Humanimal Health


There are many diseases that both humans and animals have in common. We plan to let you learn more about some of these to improve the quality of life for you and your pets.

Dry Eye

Dry, Scratchy, or Runny Eyes in People and Animals. What is it?

MING, with dry eye. Photo by Kim Plosia.

It was a cold winter day. Several patients and friends were telling me how their dry eye symptoms were acting up. Others complained their eyes tear excessively especially in windy and/or cold weather. They were surprised when I told them their excess tearing could be a symptom of dry eye.

I told our Art Director, Kim Plosia, about the importance of letting our readers know more about dry eye, and how people are so surprised that teary eyes can also mean dry eye. She said, “Dry eye? My dog Ming has that! It looks like she has mascara around her eyes, but it is actually the residue from her dry eye. We’ve given her prescription eye medications. She hates it and only allows us to put them in her eyes a few times a week.”

Then, I remembered Rufus, my late dog had runny eyes too. He too most likely had dry eye. I don’t think we knew as much about it then as we do now.

So, off I went to my ‘go to’ Veterinarian, Dr. Nicole Cierniello, DVM, Medical Director, Greenwich Village Animal Hospital, who said, “Yes, dry eye is common in dogs.”

Do You or Your Dog Have Dry, Scratchy, or Runny Eyes?

Dry eye is a common chronic disease, or condition, seen most often in older adults. It also occurs in animals, especially dogs. The medical term for dry eye is keratoconjunctivitis sicca. It occurs when there are not enough “quality” tears to lubricate and nourish one’s eyes. It happens when tear production and drainage are not in balance.

Tears are important for the health of the front of the eyes as well as clear vision. When all is working well, every time one blinks, tears spread across the front surface of the eyes, known as the cornea. These tears provide lubrication, reduce the risk of eye infections, wash away foreign matter and keep the surface of one’s eyes smooth and clear. Excess tears flow into small drainage ducts (tubes) at the inner corners of the eyelids, then drain to the back of the nose.

People and dogs with dry eyes either don’t produce enough tears, are of a poor quality, and/or have problems with drainage. Not enough tears. Tears are produced by several glands in and around the eyelids. Production tends to decrease with age, various conditions and/or as a side effect of certain medicines. Environmental conditions such as wind and dry climate can decrease tear volume due to tear evaporation. When the normal amount of tear production decreases or the evaporation of tears happens too quickly, dry eye symptoms can develop.

Poor quality of tears. Tears are composed of three layers: oil, water, and mucus. These all need to be in balance to keep the tears from evaporating too quickly and to spread tears evenly over the surface of the eyes.
Symptoms of dry eye in people vary from person to person, but generally consist of: irritated, gritty, scratching or burning eyes; a feeling of something in your eyes; excess watering; and/or blurred vision. Advanced dry eye may damage the front surface of your eyes and impair your vision.

Symptoms of dry eye in dogs. Dr. Ciernello says, “It’s hard to say what a dog feels, but there is often a grungy, thick, drainage. They may blink or rub their eyes more often.”

Treatment of dry eye aims to maintain the normal amount of tears to minimize dryness and discomfort and maintain eye health. This can be done with an eye care specialist and some simple home care tips.
Medical treatment consists of adding preservative-free artificial tears*, conserving tears, increasing tear production, and treating any eyelid or eye surface inflammation.

Simple home care tips consist of blinking often (for humans), increasing the humidity of your environment, wearing sunglasses, avoiding dehydration and windy situations, and using nutritional supplements recommended by an eye care specialist.

Most importantly, if you or your dog has or you think has dry eye, see an eye care specialist. You’ll be glad you did!

*Of importance at this time (2023): 
DO NOT USE GENERIC BRANDS OF ARTIFICIAL TEARS due to recent infections caused by some of these. Speak with your eye health care professional and/or your pharmacist for the brand you or your pet should be using.

About the author: Joy Pape, FNP, CDCES, CFCN is a board-certified nurse practitioner who believes in and practices wholistic health and healing. She is a board-certified diabetes care and education specialist, and foot care nurse. She has a private practice located in the West Village.