Eye Infections in Dogs: Helping Your Dog See The World in A Fresh, New Light Again

Eye treatment
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

Though we know that the sense of smell is the strongest sense of dogs, the eyes still play a huge role in their lives and how they make ours a lot more colorful. Surely once or twice you have fallen in love with that sweet seduction reflected in your dog’s eyes, making you summon them to come closer to you so you could give them that tight hug and cuddle they’ve been waiting for all day. So what happens now if there seems to be something wrong with their eyes? Watch out, for your pet may be having an eye infection.

Many studies have been conducted to demonstrate how the world looks like in the eyes of a dog. Some researchers claimed that dogs are color blind, but the latest literature claims that dogs aren’t exactly color blind, they do see the world in yellow and blue. Though they see the world in a different spectrum of colors, there is a certain light in their eyes that brings a whole new joy and fresh feeling for us.

Their irresistible vibe makes it so difficult for us to simply leave them alone when moments of pain and being uncomfortable strikes them hard. This is why special attention must be provided to them.

Symptoms of dog eye infections

All dogs are at risk for eye infections. Many eye infections are usually bacterial, fungal, or viral in origin. These microorganisms may come from foreign materials introduced into the dog’s eye as it performs its daily activities to pass the time or to entertain them. They could be introduced while they play in the dirt, digging into the soil in your backyard, sticking their head out the window during travel, or simply just sitting there doing nothing as the wind blows upon their face. Even a tiny particle may be an irritant to a dog’s eyes and be a problem.

Glaucoma in dogs eye

The key is early diagnosis. Eye infections easily progress and transition from an acute state to chronic so if you are the type of pet owner who communicates using the eyes, then the details will not be difficult to miss. Their behavior could tell that something might be wrong. Different structures of the eyes may be involved, and many times, infection affects more than one structure since they are always in close contact with each other.

You would know if your dog has an eye infection if you observe the following:

  • Reddening of the eyes and/or surrounding tissues of the eyes
  • Excessive tearing or epiphora
  • Abnormal eye discharges
  • Tear-stained fur by the eyes
  • Overly sensitive to light
  • Constant scratching or pawing at the eyes

Common eye infections in dogs

There are different kinds of eye infection in dogs. The following conditions are some of the most common ones:

Conjunctivitis or pink eye

Pink eye is the common name of dog conjunctivitis — the inflammation of the conjunctiva. This is the most common eye infection in dogs affecting usually one eye but could also affect both. The conjunctiva is the soft tissue that lines the eyelids and protects the front of the eyes. This may be inflamed in a number of conditions such as those listed below:

  • Bacterial infections: Primary bacterial infections are common causes due to exposure to specific microbial agents, especially Staphylococcus and Streptococcus. However, neonates may also have bacterial infections from the discharges that accumulate in their eyes even before they open them.
  • Foreign materials: Inflammation may also occur due to foreign materials such as soil, dust, and chemicals introduced in the eye, irritating the conjunctiva. Even eye medications could be a cause of irritation.
  • Allergens: They may be in the form of pollen or food items in their diet. Contact allergens are also common.
  • Immune-related: Sometimes, conjunctivitis could be autoimmune in nature wherein the immune cells of the dog’s body attacks its own tissues.
  • Anatomical problems: Eyelashes or eyelids turned overtly inward or outward may cause the conjunctiva to be constantly irritated.
  • Due to underlying diseases: This may also be secondary to other eye diseases such as dry eye, lid diseases, lash diseases, ulcerative keratitis and uveitis. There are also some diseases of the eye that is characterized by an increase pressure in the eyeball such as glaucoma that may cause the conjunctiva to be inflamed. Glaucoma is a serious condition, and should be treated professionally. To find out more, it’s important that you check out this article on glaucoma in dogs.

The signs of pink eye could easily be identified as the eye lids are usually swollen and red. Though conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, this may also involve the eye, causing it to be mild to moderately red and sometimes bloodshot.

Conjunctivitis at dogs

Your dog may also present with an eye discharge that may either be clear or mucinous. You may observe squinting in your dogs with pink eye, a sign that indicates a feeling of being uncomfortable and irritable. This usually causes them to keep scratching their eyes with their paw, on other objects or on the ground. This usually aggravates the condition even more.

The symptoms could be managed at home to at least make them feel more comfortable. It depends on the causative agent. The first step is to get rid of irritants. You may need to groom your dog to keep their fur away from their eyes. The eyes should also be free from the discharges. You may wipe them off gently with a clean cloth.

If the inflammation is due to a bacterial infection, your veterinarian may prescribe an antibiotic to be taken for a few days to get rid of the bacteria. Topical ointments are also available to soothe your dog. Foreign materials introduced in the eye may be washed off gently by water and a clean and sterile cloth. Eye drops may help too when clearing the eyes.

For allergic reactions as manifested by the conjunctivitis, the allergens are usually just taken away from the dog. For dietary allergens, these are substituted for other food items that are friendly to the dog. In case none of these are applicable, it is best to just consult a veterinarian.

If you’d like to learn a bit more about this condition, please read our article on conjunctivitis in dogs.

Infectious Keratitis

Keratitis or corneal inflammation is another common eye condition in dogs. There are different kinds of keratitis depending on its etiology. The cornea is a clear structure seen in front of the eye that protects the iris, pupil and other internal structures. There are certain conditions that cause the cornea to be ulcerated such as repeated trauma or irritation and underlying diseases of the eye such as dry eye.

This makes it easy for bacteria and other microorganisms to infiltrate the eye, causing a condition known as infectious keratitis, a complication of ulcerative keratitis. The most common bacterial agents that invade the wounds of the eyes are Staphylococcus, Streptococcus and Pseudomonas. Though uncommon, fungal keratitis is also possible for dogs, especially those who are on long-term topical antibiotics.

Infectious Keratitis

Sometimes, keratitis is mistaken for conjunctivitis which causes a delay in the diagnosis and treatment of the condition. This is because the eyelids are also red and swollen. There is a purulent or pus-like discharge in the eye. However, a distinctive characteristic in keratitis is eye pain, a feature not present in conjunctivitis. Your dog may also squint and scratch at the eyes due to a feeling of being uncomfortable.

When the signs and symptoms are already manifested in your dog, you will have to seek consult from a veterinarian to know the exact kind of keratitis your dog may be having in order for the treatment to be the most suitable one. For dogs with infectious keratitis, a topical antibiotic is usually prescribed to be applied on the ulcerations in the eye. Severe cases or those left untreated may lead to blindness.

Dry eye

Dry eye is the common name of a condition known as Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS). This is usually an immune disorder in dogs that causes decreased tear production. Though this isn’t exactly an eye infection, dry eye may put your dog at high risk for secondary eye infections. Since there is a problem with the tearing mechanism of the eyes due to impaired or non-functional lacrimal glands, this may cause pain or itchiness for your dog, making them scratch constantly.

This puts them at risk for corneal ulcerations that provide free access for bacteria to infiltrate the eye tissues and cause further complications. Dry eye has different causes. It is usually autoimmune in nature, but it can also be caused by an injury or history of trauma close to the lacrimal glands, impairing their function.

Dry eye

The signs and symptoms for dry eye are almost the same as any other eye infection. Redness is a common manifestation of dry eye. You may notice your dog to be constantly blinking or squinting in an attempt to moisten the eye. Your dog may also have abnormal eye discharges that definitely aren’t tears. The discharges are sticky and tenacious in contrast to tears that are clear and non-viscous.

Dry eye is a condition that may require lifetime treatment of symptoms, especially since this is painful for dogs. They may be treated with cyclosporine or tacrolimus drops or ointment daily. Surgery is also an option. The procedure involves redirecting the duct of the parotid glands to the dog’s eyes for the saliva production to go straight to the eye. The success rate is high and has provided dogs with a better quality of life.

Canine Uveitis

Uveitis is the inflammation of the internal structures of the eye. The uvea is made up of the iris, ciliary body, and choroid which comprise the vascular supply of the eye. The common causes of uveitis are as follows:

  • Microorganisms: These are the most common causes of uveitis. They may be bacterial, fungal, viral or parasitic in origin.
  • Trauma: Trauma may damage the lens of the eyes, causing lens proteins to spill out and contaminate the other parts of the eyes.
  • Metabolic disorders: Diabetes mellitus and high blood pressure in dogs may increase intraocular pressure.
  • Immune-related: There may be a presence of an autoimmune response that cause cells to attack tissues in the eyes
  • Due to another underlying disease anywhere in the body

The signs of uveitis are similar to glaucoma. Glaucoma is a condition characterized by an increase in intraocular pressure, compressing the different internal structures of the eye. Thus, intraocular pressure is measured by a veterinarian to differentiate the two conditions. Uveitis is characterized by a severe pain in the eye accompanied by intense reddening of the eyeball. There is excessive tearing. Your dog may not be able to open its eyes and may even avoid bright light.

Sometimes, bleeding may be seen inside the eye. Uveitis may progress to other eye conditions such as conjunctivitis and ulcerative keratitis, increasing the risk for more infections to happen. This may also progress to dry eye and cataracts. Thus, management is urgent to retard any more damage that could be done. Dogs with this condition may be under lifetime oral and/or topical medications to treat the symptoms and prevent complications. Pain relief is usually the priority to make your dog feel comfortable.

Glucocorticoid steroid eye drops are usually prescribed to rid the eyes of foreign materials and inflammation.

Another serious eye condition not mentioned above is cherry eye, which you should learn more about in this article on cherry eye in dogs.

Treating dog eye infections at home

The treatment for dog eye infections depends on the severity and extent of damage to the structures of the eye. When it goes deeper it means it gets worse and even the function of the eyes may be affected. Many eye infections may be treated with home remedies such as the following:

  • Water: Simply washing or rinsing the eyes gently with water could remove foreign materials in the eyes.
  • Saline: The classic solution used is saline. This could easily be prepared at home by mixing ¼ teaspoon of salt in a cup of warm distilled water. Cotton balls are drenched and the solution is made to drop on the dog’s eyes to wash off any particles or substances that infected them. Saline is used especially for cleansing the eyes before the application of other treatments.
  • Natural oils: They are usually dropped in the infected eyes of dogs. For mild cases, a drop of almond oil would do. A drop of castor oil is used in moderate irritated or inflamed eyes. For dry eyes with or without ulcers, stronger oils such as cod liver oil could be used.
  • Eye drops: They are available in the market and are convenient for use, especially if your dog requires daily treatment.
  • Ointments: These are rubbed in the lower lid with an applicator. They eyes of the dog are shut to facilitate spreading of the ointment.

Since many eye infections are caused by different kinds of microorganisms, knowing the etiologic agent may be useful in determining the specific cure or remedy needed for your pet to recover. Certain eye infections in dogs may require extra special attention from your family veterinarian. This is especially true in cases where the infection increases in severity or seems to not be responding to simple home remedies and first-line antibiotics.

Cleaning dogs eyes

Eye infections must not be taken as a light case and it is important that you seek consult almost immediately to retard the further progression of the infection and to also help your dog cope with the symptoms that make him uncomfortable.

Preventing eye infections in dogs

It is almost impossible to prevent infections from occurring in dogs. With them almost always in action or stretching out lazily on the ground, their exposure puts them at risk. However, as pet owners who took the responsibility of nurturing lives of dogs, the least we could do is to ensure they are protected the best way we could. Here are a few ways in which we could do that:

  • Hygiene: Giving them regular baths and grooming them to look their best may decrease the incidence of infections by keeping dirt away from their eyes. Also, when giving them a bath, their soap and shampoo should be away from their eyes so as not to cause irritation because of the chemicals.
  • Diet: The role of diet to increase the quality of life not only applies to humans but to your pets as well. Infection strikes when the immune system is compromised. Strengthen your dog’s immune system by providing them with the needed nutrients for them to live strong and happy lives.
  • Constant monitoring: Since early diagnosis is the key, it is important that you keep track of your dogs’ eye health. If you observe something wrong, take action at once before the condition progresses into something worse that you can no longer handle.

Whether they’re dogs’ or humans’, the eyes are definitely the windows of the soul, and when this window starts to get damaged, it is difficult to get it back. So while we can, we must never neglect the eyes of our pets. It is never easy for them to be in pain or simply uncomfortable. Imagine seeing your dog squinting, scratching and moaning. Their suffering is our pain as well, especially if they have grown to be our best friend and companion in life. Just remember the feeling they give you by simply watching them adore and love you. Save a dog’s vision today!

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.