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All About Eyes: A Pet Owner’s Guide to Dog Eye Infections

In some cases, mild eye changes may not be a cause for concern, but understanding when to take your pup in for an eye examination and how to care for their eyes properly, will ensure they remain clear and healthy through all life stages. 

All About Eyes: A Pet Owner’s Guide to Dog Eye Infections

In some cases, mild eye changes may not be a cause for concern, but understanding when to take your pup in for an eye examination and how to care for their eyes properly, will ensure they remain clear and healthy through all life stages. 

By: Dr. Juli, DVM

Dogs are expert communicators, even though they cannot speak the same language as their owners. From longing stares at the treat jar to wagging tails when you arrive home after a long day, you likely know exactly what your pup is trying to communicate just from the look in your pet’s eyes. The bond with your dog is unique, and as you look affectionately into their expressive eyes, it can be worrisome to notice redness, discharge, or unusual colorations.

Like people, your dog is prone to various eye conditions, including painful infections, which can compromise their ability to see either temporarily or permanently in severe cases. In some cases, mild eye changes may not be a cause for concern, but understanding when to take your pup in for an eye examination and how to care for their eyes properly, will ensure they remain clear and healthy through all life stages. 

Beagle dog looks up at the sky

Risk Factors for Dog Eye Infections

Any age, breed, or sex can be at risk for an eye infection. Some breeds, including brachycephalics, like pugs, French bulldogs, or Boston terriers, may have an increased risk for eye problems because of their bulging eye structure or inability to close their eyes fully. Other eye infection risk factors include:

  • Dogs who explore wooded areas, or areas with thick brush or tall grasses
  • Poor grooming or dogs with excessive hair around their eyes
  • Unvaccinated dogs
  • Dogs who frequent dog parks, boarding facilities, or group training classes
  • Underlying eye diseases including entropion (turned-in eyelid), cherry eye (prolapsed third eyelid), eye tumors, and Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS or dry eye)
  • Poor hygiene
  • Underling allergies or sensitivities
  • Immune compromise or deficiencies 

Border Collie dog looks soulful in the eyes

Common Causes of Eye Infections in Dogs

There are numerous types of causes for dog eye infections, and most will cause pain and discomfort for your pup. Eye infections will never clear on their own and, without treatment, can spread, leading to more severe pain and potential vision loss. In many cases, an infection appears very quickly without a known cause.

Common types of eye infections include:

  • Conjunctivitis. Also known as pink eye, or red eye, this is caused by inflammation of the mucous member covering the front of the eye and the lining of the inner surface of the eyelid.
  • Corneal inflammation. The outer layer at the front of the eye, or cornea, focuses light so a dog can see clearly. Inflammation can result from various underlying issues, including an injury (i.e., abrasion or corneal ulcer), allergens, or infection.
  • Uveitis. This occurs from inflammation of the interior portion of the eye, which includes the iris (colored part of the eye), choroid (tissue behind the iris), and ciliary body (circular structure behind the eye).
  • Eyelid or tear duct deformities. Anatomic problems, including a blocked tear duct or inward-turned eyelid (entropion), can cause inflammation on various eye surfaces. 

Common causes of dog eye infections or inflammation include: 

  • Viral infections (e.g., canine distemper virus, canine influenza, hepatitis, and herpes)
  • Bacterial infection (e.g., leptospirosis, tick-borne diseases)
  • Fungal infection (e.g., blastomycosis)
  • Parasites (i.e., eyeworms)
  • Foreign bodies (e.g., grass blades, dirt, dog hair, seeds)
  • Trauma (e.g., scratching or rubbing at the eye, bumping into something, playing or fighting with another animal)
  • Irritants (e.g., smoke, pollen, dust, shampoos, perfume)

Brown dog rests its face in owner's hand

Signs of Eye Infections in Dogs

Like people, eye problems will cause your dog discomfort and become more painful without treatment. A small amount of eye discharge after sleeping or mild clear tearing may not be cause for concern. However, eye infections can progress quickly, so bring your dog for veterinary care if they are showing any of the following abnormalities:

  • Redness in or around the eye
  • Swelling around or behind the eye
  • Pawing at the eye(s)
  • Rubbing their face and eyes on the carpet or furniture
  • Excess blinking, squinting, or holding their eye closed
  • Light sensitivity
  • Hair loss around the eye
  • Crusting around the eyelids
  • Eye discharge (e.g., green, yellow, white, or blood-tinged)
  • Excess tearing (i.e., epiphora)
  • Prominent third eyelids
  • Discoloration of the cornea
  • Cloudiness or a blue hue over the eyeball
  • Vision problems (e.g., bumping into things around the house)

Diagnosing and Treating Dog Eye Infections

Never attempt to diagnose or treat your dog's eye issues with home remedies unless your veterinarian advises. Your dog's eye examination is similar to what a person would experience. Because eye problems are painful, your veterinarian will likely numb your dog's eye before running any diagnostics. Depending on the severity and type of signs your dog is showing, their examination may include the following:

  • Visual exam with an ophthalmoscope
  • Schirmer tear test to measure tear production
  • Tonometry to test measure intraocular pressure (i.e., glaucoma test)
  • Corneal stain with fluorescein dye to rule out an abrasion or eye ulcer
  • Bacterial, fungal, or viral culture
  • Allergy testing 

Sometimes, your family veterinarian may refer you to a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist for more in-depth testing and treatment. Treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the eye infection and may include:

  • Topical antibiotic ointment or eye drops
  • Topical steroid ointment or drops
  • Oral pain medication 
  • Oral antibiotics medication
  • Eye flushes
  • Warm compresses around the eye
  • Surgical removal of a foreign object
  • Surgery to repair a trauma or genetic deformity
  • Immunotherapy
  • Antihistamine medication
  • Immunosuppressant drops or oral medications 

How to Prevent Dog Eye Infections

Many causes of dog eye infections, like bacteria or viruses, can be contagious to other pets, so keep infected dogs isolated from other animals. It is also critical to complete the medication course and veterinary follow-up appointments. For some infections, treatment is required for several weeks or months. Additionally, ensure to prevent your pup from further injuring or irritating their eye by having them wear an Elizabethan collar or cone. 

Dog eye infections are not always preventable, but supporting your dog's overall health and wellness can help decrease the chances of a severe infection.

Ways to support your dog's eye health include:

  • Washing your hands before and after handling their eyes to prevent contamination and infection spread
  • Scheduling yearly or more frequent veterinary examinations
  • Ensuring your dog's vaccinations are current and they are receiving parasite-prevention medication
  • Feeding your pup an AAFCO-approved diet to ensure they have all required nutrients for eye and organ health
  • Supporting your dog with allergy supplements and supplements that support your dog's skin and coat health.
  • Regularly inspect your dog's eyes and clean out any debris with a warm washcloth
  • Using protective eyewear, like doggles, when your pup is exposed to outdoor or irritating elements
  • Keeping the hair around the eyes clean and trimmed
  • Avoiding wooded areas or thick brush

Caring for your dog's eyes should be a part of their overall health and wellness plan. If you notice a problem, take steps to prevent your pup from further injuring their eye, and immediately call your veterinarian.

For more information and tips on your dog's health, check out the Native Pet blog.

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