If your dog has red eyes, should you be concerned? It depends. Sometimes, red eyes will clear up on their own within a few hours. If the redness lasts for more than a day, and your dog is showing other symptoms, like eye discharge, obvious eye irritation, or tear stains, call your vet.
When it comes to your dog’s vision, you don’t want to mess around. Even the most minor eye injury should be attended to. If discovered right away, eye drops can help clear up many eye problems.
But if left untreated, eye issues can escalate and lead to vision loss or blindness. When in doubt, always call your vet!
What Causes Red Eyes in Dogs?
If you notice that your dog has red eyes, it may be due to one of these causes:
- Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)
- Corneal issues
- An injury caused by trauma, fighting, or rough play
- Dry eye
- Chemical burns
Conjunctivitis in Dogs (Pink Eye)
If one or both of your dog’s eyes are red, there’s a chance they have conjunctivitis, aka pink eye. Conjunctivitis is common in dogs. If you’ve ever contracted pink eye, you’ll recognize the redness, mucusy discharge, and crustiness around the eye.1
Pink eye can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection, allergies, or an injury that becomes infected. If it’s caused by a bacteria or virus, use caution – it’s contagious. Experts are split on whether or not humans can catch it from dogs.2
More commonly, dogs get conjunctivitis from allergies.3 Allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious, but should still be treated by a veterinarian. Check for other symptoms of pink eye, and call your vet.
Other Symptoms of Pink Eye
- Eye discharge that resembles mucus or pus
- Swelling and irritation around the eyeball and eyelid
- Pawing at the eye4
Veterinary Care for Animal Conjunctivitis
Your vet will examine your pup and ask you questions in an attempt to determine the cause of the conjunctivitis. They may prescribe antibiotic eye drops for a bacterial infection, artificial tears for a viral infection, or antihistamines for allergies.5
Corneal Inflammation (Keratitis) & Ulcers
Keratitis is an inflammation of the cornea.6 This can lead to corneal scarring, dry eye, and very commonly, ulcers. An ulcer develops when part of the cornea is eroded or scratched. Keratitis and ulcers can lead to loss of vision if untreated.7
Symptoms of Cornea Issues
Beyond dog red eyes, you may see:
- Visible blood vessels in the cornea
- Eye discharge, mucus-like or white, in the corners of the eye
- If ulcers are present, you’ll notice watery eyes and a lot of blinking8
What To Do About Cornea Issues
Call your vet. They’ll want to do a thorough examination to see if there are underlying health issues or any ulcers. Brachycephalic breeds, like pugs, boxers, and Pekingese are more likely to develop ulcers.9
An Injury Caused by Fighting, Trauma, or Rough Play
Did your pet recently have an over-enthusiastic romp around the dog park? Playing or fighting with other dogs can lead to eye injuries. Eye injuries can be damaging on their own. But they can also become infected and lead to a condition like conjunctivitis.10
Other Symptoms of Eye Injury
In some cases, you’ll be able to plainly see that your dog’s eye is injured. You might notice a scratch on the eyeball, a torn eyelid, or bruising around the eye. In other cases, you won’t see the injury, but you’ll notice them holding their eye closed, squinting, or light sensitivity.11
Eye injuries can range from tame to severe. Seek treatment from your vet right away.
What To Do About An Eye Injury Caused by Trauma
If you can see a scratch on the eyeball or a tear in the eyelid, cover the area with a cold compress and call your vet. If you have an Elizabethan collar on hand (aka a cone), put it on to prevent further damage.12
Your vet may also recommend that you flush the eye with water.
Tears help lubricate and protect a dog’s eyes. When their tear ducts aren’t working properly, their eyes can dry out. This dryness, called keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), can cause the cornea and other eye tissues to become inflamed and red.13
A pet with keratoconjunctivitis sicca may show these symptoms:
- Redness, pain, and irritation of the eyeball
- Frequent blinking
- Excessive squinting
- Holding the eyes shut
- A thick, yellowish, mucus-like discharge14
What To Do About Dry Eyes
Call your veterinarian as soon as you notice a problem. Your vet will want to diagnose your dog and may need to do a few tests. They will likely recommend eye drops, artificial tears, a saline solution, or an eye ointment.15
Dogs get glaucoma when their eye fluid doesn’t drain properly and pressure builds up. This can be caused by something that blocks the eye’s drainage system, like debris or scar tissue caused by an injury like anterior uveitis.
Glaucoma can also be genetic. Some dog breeds are more likely to have drainage problems that cause glaucoma.16
Breeds More Likely To Get Glaucoma
- Cocker Spaniels
- Fox Terriers
- Great Danes
- Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Akitas
- Chow Chows17
Symptoms of Glaucoma
- Eye pain
- Watery discharge from the eye
- Redness in the blood vessels in the whites of the eyes
- Swelling and bulging of the eyeball
- Lethargy or unresponsiveness
- Cloudy appearance
What To Do If You See These Symptoms
Call your vet immediately, as glaucoma can lead to blindness if left untreated. They may recommend pressure-reducing medications, beta blockers, or surgery.18
Dogs can get chemical burns fairly easily by eating or exposing themselves to toxins like:
- Laundry detergent
- Other household cleaning products
- Fertilizer or pesticides
The severity of the burn depends on the strength of the toxin, whether it was inhaled, ingested, or absorbed into the skin. If one of these chemicals got in or near your dog’s eye, that could be the cause of the redness.19
What To Do About A Chemical Burn
If you suspect your dog has a chemical burn, call your vet immediately. They may advise you to flush their eyes with clean water before you bring them in for an exam.20
It’s quite common for dogs to get red eyes from breathing in environmental allergens like dust, pollen, and mold.21 They can also get red eyes from diet-related allergens, like some types of protein, corn, wheat, soy, or dairy.22
Symptoms of Allergies
Along with red eyes, if your pet is having an allergic reaction, you may also notice:
- Itchy skin
- Intense scratching or nibbling at the skin
- Coughing, sneezing, or wheezing
- Runny discharge from the eyes or nose23
If you suspect your dog is suffering from allergies, call your vet for advice. You might be able to ease allergies at home with natural histamine-balancing supplements and omega-3 supplements. That, along with avoiding the allergen in question, may be all you need.
Your vet may prescribe antihistamines or corticosteroids, or recommend a cream or spray that can help.
A virus, like canine distemper, hepatitis, or canine influenza may also cause redness in your dog’s eyes. If a viral infection is the cause of your dog’s red eyes, other symptoms will likely be more pronounced.
Other Symptoms of a Virus
- Coughing or sneezing
- Eye discharge
- Weakness, lethargy
- Vomiting or diarrhea24
In the case of a virus, call your vet. If possible, you’ll want to address the underlying cause of the sickness as soon as possible. Some viruses must pass on their own. If this is the case, make sure you feed your dog the best possible diet while they recover.
Other Causes of Red Eyes
- Objects in the eye. Unlike humans, dogs have a third eyelid that can easily trap debris. You may not be able to see it, but your dog will squint and paw at their eye if something is in there. Call your vet.25
- Cherry Eye. Cherry eye is the common term for prolapse of the third eyelid gland. You’ll see a red, swollen mass on your dog’s lower eyelid.26 Call your vet.
- Uveitis. This painful inflammation of certain parts of your dog’s eye causes red eyes and discharge. Call your vet.27
- Optic Nerve Swelling. This rare condition can cause blindness. Call your vet if you think your pet is having a hard time seeing.28
What You Can Do About Your Dog’s Red Eyes
You may have noticed a common refrain here and it’s this: call your vet! There are so many potential causes of red eyes in dogs that you’ll want to be sure you identify the right one. In many cases, your dog’s red eye will clear up on their own. But if there’s an underlying health condition, you’ll be glad you called your vet as soon as you noticed it.
Preventing Red Eyes
Eye problems can be difficult to prevent, as many come from bacteria or viruses in the environment.
Your best defense is to focus on strengthening your dog’s overall health. Feed your dog a high quality, all natural dog food. Include the right supplements.
Stay on top of exercise and grooming. A healthy dog can fight infections so they don’t take over, and they can bounce back if they do.
Diet and Supplements
Never underestimate the power of strengthening your dog’s immune system with a balanced, nutritious diet. This can be one of the best ways to help keep red eyes (or any other dog health issue) from occurring.
In addition, a daily natural supplement that contains ingredients like Juvecol, Quercetin, and Nettle Leaf can help regulate histamine production, reduce inflammation and promote better eye health.
Your dog needs regular exercise to stay healthy. As a rule of thumb, your pup should go out on a walk with you every single day. Every dog is different, of course. Seek out recommendations for your breed, or ask your vet.
Yes, grooming can help keep infections away! Dirt, debris, fleas, ticks, and mites – which can all cause infections, can be kept at bay with regular washing.
Grooming your dog also allows you to stay in tune with your dog’s health so you can alert your vet right away if something is amiss.