As a pet parent, you always want what is best for your fur baby. You always make sure that you provide your pet with the best of everything, from its food to its toys. Of course, the well-being of your pet is always foremost on your mind. However, there may come instances in which an illness or condition may be unavoidable regardless of how well you take care of your best buddy. One such condition is conjunctivitis.
So what is conjunctivitis in dogs? There is a moist tissue covering the anterior part of the eyeball. This tissue acts as the lining of the eyelids and is called the conjunctiva. The breeds that have allergies or are prone to autoimmune skin diseases are known to have a higher risk of developing problems that may cause the inflammation of the conjunctiva. Also, such breeds are highly likely to have dry eyes, a condition brought about by a dog’s allergy to elements in the environment, such as dust and pollen, which would not normally cause health problems.
However, there does not appear to be a specific breed partiality for this disease. Conjunctivitis is a condition that can affect both cats and dogs. However, due to the anatomical structure of some dogs, they can contract this condition at a higher than others.
Symptoms of conjunctivitis in dogs
If your dog contracts this condition, it is important that you immediately determine that something is wrong. You may observe one or more of the following symptoms in your dog:
- Blephora or spasmodic blinking
- Eye discharge that may contain mucus or pus
- Redness of the eye
- Swelling around the eye area
Please be aware that a majority of the symptoms listed here are also common in another condition, which you can read more about in our article on cherry eye in dogs.
Causes of conjunctivitis
There is no one factor responsible for conjunctivitis in dogs. Thus, it would be good for you to know the known causes of conjunctivitis. These causes vary in terms of onset and effect.
Bacterial conjunctivitis. Bacterial conjunctivitis can be a primary condition and infection that is not an effect of another existing condition, such as dry eyes.
Neonatal conjunctivitis. Neonatal conjunctivitis refers to the inflammation of the tissues of the eye that occurs during puppyhood and triggers an accumulation of discharge. It is often associated with either viral or bacterial infection, and it manifests before a puppy’s eyelids are about to open.
Viral conjunctivitis. The viruses that can cause canine hepatitis and canine distemper can also increase the risk for the development of conjunctivitis. Specifically, distemper is linked to a decrease in the production of tears, which often leads to dry eye. Numerous signs of canine distemper reportedly affect the eyes. These signs include chronic and acute conjunctivitis, optic neuritis, anterior uveitis, retinochondritis, and even cortical blindness.
Immune-mediated conjunctivitis. Immune-mediated conjunctivitis, or allergic conjunctivitis, is a condition caused by several environmental factors or even by diet. Typical environmental factors, such as pollens, chemicals, or smoke, may trigger allergic conjunctivitis. The canine immune system develops a negative reaction and mistakenly identifies these factors as invading pathogens. Histamines are produced by the immune system, thus leading to the inflammation of the conjunctiva.
Follicular conjunctivitis. Follicular conjunctivitis occurs when the mucus gland of the eyes reacts with an irritant, such as dust, pollen, or an infection. Such reaction makes the ocular surface rough. The roughness of the surface induces mucus production and tears. Owing to the persistence of the rough surface, the conjunctiva becomes swollen, which often leads to continuous eye pain.
Cancer and tumor-induced conjunctivitis. Tumors can irritate the surface of the eyes and increase ocular pressure. This pressure will irritate the ocular structure, which may then lead to the inflammation of the conjunctiva. There are also benign lesions that inflame the border between the cornea and sclera. These lesions appear as nodules or pinkish masses.
To determine the occurrence and kind of conjunctivitis, your veterinarian will examine your pet for any evidence of other eye diseases. The disease may be in the eyes, but it may not be in the conjunctiva. The veterinarian will conduct a complete eye exam, as well as some tests. These tests may include a fluorescein stain, in which a dye is spread on the ocular surface to make ulcers, scratches, and foreign material stand out under light. Flourescein staining is performed to rule out ulcerative keratitis.
Foreign bodies may also have been lodged in the lids or eyelashes, which will likewise be thoroughly examined. Tests for canine glaucoma might be conducted to determine any increase in intraocular pressure, and the nasal cavity may need to be flushed out to cancel out other possible diseases. If there is discharge, a culture will be done to determine the components of the discharge. A conjunctival biopsy may be performed to examine the tissue under a microscope. Skin testing may also be conducted if skin allergies are suspected to be the cause.
Treatment and medical management
Given that there are many possible causes for conjunctivitis, different courses of treatment may be employed. If conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria, the veterinarian will most likely prescribe an antibiotic eye drop or ointment, or possibly an oral antibiotic medication. The approach called elimination diet may also be implemented if allergies are suspected in the diet. Foods will be reduced to the minimum or modified, after which different foods will gradually be added to the usual diet to determine whether the source of the reaction is any of the ingested food.
Some cases may require surgery to remove an obstruction in a duct. In case of cancer, removal of the tumor through surgery may be recommended. This will be followed by medications and radiation therapy. The veterinarian may suggest cryotherapy, which is a procedure using cold application. In the most critical or life-threatening cases, removal of the eyeball, its surrounding tissues, or both will need to be performed.
In the presence of inflammation, your veterinarian will prescribe medications depending on the cause and provide instructions on how to treat conjunctivitis in dogs. Different recommendations will be discussed. In newborn conjunctivitis, the veterinarian will open the eyelids aseptically and with great care, the discharge will be drained, and a topical antibiotic will be applied.
Management at home
In cases of allergies, you will be responsible for inhibiting or totally preventing contact with whatever your dog is allergic to. Limiting the exposure of your pet to other dogs or pets also reduces the risk of spreading this infectious disease. To know what to look for, check out this article on allergies in dogs.
If the diagnosis is a food-based allergy, your veterinarian will provide you with a treatment plan and other home-management recommendations regarding diet. The recommendations should strictly be followed. A check-up should be scheduled after five days to one week.
In cases in which there is a significantly large amount of discharge, gentle strokes must be applied to clean the eyes before applying any medication, such as antibiotic ointment. In cases in which both ointments and eye drops are prescribed, apply the eye drops first.
In cases in which several medications are prescribed, allow the medication to remain for several minutes before applying the next medication. This allows the medication to penetrate the surface before another is applied. There are also medications that should be applied at a proper timing after the use of other medications to avoid developing a counter-effect.
During the treatment process at home, always observe your pet for any adverse reactions, which can occur from a few minutes to a couple of hours after application of medication. Observation is important to avoid developing further irritation and side effects. Some medications may induce a normal stinging or numbing sensation that causes dogs to scratch their eyes due to discomfort.
A protective device called Elizabethan collar can be used so that the dog’s paws cannot reach the eyes, thereby allowing the medication to take its course of action and ensuring that potency is not compromised. If the condition is not showing any signs of improvement or is worsening despite the application of the prescribed medication, it is best to notify the veterinarian after the fourth or fifth day. The veterinarian will evaluate the condition and may reorganize medical management or conduct further laboratory tests.
Conjunctivitis is one of the most uncomfortable illnesses for dogs, second only to systemic conditions and skin diseases, because it disturbs the sight and triggers pain. Supportive care is recommended because it promotes well-being and provides an assurance to your dog that its needs are being taken care of.
Supportive care, such as discharge cleaning around the eyes and providing a comfortable sleeping area and a less stressful environment encourages improvement in health. Although it indirectly affects the improvement of the disease, such care helps the dog in other aspects, such as emotional and psychological health.
Similar to the case of humans, the use of alternative medicine is starting to gain popularity in the aspect of veterinary medicine and is accepted by most veterinarians as a viable for of therapy. However, do not try the use of alternative medicine on your own. Always consult your veterinarian before you try any medication, whether alternative or prescribed.
The eyes are considered as one of the most delicate areas in the body, which is why it is strongly advised to consult your veterinarian as regards the use of any alternative medication. Similar to conventional and synthetic medications, alternative medications may or may not work as planned, and they do not always provide the same effect each time they are used.
Before applying any medication, always check and make sure that the eye area is clean. You may use a soft cloth to remove foreign bodies, excess dirt, or accumulated discharge gently. For an accumulated substance that is difficult to remove, you may try flushing it with lukewarm water. Make sure that the water is lukewarm because hot water can inflame surrounding tissues and may end up scalding your pet. If there is something lodged that cannot be removed, have a veterinarian examine and removed it in the clinic.
These are the most recommended alternative dietary supplements for dogs to help maintain the clarity and health of their eyes:
- Vitamin B complex
- Vitamin C
The following herbal medications for dogs can be given orally or can be applied to the eye in a liquid form or as wash:
- Aloe Vera gel
- Chamomile tea eye wash
- Eyebright tea eye wash
- Green tea eye wash
- Herbal eye tonic mixture
If you are trying to take care of your dog using the homeopathic approach, the following are the most recommended treatment options:
- Apis Mel for conjunctivitis in mild or early onset stage
- Pulsatilla for eyes with green-yellow discharge
- Silicea for eye swelling
- Vitamins A, C, D, and E
The following tea preparations can be used as eye baths to alleviate redness or discomfort:
- Calendula tea
- Chamomile tea
- Eyebright tea
- Rosemary tea
Always remember that a good, balanced diet is essential in maintaining overall dog health. Green vegetables, parsley, purple or blue berries, carrots, as well as sesame and sunflower seeds are known to keep the eyes healthy. You may check these ingredients in the food options that you provide your dogs. You may also check whether your preferred dog food brand contains the nutrients essential to achieve not just optimal eye health, but also overall well-being.
The gift of vision is one of the most precious things a dog can have. As a responsible pet parent, you must adopt all means to keep your dog’s eyes healthy and functional. Illnesses such as conjunctivitis in dogs are among the roadblocks that compromise or even degrade vision. It is important to schedule a regular visit to the veterinarian to address any developing illness promptly. It’s also important that you be aware of the other conditions that may affect your dog’s eyes. If you’d like to learn more on how to treat and prevent these conditions, check out our article on eye infections in dogs.
There are numerous treatment options now available for dogs. These treatments range from conventional pharmacologic methods to alternative natural methods. These options have been made available after several years of continuous research to determine the therapies that work best in every possible case. A collaborative effort between you and your veterinarian will ensure a good outcome of the treatment process.