although that will be too big for her,” Lucy the head nurse explained.
“I can’t put her in there,” I exclaimed, “because remember: Nobody puts Baby in the corner!”
I had started chuckling to myself before I’d even finished my hilarious sentence, but blank faces stared back at me, obviously unaware of the classic scene.
Needless to say, I repeated the same joke multiple times to everyone else in the building, before finally fastening Baby securely to the dog park in the centre of our prep room whilst her sedative took effect. She sat there, happily greeting everyone who passed with her. Her stumpy tail tried to wag, but the result was more of a body wag than a tail wag.
The surgery went to plan and all the rough and irregular edges of the corneal lesion were swiftly sorted out. Nature would have a better chance of doing its thing now that the dead tissue was removed. But I had one final trick up my sleeve, to give nature another helping hand. I took a large syringe of blood from her jugular vein and set it to spin in the centrifuge to separate the red cells from the plasma.
Plasma is jam-packed with proteins and healing factors and, when applied directly to the eye like biological eye-drop, accelerates repair. Armed with multiple little syringes of this plasma I took the happy little dog out to be reunited with her owner.
If she could have talked, I’m sure she’d have explained that she’d “had the time of her life…” - you’ll have to watch Dirty Dancing if you don’t know what I’m talking about!
* Julian’s latest book, All Creatures – Heartwarming Tales from a Yorkshire Vet, is available now, published by Coronet for £16.99.