One of the most iconic women in the world had a congenital condition of her eyes that resulted in double eyelashes. Elizabeth Taylor was famous for her magnificent eyes and her “birth defect” was a major part of her beauty. Unfortunately, distichiasis (extra eyelashes), doesn’t often produce such a great outcome. Distichiasis or distichia is a congenital condition that also affects dogs -- sometimes with negative results.
What is distichiasis?
The extra lashes themselves are not the problem. The cosmetic results may be unusual but not clinically significant unless the direction of their growth causes corneal irritation that results in excess tearing, conjunctivitis or corneal scaring. Distichiasis is a form of eyelash abnormality wherein the lashes grow from an abnormal location on the lid. A related condition is trichiasis when the eyelash is directed inward toward the eye. Another variation of this group of abnormalities is ectopic cilia where the hair grows through the inner surface of the eyelid. Although these conditions differ from one another their results and management are very similar.
Trichiasis is most common in Pekingese, pugs and bulldog breeds. Distichiasis is most common in dachshunds, English bulldogs and toy and miniature poodles. Breeds most likely to have ectopic cilia are Shih Tzu, boxers and Shetland sheepdogs. However, these conditions may occur in any breed and become apparent at any age but they occur most commonly in young dogs and older puppies1.
Abnormal eyelash causes
Certain facial shapes and deformities increase the incidence. Therefore there may be an indirect genetic cause. In humans the condition is definitely genetic, which is likely how Elizabeth Taylor obtained her double eyelashes2.
Many dogs with eyelash abnormalities will show no signs or they may have symptoms ranging from mild tearing, to squinting, to severe pain3.
Since the clinical signs are a direct result of the abnormal eyelashes, unless the condition can be resolved, the clinical signs will persist. Ectopic cilia can result in corneal ulcers and corneal scarring.
Treatment for Extra Eyelashes
Mechanical removal by plucking the lash may yield temporary results but as the hair re-grows it results in a stiff-like whisker that can cause even more irritation.
The only real cure is the removal or destruction of the root of the lash. A number of surgical approaches have been developed but in most cases “cryoepiilation” is the treatment of choice using liquid nitrogen to destroy the follicle3.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.