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Hang on, did your dog just wink at you? Unusual winking, blinking, rubbing, or pawing at the eyes is your pet's way of telling you there may be something wrong. Eye infections in dogs are common and serious, and you may need to use dog eye infection treatments.

An eye infection in a dog occurs when the eyes react to invasion from harmful micro-organisms: bacteria, viruses or fungi, among others (1). Microorganisms can invade all parts of a dog's eye (2). They are easily eradicated and will cause no permanent damage if action is taken quickly, and but preventing this in the first place is always the best step.

How Serious Dog Eye Infections Are?

Due to a variety of diseases and eye infections in dogs that share similar symptoms, it's difficult to assess the seriousness of the problem before establishing which type of infection it is (3). Until you know what you are actually dealing with, you won’t know how to treat the problem, never mind how serious it is.

If you notice something is wrong with your dog’s eyes, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. The one thing that all dog eye infection issues have in common is that no matter how bad they might ultimately be, early treatment is almost guaranteed to relieve your dog's suffering quickly and may even save your dog's sight.

Photo of a dog's eye with keratitis
Dog's eye with keratitis. © Sandmeyer, et al.

Dog Breeds Most at Risk of Eye Infections

Almost all dogs can get various infections to their eyes. Selective breeding of dogs it has led to some predispositions or genetic defects to occur, including dog eye infection problems and other issues related to sight. Below are some of the breeds predisposed to genetic eye problems (4, 5, 6, 7).

Boston Terriers and Other Short-Nosed Dogs

These dogs are more prone to Cherry Eye, a problem of the third eyelid, or tear gland. Luckily, this is repairable with surgery or in some cases with dog eye drops and gentle eye massage.

Shetland Sheepdogs and other Collie breeds

Shelties, Lassie lookalikes and Border Collies are prone to what is called Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA). This is a genetic condition that impacts the retina, choroid, and sclera with varying degrees of severity from being so mild it doesn’t affect the vision, to severe enough that it would lead to a dog's blindness.

English Springer Spaniels

This breed's eyes are not quite as good as their nose – they are very prone to Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), glaucoma and cataracts. Be on the lookout for common dog eye infection symptoms such as itchy eyes, cloudiness, or redness.

German Shepherds

Out of all dog breeds, GSDs are the most prone to suffer from Pannus, otherwise known as Chronic Superficial Keratitis (CSK). This is an affliction whereby the dog’s body suddenly treats the cornea as a foreign object. Although incurable, its progression can be slowed down and managed (8, 9).

Great Danes

Great Danes are prone to a type of dog eye infection called Entropion. This is a hereditary disorder where the eyelid rolls inwards causing the eyelashes to irritate the dog's eye. It's a painful condition for the pet, which can be remedied by surgery.

Poodles

Poodles are predisposed to suffer from Glaucoma. This is a condition where there is a buildup of fluid in the eye which causes pressure, pain and if not treated early enough, eventual blindness in the dog.

Photo of dog eye infection after treatment
Photo of dog eye infection after treatment.

Symptoms of Eye Infections in Dogs

Although canine eye infections are fairly common, the symptoms are shared by many more ominous conditions. Spend a few moments each day gazing into your pet's eyes – that way you will be able to identify any changes and treat them at the first opportunity.

General signs of eye infections in dogs could be:

  • Excessive amount of tear stains (or epiphora)
  • Abnormal discharges in your dog's eyes
  • Tear-stained fur by the eyes
  • Newly developed extra-high sensitivity to light
  • Constant blinking, pawing, scratching at the eyes
  • Significant reddening of the eyes area and/or surrounding tissues

When your dog is suffering from an eye infection, swift actions can ensure the dog doesn’t sustain any lasting damage. There could be several reasons for a dog's eye infection and different ways to deal with each. Below are some of the most common dog eye infection symptoms you need to watch out for.

Discharge from the Eye

Most healthy dogs have some form of discharge like eye boogers from their eye at some time or another, and that's normal. Eye discharge becomes a problem when it’s excessive, watery or pus-like. It can be caused by allergies, diseases, a foreign object, or acute case of eye infection.

Avoidance of Bright Lights

Not all dogs long for the bright lights of Broadway, but a healthy dog shouldn’t try to avoid bright lights. Light sensitivity is fairly common when your dog is suffering from irritation to their cornea, but there are lots of reasons for your dog to suddenly avoid the light, so the sooner you get it checked out, the better.

Change in Blinking

You have to be quite observant to notice this symptom, but just like us, when your pal gets something in their eye, a natural reaction is to blink it out. The problem is, it might not be a foreign object that's irritating the eye; oftentimes, there can be other explanations including corneal damage, so check with a vet. If possible, gently bandage the eye to avoid further irritation caused by the excessive blinking.

Partial Opening of One Eye

The partial opening of one eye is an obvious sign that there is something wrong. Even the smallest injury can turn into an infected wound, so don’t expect the problem to go away on its own. You can examine for a foreign object, but the only kind that is safe to handle at home is one where it’s an obvious object and can be flushed out with a saline solution. All other causes are best examined by your veterinarian.

Causes of Eye Infections in Dogs

There are many ways for your dog to contract an eye infection: metabolic causes such as diabetes or hyperthyroidism (10, 11), infectious causes like canine distemper virus or leishmania (12, 13), drug induced with some anesthetics, sedatives or atropine (14, 15) or radiation induced after treatments for cancer (16).

Moreover, new studies have been recently discovering even more risks for a dog's eyes, such as new dog eye parasites or other related diseases that were previously unknown.

A study in 2016 was focusing on the mysterious disease related to dog eye infection issues called Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome (SARDS). This was previously known to vets and pet owners, but we're still unsure of its causes and even proper treatments.

A study in 2017 found that eye infections in dogs can also be caused by newly appearing parasites, and treatments for these can also be complicated.

For regular known canine eye infection causes, these are the most common reasons:

  • pinkeye (conjunctivitis) is the most common cause (17);
  • bacteria (of any form) or fungi;
  • ulcer/keratitis or corneal infection in the dog's eye;
  • several types of viruses (including Herpes);
  • glaucoma;
  • irritants or foreign material in the dog's eyes;
  • Lyme disease.

Regardless of the cause, prompt treatment for an eye infection is essential. If you failed to prevent any of these eye problems, take your dog to the vet immediately. Dog eye problems may become chronic or cause lasting damage if not treated right away.

Photo of superficial infection mucocutaneous on the eye of a dog
Photo of superficial infection mucocutaneous on the eye of a dog.

5 Ways to Prevent Dog Eye Infections

Preventing eye infections in dogs is not always completely possible. Sometimes, your dog might come into contact with another dog suffering from an infection and contract it (18). Other times they might get something in their eye that has bacteria on it, but there is still a few things you can do and some dog eye care products you can use as preventatives.

1. Look Into My Eyes

A good old eye to eye chat with your dog is something you can do every morning before your walks. Become familiar with what your dog's healthy eyes look like so that you will notice anything untoward happening when it does.

2. Road Trip!

When you and your pet go on road trips together, keep the windows closed – seeds, dust and debris, bits and bobs can fly into your dog's eyes. No more hanging their head out the window with the wind blowing through the dog's fur if you want to avoid all those types of canine eye problems.

3. Scrubadub

Keep your pet's face clean. Simply get a few washcloths that are specifically your dog's and make it a fun routine. Use warm water in the winter and cool water in the summer to make your pet feel really pampered.

4. Shave and a Haircut

You don’t need to go so far as a full-on shave, but keeping the hair around your dog's eyes nice and short can stop the hair from scratching your pup's cornea which can let infection in (here's how to do it). Or, depending on the length of the dog's coat, maybe buy some scrunchies and tie that hair up.

5. Stick to a Healthy Diet

Your dog needs to be firing on all cylinders to maintain a strong and active immune system to fight off any type of eye infection problems. A well-balanced diet with all essential vitamins, minerals and macronutrients is the first step towards that.

Prevention is better than cure, and keeping an eye on your dog's eyes can go a long way in saving you the trouble, time and money when it comes to dog eye infections.

7 Home Remedies for Eye Infections in Dogs

Some homemade poultices can be real first aid standbys, but most vets generally do not recommend them due to lack of evidence for their effectiveness. If your dog is on medication, check with your vet if herbal recipes are allowed. Below home remedies will work for minor issues, but you should see your vet if the condition worsens or persists.

1. Saline Solution

There are several types of eye drops for dogs, but a saline solution is a good place to start. It's made up of 1 cup of lukewarm water with ¼ tsp of salt added. This can be used as a wipe to remove crusty discharge. Always wipe from the inside of the eye out, and never reuse the same wipe twice. You can also use this as a flush, dripping a small amount into your dog’s eye using a sterile eye dropper or new cotton ball.

2. Herbal Supplements

It's best to err on the side of caution when it comes to certain herbal supplements, so check with our vet before you introduce any to your pooch. All it takes is a quick phone call to get the all-clear.

3. Chamomile

A favorite of many pet owners is the chamomile tea. Get some for your dog and some for yourself when you'll need to calm down. You can place a chamomile tea bag on your pet's sore eye, suitably cooled of course.

4. Meadowsweet

When you’re looking for astringency, anti-inflammatory, and antiseptic qualities, Meadowsweet (or Filipendula Ulmaria) is a great addition to your toolkit. But be very cautious not to let your cat anywhere near this as if ingested it can cause kidney failure and even death from salicylate intoxication which occurs from their inability to metabolize the herb correctly.

5. Eyebright

Eyebright has the qualities of astringent, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic qualities in an easily obtained herb. This is generally a fast acting, but short-lived remedy. It's also known as Euphrasia Officinalis.

6. Burdock

When it comes to removing unwanted substances, Burdock herb is a champ, according to holistic veterinarians, and an infection is definitely an unwanted substance. Also known as Arctium lappa, you can ask your vet where to buy it.

7. Rosemary

Not just good for cooking, rosemary herb is well-known for pain relief and is often recommended by alternative health practitioners instead of regular pain relief meds for dogs. It's also called Rosmarinus Officinalis.

Remember that the above herbal, natural and holistic home remedies for dog eye infection problems have not been scientifically tested or proven to be effective. It's best to consult with your vet and closely monitor your pet's condition when using them.

Veterinary Diagnosis and Treatment

Eye infections have similar symptoms to more serious ailments, and significant damage to a dog's eye can occur quickly. Vets recommend bringing your dog in within 24 hours if you notice a problem with their eye(s). A few tests will be performed (19).

Examining Your Dog's Eye

If you examine your dog’s eye and can clearly see a foreign body that you can safely remove, it is probably safe to do so; otherwise, leave the exam to the vet.

Photo of a dog with pink eye being examined
Photo of a dog with pink eye.

Your vet will want to take your dog's temperature. This is to check for general health and signs of an infection. They will use an ophthalmoscope and look into a dog’s eyes for tumors, foreign bodies and any abnormalities. The vet will note the general health of the eye, including any redness or swelling, any discharge or unusual eye activity.

Testing and Determining the Cause

Your vet will want to run two very straightforward eye tests:

1. Fluorescein test

This test will show the vet if there are any scratches or ulcers on your dog’s eye. All the vet does is take a chemically treated strip of paper, place it on the dog’s eye, and any problems show up as green, thanks to the chemical Fluorescein.

2. Schirmer tear test

This one says it all in the name; it’s a straightforward and quick test to measure the tear production in your dog’s eye. It has been used for over a century and is the most standard, best test for many eye problems in dogs (20). The vet tell if your pet is producing an average amount of tears or too much or too little due to an infection.

Below are the most common treatments advised by a veterinarian for different dog eye problems, and should generally not be used by pet owners themselves (21, 22, 23, 24).

Artificial tear drops. The first treatment to use for the relief to the tissue, cornea, conjunctiva and more. It must be applied regularly and often, depending on condition.

Acetylcysteine. This is a mucolytics agent often used during the beginning stages of  several eye issues in dogs, particularly when eye discharge is noticed and directly linked to a mucin excess of a dog's ocular surface.

Antibiotics. Topical antibiotics are often required for most infections of the eye and most often during the initial phase of treatment to prevent spread of bacteria.

Corticosteroids. Applied for a brief period, these may improve a dog's eye condition but need to be very carefully used because of a high risk of corneal ulceration. They should not be used long-term for most eye conditions.

Pilocarpine. This treatment is given orally and applied to the dog's eye for specific eye conditions such as keratitis. Once again, this needs to be administered carefully as there are a number of side effects to be expected.

Immunosuppressive drug. Some of these drugs are used alongside tear drops to stimulate tear production in dogs. The most popular are cyclosporine A, pimecrolimus, and tacrolimus.

Surgery is another option for several eye diseases in dogs, depending on the type, severity, how far it progressed and current condition of the dog (25).

Home Treatments: Eye Drops and Washes

Using eye drops is a common way to treat eye infections at home after checking with a vet. There are three categories of dog eye infection treatments and drops to choose from:

Antibacterial. This is the most common, effective treatment for eye infections. It's available over-the-counter and with vet prescription (depending on strength and type). Affordable. Best to use for dog's weeping eyes or other insignificant issues.

Steroid. It's the strongest treatment for eye infections in dogs, and it's by veterinary prescription only. Commonly used for serious eye inflammations and other related problems. Often used in conjunction with antibiotics for best results.

Petroleum/lubricant. A simple solution, this type of dog eye wash/drops is used for dogs with infected eyes or eye inflammation. It's available over-the-counter, and generally helps with relieving dryness and itchiness.

Due to their strength and potential side effects, all steroid products must be prescribed by your veterinarian. You cannot and should not purchase any steroids for dogs yourself.

Three new types of topical ophthalmic antibiotics are commercially available but they need to be prescribed by your veterinarian. Those are ciprofloxacin, norfloxacin, and ofloxacin. Studies have shown them to be effective for bacterial eye infections (26).

For less severe cases, you can purchase some eye treatments from a store or online retailer without a prescription. Four most common, best dog eye treatments and lubricants sold over the counter currently are:

Two of the most common dog eye washes (non-medical) sold over the counter:

Tomlyn Sterile Eye Wash. Tomlyn Sterile Eye WashOne of the more popular dog eye washes to buy over the counter, this veterinary grade dog eye rinse relieves discomfort and itching caused by environmental pollutants. It's very sterile and has the same pH level as dog's tears to avoid any further irritation. All you need to do is put a few drops of it both of your dog's eyes to flush out pollutants, dust, mucous, pollen or any other small objects or allergens.

Nutri-Vet Dog Eye Rinse. Nutri-Vet Dog Eye RinseThis is another very popular over-the-counter product that helps with reducing redness in a dog's eyes, as well as removing tear stains and debris from around the eyes. It's a very gentle formulation only suitable for minor eye issues and for simple eye flushing and cleaning, and will not be suitable for treating serious eye problems in your pet.

While you can also find and buy certain antibiotic dog eye infection treatments over-the-counter, this approach is not recommended. It's best to consult with a veterinarian first to choose a plan of action on how you're going to treat your pet and which products to be used. Eyes are very sensitive and it's crucial to avoid mistakes.

Dietary Adjustments for Eye Problems in Dogs

You can also adjust your pet's diet to further help with healing and treating eye infections. Things that might help (use in small doses and with caution) include:

  • Supplements formulated specifically to strengthen a dog's eyes
  • Cod liver oil (¼ to 1 teaspoon)
  • Nutrients: Vitamins A, C or D, zinc, pycnogenols and bioflavonoids
  • Foods that are good for dogs' eyes: blue or purple berries, sunflower and sesame seeds, carrots, parsley and leafy green vegetables

Eye infection treatment through diet have no scientific backing to it and is mostly based on theory. When dealing with an actual eye problem, the first thing is to treat the eyes directly. Be cautious, and consult with your veterinarian before changing your pet's diet.

Other Eye Problems in Dogs

Dog eye infections are often confused with a number of other eye problems in dogs. Below are some of the most common ones you must know, including their symptoms so that you can distinguish which condition your pooch is closer to.

Cataracts

Symptoms:

  • cloudy eyes
  • blue/white tint
  • reduced vision
  • increased urination

Glaucoma

Symptoms:

  • sore or cloudy eyes
  • excessive discharge
  • dilated, enlarged pupils
  • bulged eyes
  • green sheen

Conjunctivitis

Symptoms:

  • red eyes
  • swollen eyes
  • sticky discharge
  • pawing at the eye

Corneal Ulcers

Symptoms:

  • excessive eye-watering
  • a film or cloudiness
  • discharge of pus
  • excessive squinting
  • rapid blinking
  • swollen eyes

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

Symptoms:

  • night blindness
  • dilated pupils
  • cloudiness
  • grey patina
  • greenish sheen

Cherry Eyes

Symptoms:

  • red eyes
  • swollen eyes
  • oozing pus

Allergies

Symptoms:

  • itchy eyes
  • swelling
  • red/irritated eyes
  • excessively watery eyes

Entropion

Symptoms:

  • deformed eyelids

At the Tail's EndDog Eye Infection Treatments and Prevention

Whenever you suspect your dog to have an eye infection problem, visit your veterinarian immediately (within 24 hours). Some conditions may be simple and quick to treat and not pose any danger, but others may be serious and will lead to lose of sight and blindness if not promptly treated.

With many dog eye infection home remedies, over-the-counter eye washes/drops, and prescription-based medical treatments available, problems with your dog's eyes can be resolved quickly and leave no lasting problem. Do not attempt to figure out a treatment plan for yourself because it's easy to make a mistake and make your pet's condition worse. Always consult with a vet beforehand.

WATCH NEXT: How to Give a Dog Eye Drops 

FURTHER READING
  • http://www.ashgi.org/home-page/genetics-info/eyes/collie-eye-anomaly
  • https://now.tufts.edu/articles/spotting-eye-problems-pets
  • http://veterinaryrecord.bmj.com/content/181/13/346
  • http://vetmed.illinois.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Glaucoma-Considerations.pdf
  • https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/eye-disorders-of-dogs/eye-structure-and-function-in-dogs
  • https://www.merckvetmanual.com/eye-and-ear/ophthalmology/conjunctiva
  • https://cvm.ncsu.edu/new-research-study-focuses-on-mysterious-eye-disease-in-dogs/
  • https://www.vetmed.wisc.edu/pbs/dubielzig/pages/coplow/PowerPoints/GlaucomaSask2014.pdf
  • https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/09/170918222244.htm
  • https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/eyelid-entropion-in-dogs

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