Dog Eye Problems

Dr Kate Mornement - Pet Behaviourist profile picture

Dr Kate Mornement - Pet Behaviourist

PhD in Companion Animal Behaviour, BSc(Hons) in Zoology

Dr Kate Mornement is an Applied Animal Behaviourist, Consultant and Educator to pet parents, industry, government and media. She has a PhD which focused on companion animal behaviour from Monash University and a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Zoology (Animal Behaviour) from Latrobe university.

Dog Eye Problems

Eyes play a significant role in the strong bond we have with our dogs. They help us read each other's behavioural cues and owners often comment how much dogs express feelings through their eyes. So it makes sense to know some key problems to ‘keep an eye out’ for.

How to Identify Eye Problems

If irritated or injured, a dog will usually squint. Injured eyes can weep or sometimes produce a thicker discharge. Eyes usually appear reddened, and dogs may paw or lick at their eyes as they attempt to get some relief. Chronic (longer-term) conditions can often present as cloudiness of one or both eyes.

Common Eye Problems in Dogs

1. Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)

With many of the same symptoms as in people - redness, inflammation and a mucous-like discharge - conjunctivitis is generally easy to spot. Usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection, it can also occur due to an allergic reaction to pollens, cigarette smoke, outdoor allergies etc.

2. Corneal Damage

The cornea is the outer surface of the eyes. Our dogs can damage (scratch) this delicate surface from sticks or dirt as they run outdoors, from sand if playing at the beach, or even occasionally from their nails as they groom. Corneal damage can be very painful. Dogs will squint and their damaged eye will be red and weepy. They may also paw at their sore eye to try and relieve the irritation. Your veterinarian should always see corneal damage.


3. Entropion

Entropion happens when the edge of the eyelid abnormally folds inwards on itself. This causes the animal's eyelashes to rub against their cornea (surface of the eye) causing corneal damage, pain and inflammation. Long term, scarring can also result. Entropion is usually hereditary and is more common in breeds such as Bulldogs, Shih Tzus, and Yorkshire Terriers.

4. Third eyelid protrusion (Cherry Eye)

As well as upper and lower eyelids, dogs also have a third eyelid in the inner corner of each eye. Occasionally it can stick out and often looks like a cherry. If this happens, it usually needs surgical repair. It is more common in dog breeds such as Beagles, Bulldogs, Cocker Spaniels, Bloodhounds, and Shih Tzu.

5. Dry Eye (Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca)

Dry eye happens when a dog's tear glands don't produce enough tears. Usually, when an eye blinks, tears are washed over the eye's surface, helping to lubricate and clean the eye.

If there are not enough tears produced, the eyes are less lubricated, less clean, and more susceptible to dirt and dust damage.

This can result in corneal scratches, ulcers. If your dog has dry eye, their eyes will be red, and they will squint, blink and paw at their eye. Your vet can help assess the cause of the dry eye and recommend treatment options.

6. Eyelid Lumps

A veterinarian should always check over lumps and bumps on your animals, and masses on or around the eyes are no different. Often, masses around eyes are cysts or benign tumours; however, your vet can help assess them and recommend the best course of action such as surgical removal.

7. Cataracts

Cataracts occur in dogs as they age, just like they do for people. Your dog's eyes may start to appear cloudy or white. As they develop, cataracts can limit your dog's ability to see and can eventually lead to blindness. Some other diseases, such as diabetes, can also cause the formation of cataracts. It is best to see your veterinarian if you notice any cloudiness in your dog's eyes.


A note on Breeds

Eye issues can occur in any dog breed, but they appear more commonly in dogs with prominent, round eyes - including Bulldogs, Shih Tzus, Pugs, Cocker Spaniels. Eye issues can also occur in breeds with different coloured eyes, such as Siberian Husky and Collie breeds. It is important to note that any breed can be affected by eye issues, and your local veterinarian should assess any eye issues you find.


Treatment Options

All dogs with eye issues should see their veterinarian straight away. Your vet will give your pet a thorough physical examination and help to identify the cause of the injury. They may dispense medication to take home and give you simple instructions on how to gently clean around your dog's eye. Ensure you follow their advice, as the cornea (front surface of a dog’s eye) is very soft and can damage easily leading to further problems. If not appropriately treated, eye problems can lead to long term pain, damage, and in some cases, loss of sight.


The information listed above is for education purposes only. It does not substitute for your veterinarian's advice.

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