The Meibomian glands are a special kind of secreting gland at the edge of the eyelids in both dogs and cats. These glands are responsible for the production of meibum, an olive oil-like fat that prevents evaporation of the eye’s tear production. In dogs and cats, there are approximately 20-40 openings of the Meibomian glands on the eyelid margin.
Tear Film and Meibum
Meibum is the outer layer of the tear film, consisting of a very thin, oily layer of various fats, including fatty acids. Meibum prevents tear spillage, known as epiphora, onto the skin around the eyes by trapping tears between the oiled edge and the eyeball.
Dysfunction of the Meibomian glands often cause a sensation of dry eye, as your pet’s natural tear production will evaporate more rapidly than normal. Your pet may actually look as though he/she is tearing more, and this “drying effect” may cause scar tissue to develop on the eye. Meibomitis, or inflammation of the Meibomian glands, causes these glands to be obstructed by thick, waxy secretions. Commonly, this inflammation is due to another underlying condition, such as allergies. Clinically, this is seen as “pointing” or more swollen Meibomian gland openings that can typically only be observed with microscopic examination of the eyelid margin. This condition can be itchy, and if your pet does rub or paw around the eye, this can make inflammation worse. An Elizabethan collar may be recommended during treatment to prevent any rubbing.
Treatment of Meibomitis
- Warm compresses- Warm compresses are when a washcloth, usually soaked with very warm tap water, is held against the eyelid margin for approximately 5-10 minutes two to three times a day for at least a week. The warmth of the compress allows the secretions in the Meibomian glands to loosen and may melt back to their normal consistency. These compresses also help to clean away debris.
- Topical anti-inflammatories- Mild topical anti-inflammatory medications can be utilized to reduce the inflammation around the Meibomian glands. Ointment formulations may be prescribed to help stabilize the water of the tear film and decrease evaporation.
- Oral antibiotics- Occasionally, oral antibiotics are used to reduce any bacterial infection within the glands and also may help loosen the impacted Meibomian glands. These are typically given for an extended period of several weeks to months until improvement is observed.
- Oral anti-inflammatories- In severe cases, anti-inflammatory medications may be used to decrease severe inflammation around the Meibomian glands.
- Fatty acid supplementation- Fatty acids, such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, may be given as a supplementation in food. Fatty acids are a component of meibum, and supplementation can help to stabilize the tear film. Please consult your veterinary ophthalmologist or primary veterinarian prior to starting any fatty acid supplementation for your pet.
- No blowing air- Keep your pet away from blowing heating or air-conditioning vents, and DO NOT allow them to stick their head out the car window. During grooming, forced air dryers and blow drying of the face should also be avoided.
- Keeping your pet’s hair trimmed short around the eyes, may prevent build-up of discharge.
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