Pets need eye care as much as humans

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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Know and Go:

What: Animal Eye Center

Where: 5175 Pacific St., Rocklin

Contact: 624-4364 or

Placer County pet owners are lucky.

Currently, there are only about 480 American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO) board-certified veterinary ophthalmologists throughout the United States.

Centrally-located Rocklin is home to Animal Eye Center, with three board-certified veterinary opthalmologists.

These highly-trained veterinarians treat eye conditions and diseases for all kinds of pets to wildlife animals. That includes treating cataracts, corneal ulcers, conjunctivitis, uveitis, glaucoma and traumatic eye injuries. 

Animal Eye Center, limited to eye diseases and surgeries, is in high demand. Patients come from throughout Placer County and Nevada County as well as from Redding to Reno.

“Our clinic, Animal Eye Center in Rocklin, California, sees about 1,000 to 1,500 new cases per year and a higher number of rechecks. Reasons for visits can vary widely but include corneal ulcers, dry eye, glaucoma and cataracts,” said Dr. Taemi Horikawa, a Diplomate American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologist. “The majority of our patients are dogs (about 90 percent) and cats (about eight to nine percent) but we do enjoy seeing occasional small mammals (rabbits, guinea pigs, etc.), reptiles and birds. We work with wildlife rescue groups and the Folsom Zoo and examine wild and exotic species as well. We perform about eight to 10 surgeries per week. Some of the common surgeries include cataract removal and eyelid procedures.”

Animals develop eye issues at different ages.

“Some animals can have eye issues (e.g. corneal ulcers, inherited abnormalities, etc.) at a very young age, where others may never need to see an ophthalmologist. Signs of eye issues can include squinting, tearing, mucoid discharge, redness, cloudiness, swollen eyelids, rubbing or pawing at eyes and decreased vision,” Horikawa said. “If you notice these signs, we recommend consulting your primary care veterinarian first to determine whether or not referral to an ophthalmologist is indicated. We are always happy to answer any questions about whether or not your pet should be seen.” 

Primary-care veterinarians, such as Sterling Pointe Veterinary Clinic in Lincoln and VCA Loomis Basin Veterinary Clinic in Loomis, will often refer patients to Animal Eye Center.

Veterinary ophthalmology has been a recognized specialty in the United States since 1974. But pet owners, such as Lincoln resident Janet Johnson, often don’t know pets with failing vision or eye diseases can be helped until their regular vet tells them about the specialty.

Last year, Johnson’s vet referred Johnson’s dog, Cali, to the clinic.

“Cali had an eyelid tumor mass. So Dr. Horikawa performed a surgery to remove that tumor and did a wedge excision in June 2016,” Johnson said. “Dr. Horikawa did a beautiful job on the eyelid tumor. I was worried because Cali was 13 but she came through like a trooper. I admire how she works with her animals. She’s very gentle.”

Johnson took her other 13-year-old, Gizmo because of a possible cataract. He was diagnosed instead with a corneal ulcer. Now Johnson treats the condition daily with sodium chloride cream.

“Gizmo is seeing better. The eye ulcer he developed cleared up. But I will always have to watch that it doesn’t develop again. We do preventive with the cream to try to keep it not being progressed to an ulcer,” Johnson said. “As a precaution, I give him three times a week a mild antibiotic in his left eye and in both eyes the sodium cream.”  

Johnson now encourages other pet owners to check out Animal Eye Center.

My dogs weren’t fearful. Dr. Horikawa and her staff are very calm and gentle. And they do what they do very well. I love that office,” Johnson said. “I highly recommend Animal Eye Center. They are just a great option for people whose pets have eye issues. They’re the only place around here. They’re a very specialized field.”

And while visits can be expensive, Johnson said it’s worth the price.

“Fortunately, I had some insurance. But even at $4,000, that is expensive but when I think I had Cali since she was 4 ½ … Would I not do the same for my child? My dogs are my family,” Johnson said. “If you have to go to make payments, OK. This is quality of life; it makes their life better.”


The News Messenger asked Horikawa a few questions about ophthalmology. Her answers follow.

 Do the eye exams hurt the animals?

“The examination itself is not painful. Bright lights sometimes can be annoying but most animals tolerate it well. Some of the tests (such as eye pressure measurement) requires direct contact between the instrument and the eye, very similarly to when you go to your optometrist or ophthalmologist, but the contact is minimal and topical anesthetics eliminate discomfort. Animals are sometimes painful from their conditions, and manipulation of eyes and eyelids during examination can further bother them. We always try to be gentle and administer topical anesthetic and systemic pain medication to make the experience less painful and the least stressful as possible. We also have a secret weapon ... tasty treats!”  

 What kind of special training did you take to be a veterinary ophthalmologist?

“To become a veterinarian, we must complete a four-year veterinary school program, then pass the veterinary board examination. We attain one year of experience in clinical practice as a veterinarian, then complete a three- or four-year residency program in veterinary ophthalmology. Once we pass the multi-day certifying examination, we can be recognized as a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists and are board-certified in veterinary ophthalmology.”

 What kind of tools and machines do you use in an average day?

“We use instruments very similar to physician ophthalmologists such as slit-lamp biomicroscope, indirect ophthalmoscope and tonometer, to name a few. But our instruments are adapted to be mobile so that we can easily move with the animals, in case they are wiggly.  In addition, we have specialized diagnostic equipment, including ocular ultrasounds and electroretinogram units. In surgery, we use operating microscopes, lasers and cataract removal machines.”


What are the rewards of being a veterinary ophthalmologist?

“There are so many rewards, but ultimately making animals and owners happy brings me joy. Being able to restore vision in animals previously blind or vision-compromised from cataracts and seeing the happy faces of the patients and owners never gets old. In some cases, we may be able to prevent vision loss, but if we are unable to save vision, we can make our patients more comfortable. Just witnessing the bond that owners have with their pets is often enough to bring a smile to my face.”