Cyclosporine vs Tacrolimus Eye Drops for Dogs – Choose Wisely

When it comes to managing chronic eye conditions in dogs, two medications often come to the forefront: cyclosporine and tacrolimus. Both are immunosuppressive agents used to treat various eye issues, but how do they differ, and which is better for your canine companion?

In this article, we’ll talk about these eye drops, offering insights into their uses, benefits, and potential side effects, ensuring you’re well-informed about their options.

Key Takeaways

  • Cyclosporine and Tacrolimus are used to treat chronic eye conditions in dogs, primarily chronic dry eye (KCS) and immune-mediated eye diseases.
  • Cyclosporine is effective for a broad range of cases, stimulating tear production and offering anti-inflammatory benefits, making it a first-line treatment for many veterinarians.
  • Tacrolimus is considered more potent than cyclosporine and is often used when cyclosporine is not effective, especially in severe cases of KCS.
  • Side effects of cyclosporine are generally milder and may include mild eye irritation or discomfort upon application and temporary blurred vision. Tacrolimus may increase the risk of eye infections and cause a burning sensation upon application.
  • Cost-wise, cyclosporine is generally less expensive than tacrolimus, making it a more cost-effective option for many pet owners.

Cyclosporine Eye Drops

Cyclosporine is a well-established treatment for dry eye in dogs. It works by stimulating tear production and has anti-inflammatory properties, making it a staple in veterinary ophthalmology for managing chronic eye conditions.

How Does It Work?

Cyclosporine Eye Drops

Cyclosporine acts on the immune system to increase tear production, providing relief from the dryness and irritation associated with KCS. It specifically targets T-cells, which are responsible for the inflammatory response that reduces tear production.

This targeted action not only helps in increasing moisture in the eye but also in maintaining a healthy balance in the immune response, preventing further damage to tear-producing glands.

Besides these treatments, understanding simple at-home measures can further support your pet’s eye health, especially for common issues like eye styes, which can be managed with gentle, natural remedies to provide relief and prevent complications.


  • Increases tear production: Effective in treating dry eye by increasing the dog’s natural tear production. This improvement in tear production can significantly enhance the dog’s quality of life by reducing discomfort and promoting eye health.
  • Anti-inflammatory: Helps reduce inflammation in the eye. By controlling inflammation, cyclosporine not only treats the symptoms but also addresses one of the root causes of KCS, leading to more sustainable management of the condition.
  • Long-term safety: Extensively studied with a good safety profile for long-term use. Its well-documented efficacy and safety make it a go-to option for veterinarians, ensuring that dogs can receive prolonged treatment without significant risks.

Eye Drops for Dogs

Potential Side Effects

  • Mild eye irritation or discomfort upon application, which usually subsides after a few minutes, indicating the dog’s adjustment to the initial sensation.
  • Temporary blurred vision, affects the dog’s visual clarity, but this is usually transient and resolves without intervention.
Did you know that dogs have a third eyelid? This unique feature, officially known as the nictitating membrane, plays a crucial role in eye protection and moisture.

Tacrolimus Eye Drops


Tacrolimus is another immunosuppressive agent used for similar conditions as cyclosporine but is often considered when cyclosporine is not effective. Its potent action makes it a powerful alternative for managing severe cases of eye conditions in dogs.

How Does It Work?

Tacrolimus Eye Drops

Tacrolimus also increases tear production but is believed to be more potent than cyclosporine, making it a suitable alternative for more severe cases. It operates by inhibiting calcineurin, a key enzyme in T-cell activation, leading to reduced inflammatory responses in the eye.

This action not only helps in alleviating the symptoms of dry eye but also in preventing the immune system from attacking the eye’s tear-producing glands.


  • Potent immunosuppressive effects: Effective in cases where cyclosporine fails. Its ability to provide relief even in refractory cases of KCS makes it an essential option in veterinary ophthalmology.
  • Increases tear production: Helps relieve symptoms of dry eye by enhancing tear production. The increase in tear production is often noticeable within a few weeks of starting treatment, offering significant relief to affected dogs.
  • Suitable for severe cases: Its potency makes it especially valuable for treating dogs with severe or advanced KCS, where other treatments have not been successful.

eye drops to a dog

Potential Side Effects

  • Increased risk of eye infections due to its potent immunosuppressive action. Owners should monitor their pets for signs of infection and report any concerns to their veterinarian.
  • Possible burning sensation upon application, which, although usually mild, may cause discomfort to some dogs at the beginning of the treatment.

Which Is Better?

Factor Cyclosporine Tacrolimus
Effectiveness Effective in a broad range of cases for increasing tear production. Preferred as the first line of treatment for many veterinarians. More potent, making it a better option for severe cases of KCS.
Side Effects Milder side effect profile, safer for long-term use. Provides peace of mind for pet owners and veterinarians. Increased risk of eye infections and possible burning sensation upon application.
Cost Generally less expensive, making it a more cost-effective option for many pet owners. Popular choice for initial treatment plans due to its cost-effectiveness, safety, and efficacy. Typically more expensive than cyclosporine, which may affect the decision for some pet owners.


Can cyclosporine or tacrolimus eye drops be used in conjunction with other medications for KCS?

Yes, in some cases, veterinarians may prescribe these in combination with other medications to manage KCS more effectively. However, it’s important to consult with a veterinarian for a tailored treatment plan, as interactions between medications need to be considered.

How long does it take to see improvement in my dog’s condition after starting cyclosporine or tacrolimus?

Improvement in tear production and eye condition can be observed as early as a few weeks after starting treatment with either cyclosporine or tacrolimus. However, the exact timeframe can vary depending on the severity of the condition and the individual dog’s response to the medication.

Are there any lifestyle or dietary changes that can support the treatment of KCS alongside these medications?

While medication is primary in treating KCS, maintaining good hydration and possibly adding omega-3 fatty acids to your dog’s diet may support overall health and potentially benefit eye health. Always consult with your veterinarian before making any dietary changes.

Can cyclosporine or tacrolimus eye drops be used as a preventative measure for dogs at risk of developing KCS?

These medications are typically not used as preventative treatments but are prescribed to manage symptoms and underlying causes of existing conditions. For dogs at risk of KCS, regular veterinary check-ups are essential for early detection and management.

What should I do if I miss a dose of my dog’s cyclosporine or tacrolimus eye drops?

If you miss a dose, administer it as soon as you remember. However, if it’s almost time for the next scheduled dose, skip the missed dose and continue with the regular dosing schedule. Do not double up on doses.

Is it safe to use cyclosporine or tacrolimus eye drops for long-term treatment of KCS in dogs?

Both cyclosporine and tacrolimus are considered safe for long-term use in the management of KCS when monitored by a veterinarian. Regular check-ups are recommended to assess the effectiveness of the treatment and to monitor for any potential side effects.

The Bottom Line

When deciding between cyclosporine and tacrolimus eye drops for your dog, consider the severity of the condition, potential side effects, and cost.

Cyclosporine is a great starting point for most cases of KCS due to its effectiveness and safety profile. However, for more severe cases or when cyclosporine is not effective, tacrolimus may be the better option.

Always consult with a veterinarian to determine the best course of treatment for your furry friend, ensuring they receive the care they need for a happier, healthier life.