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Dog eye gunk. It happens. But why?
If you’re reading while eating, here’s your warning: we’re about to get into the sometimes icky details about the causes of eye discharge. Read on for more—plus care tips you need.
What is that gunk, anyway?
The medically correct term for it is dog eye discharge. Discharge can range from a clear, watery consistency (allergies or a foreign body in the eye may be the root cause) to a pus-like discharge with a tendency to crust, which could be a sign of a bigger problem.
If you’re unsure about the cause of your dog’s unusually runny eyes, visit your vet for a professional opinion.
Allergies, infection—what are the causes?
Or, as we humans call it, pink eye. Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the outer layer of the eye and inner layer of the eyelid, often paired with that yellow-green puss-like discharge that crusts overnight, as well as bloodshot whites and excessive blinking or itching.
Conjunctivitis has many causes. Some cases are viral, others are bacterial, and some can be attributed to allergies or even tumors. The key? Seeing the vet at the first sign of symptoms to nail down the source so it can be treated—it’ll likely include antibiotics and soothing washes to keep any serious damage at bay.
Watery Eye aka Epiphora
Some dogs—and humans, for that matter—have constantly watery eyes. But with epiphora or excessive tearing, the eyes are, well, just that: excessively wet.
The problem lies in the duct not being able to properly dispose of excess tearing, which is especially common in flat-faced dog breeds. Sometimes, the stream of tears can result in the darkened fur around the eyes, especially for light-colored dogs.
The overabundance of tearing can also lead to infected, smelly skin. Causes of excessive tearing really run the gamut: it could be a result of conjunctivitis, allergies, a duct problem, an eyelash growing where it shouldn’t, or glaucoma.
Visit the vet to figure out what’s causing it, then treat accordingly—in some cases, relief from epiphora will require tear duct surgery.
KCS aka Dry eye
The opposite of constant watery, teary eyes? Dry eye. The official term? Keratoconjunctivitis sicca, or KCS for short.
Uncomfortable, itchy, dried out eyes lack lubrication and therefore the ability to flush away irritants or infections. And that could cause some serious harm. Without tears, in an effort to protect the eye, the whites of the eyes turn brown and yellow-green discharge appears.
Common causes for dry eye include eye infections, tear duct issues, and side-effects of anesthesia or antibiotics. Blindness can occur if untreated, so make sure to visit your vet if symptoms crop up.
Dogs play and explore and are sometimes just clumsy, which can lead to eye injuries. The eye can be scratched (think running through vegetation or wrestling with another dog) or a foreign body such as dirt or debris can get lodged in their eye. Even exposing the eye to a chemical may cause changes in your dog’s eye discharge.
In addition to changes in discharge, other signs can include a visible foreign object, scratching or pawing at the face, or a bloody or bloodshot eye. Eye injuries can have serious complications, so see a vet immediately if you suspect your dog hurt their eye. If you can see something in your dog’s eye, don’t try to remove it yourself. Ask your vet to do so.
What’s normal, and when should I worry?
Like human eyes, dog’s eyes need lubrication to function normally. So how do you know if your dog is having eye problems?
Well, when was the last time you thought about the consistency of your own eye’s lubrication? Probably the last time they were excessively wet, or excessively dry, or excessively gunky. And you were probably blinking, squinting, touching them, and otherwise showing physical signs of infection or irritation.
The same holds true for your dog. Eye discharge is normal until it’s not. To assure good eye health and quality of life for your dog, keep an eye out (haha) for tell-tale signs of eye issues:
- Excessively watery eyes
- Excessively dry eyes
- A noticeable increase in eye discharge
- Change in eye discharge consistency or color
- Rubbing or pawing at the eyes
- Excessive blinking
- Bloody or excessively bloodshot eyes
- A visible foreign object in the eye
At this point, you’ve probably picked up on what you should do if you notice these symptoms—call your vet as soon as possible.
Cleaning and care tips for your dog’s eyes
Once you have any injuries, allergies, and/or infections under control, here are some of our tips for maintaining your dog’s eye health.
1) Try a dog tear stain remover
These gentle liquids are designed especially for use with smaller dogs and lighter-haired dogs. They can be very handy for routine grooming, as well as stubborn stains and bogies.
2) Use a pet ‘eye comb’
While it seems like a strange idea, “eye combs” are actually quite wonderful. They’re sturdy, easy, efficient, and help you avoid using chemicals to clean your dog’s eyes.
3) Give a quick trim around the eyes
If your dog has long hair that may be contributing to the problem, clean the hair and trim it regularly—this is an issue especially in flat-faced or smaller toy dogs. Try a simple pet grooming kit at home, or visit the groomer if you’re not confident about your trimming skills!
4) Keep your dog’s eyes moist with a pet eyewash
Eye drops designed for canine use are a miracle invention, as far as we’re concerned. They’re non-irritating and non-toxic, so it’s okay if your dog taste-tests any excess product.
These drops are great for eye lubrication, flushing out irritants, and soothing allergic reactions. We suggest having treats on hand when administering drops!
5) Don’t use your fingers to clean it
Be careful! It’s a sensitive area. If it’s run-of-the-mill gunk, start with a clean, damp towel rather than bare fingers. Avoid cotton balls or other products that may shed material into the eye.
- Why are my dog’s eyes red?
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- Tear stains in dogs: Why they happen and how to help
Top image via Instagram.