Ectopic Cilia & Distichiasis


Ectopic Cilia and Distichiasis are health conditions that are commonly inherited by UK dogs.

This condition affects the eyelids of UK dogs when abnormal hairs grow in and around the eyes.

Hairs that grow upward toward the eyeballs as an ingrowing hair are known as ectopic cilia. Alternatively, hair that grows outwards from the eyelids is known as distichiasis. Both conditions are identical outside of this difference and some knock on repercussions.

As you can imagine, ectopic cilia is certainly the cause of much more discomfort for the dog as opposed to distichiasis. With hairs growing inwards, irritations to the eyes is common and can cause significant damage when left untreated.

Since this condition is often inherited, both eyes tend to be affected simultaneously as opposed to individually.

It has however been seen in single eyes for both inherited causes as well as external factors but this is deemed as very rare for UK dogs as of 2020.


With both conditions presenting themselves similarly as hair growing from the eyelids, symptoms tend to be consistent regardless of the hair growth direction that is explained above.

Whilst the symptoms are consistent, the severity will be different depending on the growth direction that will dictate the exact diagnosis.

Symptoms of both ectopic cilia and distichiasis are:

  • Noticeable uncomfortable eyes or eye lids.
  • Tearing consistently.
  • Excessive moisture in and around the eyes.
  • Inflamed eyelids.
  • Excessive blinking.
  • Signs of conjunctivitis.

When ectopic cilia in particular is in it’s later stages of infection, symptoms can include:

  • Noticeable whimpering throughout the day.
  • Noticeable reluctance to open eyes
  • Constant pawing of eyes and eye lids.
  • Partial loss of vision.
  • Complete loss of vision.

Affected Breeds

The condition is relatively common in UK dog breeds but is way more likely to affect some breeds over others.

It is thought that this is because of genetic traits in certain bloodlines but a definitive answer is yet to be found as of 2020.

UK dog breeds more prone to ectopic cilia & distichiasis are:


With symptoms for both ectopic cilia and distichiasis being very similar it is no surprise that the treatments for both are also similar.

With that being said, there is a key difference that draws a line between the two.

Around 75% of cases of distichiasis in UK dogs do not require any treatment. In the majority of all cases of distichiasis the condition can go unnoticed by dog owners and even dogs themselves.

Whilst the dog may have the condition and hair is growing outwards from the eyelids, discomfort does not occur as the eyes themselves are not being irritated.

In symptomless cases no medical treatment is required.

In the cases of both conditions where the dog is showing symptoms from the symptoms list above, there is a preferred treatment.

Cryoepilation is a procedure where a dog is put under an anaesthetic by a UK veterinarian. Once asleep, the hairs on the dog’s eyelids are probed and frozen using a liquid nitrogen. The vet will then proceed to remove all hairs from the eyelid manually one by one. Removal of the hair and it’s follicle by vet is done to ensure it doesn’t grow back at a later date.

This procedure can be performed on dogs of any age but it is important to note that dogs under the age of 36 months old can see the condition return at some point in their life. In these cases the procedure can be performed again.

Dogs listed in the affected breeds section above are among those most likely to see the condition return.

Treatment Success Rate

Cryoepilation as a treatment in dogs over the age of 36 months tends to be very successful in the UK. Currently it is believed that the treatment is around 90% effective in completely removing the condition with it never returning.

However, this number drops significantly when the treatment is performed on younger dogs under 36 months old with only a 25% success rate of the condition not returning.

Treatment Cost

The cost of performing cryoepilation by a UK veterinarian can be quite a substantial outlay.

The procedure itself is quite short but the equipment required, the expertise needed and the effective rate of the procedure do come at quite a substantial price point.

Cryoepilation will cost around £1400 as of 2020 in the UK. A follow up appointment is also required as well as antibiotics in some cases. UK dog owners should expect to pay around £1500 total to alleviate the condition from their dog or puppy.

This cost is per procedure so should the condition return, the procedure will have to be paid for again.

Further Reading

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