If your fur baby is pawing at one or both eyes and you notice unusual eye discharge, you may be dealing with a dog eye infection. Eye problems are uncomfortable for dogs. They can also hint at a greater underlying health issue, so you’ll want to call your veterinarian.
Left untreated, canine eye infections can spread and lead to vision loss or blindness. Read on to find out what type of infection your dog might have and what you should do about it.
Signs that Something is Wrong with Your Dog’s Eyes
Symptoms of eye infections in dogs and look pretty similar to those of humans. If you see one or more of these symptoms, your pet may have a dog eye infection:
- Red eyes
- Itching and irritation of the eye
- Clear, opaque, or pus-like eye discharge
- Sensitivity to light, frequent blinking or squinting
- Pawing at the eye
- Holding the eye closed
- Teary eyes1
What are some Common Dog Eye Infections?
Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)
Conjunctivitis is the itchy inflammation of the moist tissue that coats the eyeball and eyelids. This tissue is called the conjunctiva. Pink eye in dogs is similar to pink eye in humans – the afflicted party suffers from red, itchy, inflamed eyes. Poor buddy!
Depending on the cause, pink eye can be contagious, even to humans.2 As a general rule, if the pink eye is caused by allergies or an eye injury, it is not contagious. If it’s caused by a bacteria, virus, or parasite, it is.
How To Spot Pink Eye
If your dog has eye conjunctivitis, they will display the typical signs of an eye infection. Look closely for mucus eye discharge and crustiness around the eyes. With conjunctivitis, dog eye discharge will be opaque and viscous, not watery like tears.
Also, watch for behavior changes. Is your dog pawing at their eyes or rubbing their face on your pillows? It may be a sign that their eyes are bothering them – and that it’s time to wash your pillowcases!
Causes of Canine Conjunctivitis
Conjunctivitis is a single condition, but it has many causes. This infection can be contracted on its own, or it can be caused by another bacteria, virus, or injury.3 Here are some of the most common causes:
- An allergic reaction to allergens like dust mites, pollen, and mold could cause conjunctivitis. This type of pink eye is the most common in dogs, and it is not contagious.4
- Bacterial infections typically cause canine pink eye. The main culprits are streptococcus (strep) and staphylococcus (staph infection). Bacterial conjunctivitis is quite contagious and should be treated with antibiotics or ointments.5
- Viruses, like canine distemper, a cold, or an upper respiratory infection can also cause pink eye. Viral Conjunctivitis can stick around for up to 3 weeks. It is contagious and should be treated by a veterinarian.
- Other causes are eye injuries, foreign bodies in the eye, or dry eye. If the pink eye is caused by an eye injury, it is not contagious.
The treatment for canine conjunctivitis will depend on the cause of the infection. For a bacterial infection, your vet will likely prescribe antibiotic eye drops. Allergies can be treated with a topical antihistamine. If the cause is a virus, your vet might recommend steroid eye drops or artificial tears.6
Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (Dry Eye)
If your dog has painful, red, irritated eyes that they try to hold shut, they may be suffering from dry eye syndrome.
Tear production is an essential part of lubricating and protecting dogs’ eyes. When your dog’s tear ducts aren’t working properly, their eyes can dry out. This dryness can cause the cornea and other eye tissues to become inflamed.
If left untreated, dogs who suffer from keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) will develop scars on their corneas. Their eyes will look dull and lusterless from the scars. It can look like a dark film is covering their eyes.
But the good news is that dry eye is not typically that serious if treated right away. Call your vet as soon as you notice a problem.7
Causes of Dry Eye
- Viral infections, like canine distemper
- Bacteria, like chlamydia conjunctivitis
- Internal inflammation
- A side effect of some medications
- Blocked tear duct
It can be genetic in some breeds, like Pugs and Yorkshire Terriers
Your vet will likely see your dog on an outpatient basis. They may recommend eye drops, artificial tears, a saline solution, or an eye ointment.8
Corneal Infection or Ulcer (Keratitis)
If a dog has extra teary eyes or is squinting excessively, they may have a corneal infection. The cornea is the clear membrane that makes up the front layer of the eyeball. It covers the iris and lets light into the eye.9
When the cornea is inflamed, this condition is called keratitis. Typically, keratitis is caused by an erosion of the cornea, aka an ulcer, or a fungal or bacterial infection. It’s important to find the cause of inflammation. Call your vet. If left untreated, keratitis can lead to vision loss or a blind dog in the most severe cases.10
If your dog has “cherry eye” you’ll likely know right away. You’ll see a red, swollen mass on your dog’s lower eyelid.
Cherry eye is the common term for prolapse of the third eyelid gland.
What’s the third eyelid gland, you ask? Well, both dogs and cats have a third eyelid, technically called the nictitating membrane, tucked inside their lower eyelid. This lower eyelid contains a gland that helps lubricate the eye. When this gland pops out, you get cherry eye.11
Why Do Dogs Get Cherry Eye?
In most dogs, the third eyelid gland is anchored to the lower rim of the eye by fibrous material. The attachment holds it in place, and it never pops out. But some breeds are born with a weaker attachment. If this attachment breaks, the gland pops out.12
Breeds Commonly Affected:
- Cocker Spaniels
- Shih Tzus
- Lhasa Apsos
- Boston Terriers13
If your dog has cherry eye, call your vet. Surgery may be required.14
If your dog’s eyes look cloudy and they seem very sensitive to light, they may have a condition called uveitis. Uveitis is the inflammation of the interior portion of your dog’s eye. This area is called the uvea and is made up of the iris, the ciliary body, and the choroid.
Symptoms of uveitis
- Light sensitivity
- A cloudy appearance
- Blood inside the eyes
- Excessive teary eyes
- Eyes kept shut
Causes of uveitis
- Viral infections, like rabies and distemper
- Bacterial infections, like Lyme disease and leptospirosis
- Parasitic infections, like toxoplasmosis and ehrlichiosis
- Fungal infections, like blastomycosis and histoplasmosis
- High blood pressure
- Toxins or chemicals getting in the eye
There are many potential causes of uveitis. If your dog has a bacterial, viral, fungal, or parasitic infection that is causing uveitis, there may be other symptoms of that infection. Call your vet, so they can properly examine and diagnose your dog.15
How Your Vet Will Treat Eye Infections In Dogs
Before treating your dog’s eye problems, your veterinarian will first examine your dog to find the underlying cause.
- Eye problems that are caused by a bacterial infection will usually be treated with antibiotics or ointments. When applying medication to your dog’s eyes, always make sure you wash your hands first, and closely follow your vet’s instructions.16
- Other eye conditions, like cherry eye, might require surgery.
- If your dog has allergies, your vet might prescribe antihistamines or a medication to help with inflammation.17
- If your dog has a viral infection, the eye infection may just be a symptom of that issue. In those cases, your vet may treat the underlying medical issue and wait for the eye problem to clear up on its own.
Healthy Eye Care For Dogs
While you can’t always prevent eye problems, there are plenty of things you can do at home to keep your dog’s eyes healthy.
- Look into their eyes. More than just a bonding experience, gazing into your dog’s eyes can help you keep tabs on their eye health. Look for redness, cloudiness, tear stains, unusual eye boogers or discharge, or blood. Call your vet if you notice any changes.
- Feed them an all-natural, balanced diet. Boosting your dog’s immune system with a healthy diet is the best way to ward off any infections or visits to the vet. Look for a raw food full of antioxidants, like blueberries, and fatty acids, like omega-3’s.
- Groom them regularly using all natural dog products. Bathe them with products free of chemicals and other irritants. Trim their hair, so it’s not in their eyes. Keep their nails short, so they are less likely to scratch themselves in the eye.
- Protect their eyes. Some dogs love to hang their head out of the car window. If you can’t bear to take that joy away from them, consider getting them dog goggles. Dirt and debris can easily get in your dog’s eyes without them. Plus, come on, they’re pretty darn cute!
- Monitor your dog’s allergies. Make sure you know what allergens and irritants your dog is sensitive to. Watch for things like smoke, pollen, perfume, grass, and plants. Once you know what your dog reacts to, avoid those irritants.
Consider a Daily Probiotic Supplement
Improving your dog’s gut health may help them ward off infections that can cause eye problems. Supplements are especially important if your vet has prescribed antibiotics for your pet’s eye infection. Antibiotics can kill off all bacteria – good and bad – and probiotics may help restore balance.18
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