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How to Treat Your Dog’s Eye Problems

Eye conditions in dogs can range from mild irritation like allergies and small scratches, to more serious issues like glaucoma and major injuries. Whatever the cause of your dog’s eye symptoms, the most important thing to know is don’t wait! Even mild eye problems can worsen quickly, so it’s best to seek veterinary treatment as soon as possible, rather than waiting to see if the symptoms will get better on their own.

Symptoms of dog eye problems

Here are some signs of an eye problem that needs to be addressed:

  • Red or pink eyes.
  • Runny, cloudy, or goopy eyes.
  • Squinting.
  • Itchy eyes (you may notice your dog pawing, scratching, or rubbing the eye area on the floor or furniture).
  • An elevated third eyelid — this is the eyelid at the inner corner of their eye, and while it’s normal to see this eyelid while your pet sleeps, it's abnormal for it to stay over the eye while they’re awake.
  • Ectropion or entropion (when an eyelid rolls outward or inward respectively).
  • Pain or not acting like their normal self.

These symptoms could happen in one eye, or both eyes at the same time.

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What causes eye problems in dogs?

There are a lot of reasons for eye symptoms — here are 9 of the most common dog eye problems we treat at Bond Vet.

  1. Allergies. This is a common cause of red, itchy, watery eyes. It can also cause conjunctivitis or “pink eye,” but fortunately, it's not the contagious kind.
  2. Trauma such as scratches, corneal ulcerations, and other injuries. These often heal quickly, but need appropriate treatment to prevent a secondary infection. Also, deep corneal ulcers are more serious and may require surgery.
  3. Infections. Fortunately, infectious “pink eye” isn’t very common in dogs. However, secondary infections are very common (for example, if a scratch disrupts the natural protective barrier of the eye and allows bacteria to get in). Whole-body or upper respiratory infections can affect the eyes, too.
  4. Dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca). This is an autoimmune condition that requires long-term medications. Left untreated, it can lead to corneal ulcers, scars, infections, and other problems in the eyes.
  5. Genetic conditions. Certain breeds are predisposed to issues — collie eye anomaly affects herding breeds, while pannus afflicts German Shepherds. These conditions can vary a lot from breed to breed, so it’s best to ask your vet for specific information if you’re concerned.
  6. Cherry eye. This is when part of the third eyelid sticks out and doesn’t go back into place. Surgery is often recommended so that tear production won’t be affected.
  7. Cataracts. This means cloudiness in the lens of the eye, which causes poor vision. Cataracts can develop with age, or with conditions such as diabetes, and a corrective surgery is available for pets who are in otherwise good health.
  8. Glaucoma. Like in humans, glaucoma is increased pressure inside the eye — it can often be managed with medications, but is very painful if left untreated and may even require enucleation (removal of the eye).
  9. Eyelid masses. Most of the time these are benign, but it’s good to have them checked just in case. Your vet may recommend removal of any lumps that could rub against the eye.

Figuring out what’s causing the symptoms

Once your dog is showing symptoms, there are a series of tests to determine the problem and how to best treat it.

Schirmer tear test — This test measures your dog’s tear production. It’s performed by holding small paper strips under the eyelids for one minute.

Fluorescein stain —  This test looks for scratches, ulcers, and other abnormalities on the surface of the eye. It can also be used to evaluate tear quality and drainage. To perform this test, your vet team will place a drop of green stain into each eye, and then examine the eyes using a special blue light.

Measuring eye pressure — This test is important because ocular pressure can change with certain eye problems, leading to pain and complications. It’s performed by gently tapping the surface of the eye with a sensitive pressure measuring device. Don’t worry, numbing eye drops are used—so your dog will be comfortable through the process.

Depending on your pup’s symptoms, other tests — such as blood tests, cultures to look for bacterial growth, or more — may be recommended.

Treatment for dog eye problems

Treatment will be based on the physical exam, as well as the results of the diagnostic tests. Here are some common treatments:

  • Antibiotic drops. These are used for a variety of dog eye problems, including conditions where the eye is at risk of a secondary infection (such as scratches and ulcers).
  • Eye drops for pain or inflammation. These help with discomfort and preventing damage from inflammation.
  • Artificial tears. These may help with a variety of conditions, especially dry eye.
  • Oral medications. If your dog is in a lot of pain or has a condition that would benefit from whole-body treatment, oral medications may be prescribed.
  • An e-collar. This protects the eye, so your dog won’t scratch it and potentially make the eye problem worse.
  • Follow-up. A recheck visit is important for eye problems, to be sure everything is healing as it should be.

Note that many of the medications listed above as eye “drops” for dogs are also available as ointments. Your vet can help you choose which form is better for your pet.

Preventing eye problems in dogs

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to prevent all eye problems. But there are some things you can do to minimize your dog's risk:

  • Avoid potential trauma to the eye, such as allowing your dog to run through bushes with sharp branches.
  • Treat any eye problems as soon as possible. Left untreated, eye conditions can worsen quickly. Early treatment will keep your pup more comfortable and help to prevent complications.
  • Go to routine checkups as recommended. A wellness exam may help to detect early signs of a problem and allow for earlier treatment — and less pain down the road.

While some of the conditions, like glaucoma or deep ulcers, may require more involved treatment, most of the eye problems we see are much simpler to treat, and they usually heal quickly. So as long as treatment is prompt, there’s a good chance your pup will be back to their usual self in no time!

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