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ACVO®/Merial® National Service Dog Eye Exam

Veterinary Ophthalmologists Offer Free Eye Exams for Working Service Animals

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Henry, a therapy donkey from Young's Funny Farm, being examined. Photo courtesy of Neil A. Young

Henry, a therapy donkey from Young's Funny Farm, being examined.

Photo courtesy of Neil A. Young

The American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO) is preparing for the 5th annual ACVO/Merial National Service Dog Eye Exam Event. Registration for this years' event opens April 1st. The event starts May 1st, 2012 and runs for the month of May. Animals qualified to receive the complimentary eye exams must meet the qualifications as outlined by the ACVO.

More than 200 board certified veterinary ophthalmologists throughout the U.S., as well as Canada and Puerto Rico, will be providing eye exams to working service animals; dogs, horses, and even a donkey (pictured at right). Since the Service Dog Eye Exam event started in 2008, more than 10,500 service animals have been examined.

From a recent press release about this event, here's more about Henry the therapy donkey and the how eye exams help:

"Henry is a therapy donkey who travels thousands of miles with Young's Funny Farm (a home for therapy animals) to visit hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and special needs facilities to help bring a smile to patients. A few months prior to the 2011 event, his owner discovered he had an eye injury which ultimately stole his sight in one eye. His free eye exam in May 2011 was to ensure that his other eye is working just fine and he will be able to continue his mission of helping others."

To learn more about this event, I interviewed Dr. William Miller, a veterinary ophthalmologist at Advanced Animal Eye Care.

Question: Animals must be "active working animals" to be included in this event - what about service dogs (who went through a formal certification earlier in their life) that are now enjoying retirement?

Dr Miller: As important as it is for all dogs to have good eye health, the event is only for service animals who are currently working.

Question: What are the most common types of service dogs (Guide, military, etc.) seen during this event in your practice?

Dr Miller: Search and Rescue, Cadaver, Diabetic Assistance, Police, Explosives detection, Hearing assistance, Therapy dogs.

Question: What are the most common eye problems or injuries that are screened for and treated during this event?

Dr Miller: All inherited diseases, progressive diseases such as cataracts, eyelid disease that could lead to other issues such as corneal ulcers, etc.

Question: Are surgeries or extensive treatments covered?

Dr Miller: Additional follow-up, treatments and/or procedures are not covered. But we're thrilled that with the help of our generous sponsors and volunteer board certified veterinary ophthalmologists, that we're able to offer the eye exam for free.

Question: Are eye health certifications (CERF) included for service dogs in training?

Dr Miller: Not in the Service Dog event. The exam is similar to a CERF exam but a CERF form is not used.

Question: Is there anything you would like to add about this event or pet eye health in general?

Dr Miller: We would like as many service dogs as possible to take advantage. Over the years ophthalmologists have found a number of abnormalities that were correctable and therefore maintaining the service of that individual dog.

It is also helpful in building our database of eye diseases that may be associated with a particular aspect of a service dog's life. Using that data in the future may help us make recommendations that would further prevent ocular disease in service dogs.

Thank you, Dr. Miller, for answering these questions about the ACVO/Merial National Service Dog Exam event.

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