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- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Dogs’ eyes are as sensitive as humans’, and can be just as vulnerable to irritation, allergies, injury, and disease. If your dog’s eyes look red or swollen, it could be a sign of irritation, mild allergy, or physical trauma.
Fortunately many causes of red eyes in dogs are minor and easily treated at home. But some eye injuries and illnesses are more serious and require medical care.
To learn whether your dog’s red eyes require a vet appointment, or if you can treat it at home, read on. We’ll also walk through how you (and your vet) can take care of your dog’s eye health and prevent red eyes in the future.
What Causes Red Eyes In Dogs?
Eye redness, swelling, and discharge can be caused by irritation, injury, trauma, or underlying medical issues like hyperthyroidism, diabetes, and some cancers.
Whether your dog’s eyes are red and droopy, bloodshot, weepy, or red around the edges, here are some of the most common causes for red eyes in dogs.
1. Eye injury or trauma
Just like humans, dogs can get stuff in their eyes. Irritation and injury can be caused by dirt, branches, or over enthusiastic play with other pets. Minor irritation can be treated at home, but if you notice a visible foreign object or bleeding, it’s time to call the vet.
- Excessive tearing
- Visible foreign object in the eye
- Excessive pawing or scratching at their eye
- Flush your dog’s eye with pet-safe eye wash or saline solution
- Examine their eye carefully under a light
- Use a temporary e-collar to keep them from pawing at their eye
Allergens can make your dog’s eyes itchy, swollen, or tearful eyes in dogs. Sometimes it’s an environmental irritant—yup, dogs can be allergic to pollen, too—and sometimes it’s a food allergy that causes red eyes in dogs. You can treat the symptoms at home, but your vet may prescribe medication or a special diet to help.
- Itchiness, discomfort, and excessive tearing
- Redness around the outside of the eye
- Redness and/or itching on other body parts that might signify a food allergy
- Keep food bowls and bedding clean
- After outdoor adventures, bathe your dog with soothing allergy-friendly shampoos
- Ask your vet about allergy testing
Also known as “pinkeye” or “red eye,” conjunctivitis is an itchy inflammation of the tissue coating the eye. Sometimes it only affects one eye at a time, but it can quickly spread to both. There are several different types of conjunctivitis, ranging from allergy- or injury-induced pinkeye to a contagious viral version.
You can help relieve dog’s discomfort at home (see below), but conjunctivitis should always be treated by your veterinarian to prevent further illness or eye damage.
- Excessive blinking or squinting
- Redness or swelling around the eyes
- Sticky, yellow or greenish discharge
- Artificial tears
- Cold compress to relieve swelling
- Over-the-counter antihistamines (check with your vet before administering)
- Antibiotic eye drops or ointment
A fluid build-up in the eye that causes pressure which, if not alleviated, can lead to blindness. Glaucoma is one of the more serious causes of eye redness, and should be treated by a veterinarian immediately.
- Physical swelling of the eyeball
- Abnormal discharge
- Haziness in the eye
- Pain medication
- Emergency eye drops
- Medication maintenance
5. Dry eye syndrome (formally known as Keratoconjunctivitis sicca, or KCS)
KCS, or “dry eye,” occurs when your dog’s tear ducts don’t produce enough tears. It can be caused by injury or a weakened immune system, and may lead to infection or corneal ulcers.
- Eye redness
- Mucus or eye gunk
- Artificial tears
- Antibiotic eye drops
- Immunosuppressant drugs
Uveitis is a painful inflammation of certain structures in your dog’s eye collectively called the uvea. It’s typically a secondary condition, meaning you can treat some symptoms at home, but will want to go to the vet to identify and treat the primary condition that caused it.
- Intense reddening of the eye
- Severe pain
- Constricted pupils and light sensitivity
- Topical eye medication like corticosteroid or anti-inflammatory drops/ointments
- Pain relief medication
- Removal of foreign body (the vet should do this!)
7. Corneal abrasion or ulcer
The cornea is a transparent, shiny membrane that makes up the front of the eyeball. Corneal ulcers are typically caused by trauma, like getting scratched while running through brush or irritated by dust. They can also be caused by untreated dry eye.
- Excessive rubbing
- Squinting or keeping eyes closed
- Antibiotic eye drops or ointment
- Prescription pain medication
8. Breed issues
Are your dog’s eyes regularly red and droopy? Some types of dogs are simply more prone to eye issues than others, including:
- Brachycephalic, or flat-faced, breeds like Bulldogs, Shih Tzus, and Pugs
- Breeds with loose, droopy skin like Bloodhounds and Newfoundlands.
- Breeds with long hair around their faces, like Poodles, Maltese, and Sheepdogs
- Conduct regular eye health checks to monitor signs of irritation
- Keep hair around eyes trimmed and clean
- Use eye drops or ointments as indicated by your vet
When Should I Take My Dog to the Vet? (And What the Vet will Do)
Red eyes aren’t always a sign of something bad, but eye injury and disease can progress rapidly. It’s time to call the vet if you see something new and unusual in your dogs’ eyes, if she’s scratching or rubbing her face, and/or if you notice swelling, discharge or excessive squinting
When you take your dog to the vet for eye care, they’ll conduct one or more of these tests:
- Ophthalmologic exam to examine the structure of your dog’s eye, looking inside the eye with an ophthalmoscope.
- Schirmer tear test to determine if eyes are lubricating properly. This painless test uses small strips of paper held in place in the lower eyelid.
- Internal pressure test using a tool called a tonometer
- Fluorescein stain test, which uses a harmless dye to help your vet to see otherwise-invisible scratches
- Blood tests to find underlying medical issues and illnesses that can cause eye issues
Most causes of red eyes in dogs can be treated with topical and/or oral medications. If there is a more serious underlying cause for your dog’s red eyes, the vet may refer you to a veterinary ophthalmologist for more tests and treatment
How to Keep Your Dog’s Eyes Healthy
You can’t protect your dog from every possible eye irritant, injury, or illness. After all, dogs are gonna dog! But you can take preventative measures to keep your pooch’s eyes as healthy and protected as possible.
1. Trim hair around their eyes
For long-haired breeds, keep the hair around their eyes trimmed and clean.
2. Clean their eye gunk as needed
Using a damp, soft cloth or eye wipe, gently wipe from the inside corner to the outside, being careful not to touch the eyeball.
3. Watch for excessive eye rubbing or scratching
It’s awfully cute when dogs rub their eyes with their paws, and occasional rubbing or scratching is normal. But if your dog is rubbing their face against the carpet or furniture, continuously pawing at their eyes, or developes redness or discharge alongside rubbing, it’s time to investigate further.
4. Protect them from eye injury (especially in the car)
As cute as it can be when they hang their head out the window of the car, this is actually a leading cause of eye injury in dogs. Keep the windows rolled up enough so they can’t fit their heads out, or invest in a pair of doggles before your next road trip.
5. Take them for their regular veterinary exams
Preventative health care can go a long way to keeping your dog healthy, eyes and all. Annual visits—twice-annual for senior dogs—will help track your dog’s eye health as they age.
As with any dog health issue, when it comes to eye care, the important thing is to pay attention to your dog. You can tell a lot just by looking at them, and noticing changes in their appearance, body language, and behavior. And of course, remember to take time to gaze lovingly into your dog’s eyes! Eye contact may not be scientifically proven to improve eye health, but it’s a great way to bond with your best friend.