By: Dr. Juli, DVM @itsDrJuli
Few pet parents can resist the longing eyes of their favorite pup as they stare at the special dog-treat jar. Like humans, our pet’s eyes are the windows to their soul and one of the many ways they communicate. Most dogs are born with healthy, properly functioning eyes. However, some dog breeds may be prone to genetic eye problems that affect their overall well-being. Additionally, all dogs are at risk for eye infections or injury, especially dogs who are expert squirrel chasers and outdoor enthusiasts.
Recognizing eye problems in your pup as soon as possible is a critical aspect of pet care because some issues, like glaucoma, can lead to blindness when left untreated. Your veterinarian will often prescribe eye drops or an ointment to treat your dog's eye problem.
Signs of Eye Problems in Dogs
Recognizing when your dog's eyes are painful or infected is vital to ensuring the best chance of recovery. Eye problems are often painful for pets, so bring your pup for a veterinary examination if they are showing any of the following signs:
- Pawing at their eye(s)
- Rubbing their face and eyes on the carpet
- Blinking or squinting
- Light sensitivity
- Hair loss around the eye
- Redness in or around the eye
- Eye discharge (e.g., green, yellow, white, or blood-tinged)
- Excess tearing (i.e.epiphora)
- Swelling around the eye
- Prominent third eyelids
- Discoloration of the cornea
- Cloudiness or a blue hue over the eye
- Crusting around or over the eye
- Vision loss (e.g., bumping into things around the house)
When and Why Your Dog May Be Prescribed Eye Drops
Similar to other illnesses, injuries, genetic disorders, and bacterial infections can affect your dog's eyes. Clinical signs are similar for various eye problems, so bring your pup for an examination if their eyes are abnormal. Sometimes, your dog's eye problem may be related to a systemic illness. Although you may only see mild eye redness, your veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination in addition to their ophthalmic exam. More testing may be required, including an eye stain to assess any injury, a Schirmer tear test to measure your dog's ability to produce tears, and an eye pressure test.
In many cases, prescription eye drops or eye ointment will be required for the following dog eye issues:
- Allergies: Your dog may suffer from seasonal allergies due to certain pollens or plants, which can cause watery and red eyes. Environmental factors like dust, perfumes, household cleaners, or shampoos can also affect your pup's eye health.
- Infections: Bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses, like distemper or canine influenza, can cause dog eye infections.
- Conjunctivitis (aka Pink Eye): Pink eye is a common dog eye condition caused by inflammation or swelling of the tissue covering the eyeball and eyelid. Conjunctivitis causes may include bacteria, viruses, allergens, immune disorders, trauma, or foreign bodies.
- Glaucoma (High Eye Pressure): Elevated pressure in your dog's eye is painful and requires immediate veterinary care. Pets who do not receive treatment for glaucoma are at risk for blindness. Older pets and some breeds have an increased risk for glaucoma. Most cases will require life-long eye medications.
- Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (aka KCS, or dry eye): Inadequate production of the aqueous portion of the tear film can lead to inflammation of the cornea and surrounding tissues. An immune-mediated condition, other eye diseases, or medication side effects can cause KCS.
Different Types of Eye Medications for Dogs
Your veterinarian may prescribe one or several eye medications based on your pup's physical examination and ophthalmic testing. Although some human eye medications may contain similar ingredients, never place any human eye drops or ointment in your dog's eye. Human medications may be formulated differently or have drugs that are harmful to pets.
Types of dog eye drops include:
- Steroid: Inflammation caused by infections or allergies may require steroid eye drops. These cannot be used in pets with corneal damage, so an eye stain will be necessary if your veterinarian suspects a corneal ulcer is present.
- Antibiotic: Dogs diagnosed with conjunctivitis or other eye infections need an antibiotic eye drop or ointment.
- Immunosuppressant: Eye conditions like KCS may require an immunosuppressant medication, like cyclosporine, to improve tear production.
- Anti-glaucoma: Drops to improve your dog's eye pressure will be prescribed for pets with glaucoma.
- Saline eye wash: This may be used to clean dirt and debris from the eye before treatment.
How to Apply Your Dog's Eye Drops or Eye Ointment at Home
Properly administering your dog's eye medication is critical to ensure they recover from their eye problems. Depending on their condition, your pup may require eye drops several times throughout the day. Read the medication label carefully, and if you're unsure how to administer their medication, ask your veterinary nurse to demonstrate the proper way to instill your dog's eye drops or ointment.
Follow these steps when treating your dog's eyes:
- Wash your hands before and after handling to prevent contamination and infection spread.
- Gently clean away any debris around your dog's eyes with a warm washcloth.
- Hold the medication bottle above the eye with your thumb and index finger and gently pull down the lower lid of the affected eye.
- Without touching your dog's eye, squeeze the drops or a thin strip of ointment along the inner corner of the eye. Hold your dog's head briefly to allow the medication to disperse. If your dog is getting ointment, gently hold their eye closed for a few moments.
- Provide lots of praise and treats immediately following medication administration.
- Place an e-collar on your dog to prevent them from further damaging or scratching their eye during healing.
How to Keep Your Dog’s Eyes Healthy
Proper eye care is essential to your dog's overall health and wellness. Tips for keeping your dog's eyes healthy include:
- Schedule (at least) annual veterinary examinations.
- Feed your pup an AAFCO-approved diet to ensure they have all the necessary nutrients for eye and organ health.
- Support your allergy-prone dog with supplements like Allergy Chews for immune health, or add Omega Oil to their dog food to help alleviate any itchy skin issues.
- Regularly inspect your dog's eyes and clean out any debris with a warm washcloth.
For more information and tips on your dog's health, check out the Native Pet blog.