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Category: Dog
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one of my dogs eyes are rolling up in his head

Customer Question

his left eye seems to be rolling upward into his skull.

His eyes were fine yesterday but this has happened since he woke up this morning.

What do you think it might be?

Optional Information:
Age: 10; Male; Breed: King Charles Cavalier

Already Tried:
Wiping his eye with a wet warm cloth

Submitted: 10 years ago.
Category: Dog
Expert:  Dr.Johnson replied 10 years ago.
This is probably simpler than it might at first appear. Let me explain.

To get two eyes to "actually" misalign, you would have to just about
cave the dog's head in in the form of a concussion which would have the
dog laid out - not walking around. In other words, IF that eye were
truly misaligned, of a sudden, it would almost have to have been a
severe, severe concussion that would cause the eyes to behave
independently, whether by pupil dilation or by azimuth (angle of view).

In FACT, and this is the reason you're in luck, I doubt your dog has
been concussed, in fact I think what you're seeing is the "nictitans"
which is the third eyelid. We people don't have any such thing - all we
have is the whites of our eyes, so when people see that nictitans
rolling up, covering the bottom of the eye, they think the whole eye is
rolling up.

So look again, and see if you don't think there's a membrane (the
nictitans) covering the bottom of the eye, giving it the appearance of
rolling up.

If the nictitans is "up" the veterinarian will have to try and determine two or three things:

1. Is the nerve that normally holds it down paralyzed? That would be
Bell's Palsy or fifth facial nerve paralysis and if the dog is over
seven, I guess it's possible. The diagnosis is easy because the corner
of the mouth on that side of the affected eye droops and sometimes
drools. Also, gentle pinpricks around the affected eye don't cause
twitching. Facial nerve paralysis is not the end-of-the-world, dogs do
fine with it, if you keep the unblinking eye 'lubed'.

2. The vet should establish if there is something wrong with the eye
that the membrane (nictitans) is trying to cover up? For example,
if there's a corneal ulcer, the third lid will come up to try and balm that - and needs quick, precise attention.

3. If the eye REALLY is rolling up, and we don't suspect
a concussion, consideration of a mass behind the eye should be given.
Rare, rare rare - such masses are not common in any but the
oldest dogs, and "Common Things Occur Commonly" so I'd wager it's not a
retro-bulbar (behind the eye) mass.


  • Have the vet check out the facial nerve on the side of the affected eye.

  • Have the vet examine the cornea for some damage, or an ulcer that the third lid is trying to balm.

  • Have the vet assess visual function in the eye and put your mind at rest about a mass behind the eye.

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