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Although smell is your dog’s primary way of experiencing the world, your dog’s vision is also important. Maintaining good eye health is essential for your dog’s comfort and well-being. If your pet is suffering from a dog eye infection, it’s a major concern. Eye infections in dogs can quickly become serious and lead to severe complications. Learn to recognize the signs of an eye infection to ensure speedy and targeted treatment for your dog.

What Are the Signs of a Dog Eye Infection?

Just as with people, a dog eye infection occurs when something, such as bacteria, invades the tissues of the eye. Dr. Chantale Pinard, associate professor and veterinary ophthalmologist at Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph, specializes in dog eye infections. “Eye infections can present with many symptoms, especially related to type and duration of infection,” Dr. Chantale says. “The number of clinical signs will increase with the severity of the infection and possibly the duration.”

Close-up of a Pug laying on a black leather chair giving sad puppy eyes.
TerryJ/E+ via Getty Images

Recent infections that are less than 24 hours old often exhibit symptoms such as:

  • Excess tearing
  • Excessive winking or blinking (depending on whether the infection is in one or both eyes)
  • Prolapse (popping out of the corner of the eye) of the third eyelid (the membrane that comes from the inner corner of the eye)
  • Yellow-green discharge from the eye
  • Pawing at the eye or keeping the eye closed

Chronic infections may exhibit signs such as:

  • Yellow or green discharge from the eye
  • Slight winking/blinking or keeping the eyelids closed
  • Prolapse of the third eyelid

In addition, your dog might have red or pink in the whites of their eyes or around their eyelids, light sensitivity, or swollen eyelids. Although not all dogs will exhibit these behaviors, they are clear indicators that something is wrong.

What Causes Dog Eye Infections?

There are many causes of eye infections in dogs. One of the most common is an abrasion (ulcer) or scratch of the cornea, the clear part of the eyeball that the dog sees through. Corneal abrasions are often due to trauma. Trauma can include when the dog rubs at their eye, a grain of sand enters the eye and scratches the surface, or a thorn or stick cuts the cornea as the dog rushes through the bushes, a particular risk in hunting dogs. Another common cause of corneal abrasion is shampoo getting into a dog’s eye during a bath. Dr. Pinard advises prompt veterinary care in these cases.

Brittany running in the woods hunting.
©Field Dog Imagery

Dr. Pinard states that another common cause of dog eye infection is dry eye syndrome, officially known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca. Although veterinary care is necessary, it’s not considered an emergency like corneal abrasion. However, the sooner your dog starts receiving medication, the better their response to treatment will be. “This disease can start off slowly with more eye sleep goobers in the morning or can be acute due to a reaction to a medication or if it was missed inadvertently at the beginning of clinical signs,” says Dr. Pinard. “The signs correspond to a lack of tears and the accumulation of mucus. This mucus usually turns green/yellow due to an overwhelming number of bacteria that were not flushed because of a lack of tears.”

Although it’s not as common, Dr. Pinard explains that infection of the eyelids can also lead to an eye infection in dogs because the eyelids are in close contact with the eyeball. “Usually the eyelids will be swollen, red, and may have lumps or bumps that rupture into skin ulcers. These cases should be seen within a week of presenting symptoms.”

Differentiating Between Dog Eye Allergies and Infection

If your dog has allergies to pollen or dust mites, for example, it can cause clear discharge from the eyes and redness, which can look like an eye infection. But allergies can also cause conjunctivitis, which is inflammation of the conjunctiva, the mucus membrane that covers the inside of the eyelids and the eyeball.

Dr. Jerry Klein, Chief Veterinary Officer for the AKC, outlines a general rule of thumb for telling apart dog eye infections and allergies. If only one eye is affected, the cause is likely infection or inflammation. Because allergic situations are systemic, both eyes could be affected.

Close-up of an Irish Setter's eyes.
subject777/Getty Images Plus

Dr. Pinard says allergic conjunctivitis is another common cause of eye infection in dogs, especially after swimming in the dirty water of a pond. “The pink tissue around the eye—conjunctiva—becomes irritated and red. This can lead to increased tearing and blinking. Veterinary care should be sought in the first 24 hours, as this condition can lead to increased trauma to the eyelids due to rubbing.”

Dog Eye Infection Treatment

The treatment for eye infections in dogs depends on the cause. “Topical antibiotics are warranted for corneal ulceration, and the choice of antibiotic will depend on the severity,” Dr. Pinard explains. “For dry eye symptoms, artificial tears will help when given three to four times daily. But what is really needed is a veterinarian-prescribed tear stimulant that will promote natural tearing. For eyelid infections, a veterinarian will prescribe oral antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs.”

That’s why taking your dog to a veterinarian is key when you see the first signs of a possible eye infection. Your veterinarian will take a history of symptoms and conduct a comprehensive eye exam for diagnosis and prescription of appropriate treatment. “This goes beyond looking at the eye with instruments,” Dr. Pinard says. “It also includes ocular tests that will confirm a diagnosis. These tests include a measurement of the tear production—Schirmer tear test—and fluorescein stain uptake, where a dye is placed on the cornea to detect ulcerations. In some cases, the measurement of eye pressure may also be needed.”

Australian Cattle Dog having its eyes checked by the vet.
©highwaystarz -

Can You Treat Dog Eye Infections at Home?

Don’t attempt to treat your dog’s eye infection on your own with human medications or with medications previously prescribed to your dog. Dr. Pinard explains they may not be appropriate for the current infection and could even worsen the condition. “Should the eye infection not resolve in twenty-hour hours, then veterinary care should be sought out. Unfortunately, the eye can be very unforgiving, and infections can easily get out of control fast, so prompt veterinary care is recommended.”

Give your dog the medication as prescribed by your veterinarian, whether that be administering eye drops or oral medication. Dr. Pinard also advises placing an Elizabethan collar or cone on your dog to prevent your dog from rubbing at their eyes, further traumatizing them. Appropriate treatment gives your dog the best chance to recover with minimal complications.

Until you can get to the vet or emergency vet, Dr. Klein advises that you consider flushing the eye using a cotton ball saturated in lukewarm water and gently squeezing water to help rinse the eye.

How to Prevent Eye Infections in Dogs

The best way to prevent dog eye infections is to avoid trauma to the eye and the invasion of foreign particles. Trim bushes around your yard, keep your dog’s fur around the eyes trimmed and clean, and prevent your dog from sticking their head out the window of a moving car.

Senior Golden Retriever receiving eye drops at the vet.
fotoedu via Getty Images

Dr. Pinard also suggests applying artificial tears before and after a walk on windy days to help your dog’s eyes flush foreign bodies like sand. Finally, consider commercially available dog goggles to protect your dog’s eyes in potentially harmful situations.
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