Dry Eye (Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca) in Dogs

Published on
Last updated on
4 min read

Key takeaways

Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) refers to an eye condition in dogs commonly referred to as “dry eye.” 

  • KCS causes decreased watery tear production, which leads to inflammation of the eye and surrounding tissues 
  • KCS has the potential to cause blindness if not diagnosed or treated in a timely manner
  • Symptoms include increased squinting, eye redness, and eye discharge
  • Potential causes include autoimmune disease, injury to the tear glands, viral infection, side effects from medications, metabolic disorders, and breed predisposition
  • Diagnosis involves ophthalmic exam and testing tear production with a test called the Schirmer Tear Test
  • KCS is treated with eye drops that stimulate tear production, artificial tears, and sometimes antibiotics to clear secondary infections
  • Severe cases may require surgical therapy
  • Treatment is lifelong
  • Prognosis depends on the severity of disease and how promptly treatment starts after onset of symptoms
Are you concerned?

Connect with a vet to get more information about your pet’s health.

Book an online vet

A closer look: Dry Eye (Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca) in Dogs

KCS, like many eye injuries and diseases, can cause impaired vision, severe eye inflammation, and even result in blindness if not diagnosed and treated in a timely manner. For this reason, dogs with squinting, a change in eye discharge, and eye redness require prompt medical attention.

Connect with a vet to get more information

With DVM, ICH certifications and great reviews by pet parents like you for this symptom

Risk factors

KCS is a common condition, especially in small-breed, middle-aged to senior dogs. With proper treatment, dogs can maintain eye comfort and vision. Dogs with cherry eye (prolapsed third eyelid gland) are at an increased risk of KCS if left untreated.

Other conditions are often associated with KCS, including bacterial infections and ulcerative keratitis.

Possible causes

Additionally, KCS can result as a rare side effect from certain medications. KCS as a side effect can be temporary, however, the damage can also be permanent and there is no way to predict this.

Main symptoms

Even though KCS causes dryness of the eyes, the eyes may actually appear to be ‘wet’ due to the increased production of discharge and mucus.

Testing and diagnosis

Diagnosis of KCS involves:

  • Full physical exam, including a full ophthalmologic exam
  • Schirmer Tear Test (quantifies tear production)
  • Fluorescein Staining (checks for corneal ulcers)
  • Intraocular Pressure (checks for glaucoma and/inflammation)
  • Routine blood work
  • Culture and/or cytology of discharge (rules out secondary infection)

Steps to Recovery

Treatment of KCS may include:

  • Eye drops to stimulate tear production
  • Artificial tears
  • Antibiotic drops to treat secondary bacterial infections and corneal ulcers
  • Steroid eye drops to treat inflammation
  • Severe cases may require surgical therapy, which involves re-routing a salivary duct to the eye to provide lubrication.

To check the effectiveness of treatment, ophthalmologic monitoring is repeated every 3 to 4 weeks. Treatment is adjusted accordingly. KCS requires lifelong treatment, which is often most intensive in the first few weeks.

KCS is a lifelong condition in most cases. With treatment, symptoms are expected to improve within 4-6 weeks. Treatment of associated conditions are also usually life-long.

Prognosis depends on the severity of disease and progression of disease at time of diagnosis, but early diagnosis and treatment increases the likelihood of maintaining vision.


Surgical correction of cherry eye, if present, can help prevent KCS. Otherwise, prevention of KCS is generally not possible. Regular health exams can help identify symptoms of KCS before the disease becomes severe.

KCS is not contagious. However, it can be caused by other infectious diseases as listed above.

Is Dry Eye (Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca) in Dogs common?

KCS is common in dogs, especially small-breed dogs. KCS can occur at any age, but is most commonly diagnosed in middle-age to senior dogs.

Typical Treatment

  • Eye drops to stimulate tear production
  • Artificial tears
  • Antibiotic drops
  • Steroid eye drops
  • Surgery


Wendy Brooks, DVM, DABVP - Writing for Veterinary Partner
Dr. Alexandra Van der Woerdt - Writing for PetPlace
Lauren Jones, VMD - Writing for PetMD

Our editorial committee

Our medical review team is responsible for validating and maintaining the quality of our medical information.