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Eye Infection in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Written and published by Tails 'N' Tummies

One day, I awoke to find that my precious pup, Piper, was not acting quite like herself - in fact, she was downright miserable. I was so confused, at first, because she had been just fine the day prior. Did something terrible happen while I was sleeping?

The whites of her eyes were bright red, and there were copious amounts of green gunk flowing down her face. She was squinting a lot and seemed like she didn’t want to keep her eyes open. It was clear she was in pain, and I was so worried… What if something serious had happened? Could she lose her vision from this? A million thoughts rushed through my mind.

I picked up the phone and called my veterinarian. “Something’s wrong with Piper,” I said. “She can’t open her eyes and I’m worried that she’s in pain. What should I do?” On the other end of the phone, my vet spoke calmly. “Don’t panic,” she said. “It’s probably just an eye infection.”

She instructed me to gently rinse Piper’s eyes with a saline solution (just in case there was something in the eye that was bothering her) and asked me to bring her in the next day for an evaluation. After a brief exam, the doctor ran a few tests on Piper and confirmed that she did, in fact, have an eye infection. She sent us home with some medicated eye drops and oral pain meds, and Piper’s infection cleared up in no time!

Surprising Statistics

If you’re like me, you might not have known that dog eye infections are so common. In fact, a study recently produced by eyesight experts at All About Vision proved that a lot of pet owners are unaware of the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for a dog eye infection.

According to a survey of 1,000 pet owners in the UK, All About Vision reported the following statistics:

  • 32% of surveyed pet owners felt that they wouldn't know if their pet was suffering from eye problems
  • 33% of surveyed owners didn't know about the harmful impact of eye disease if left untreated
  • 40% of surveyed owners said that they wouldn't know where to begin with treatment if their pet did have an eye infection
  • And 80% of surveyed owners agreed that better education is needed on how to look after their pet's eyes correctly

If you wake up one day to find that your pup’s peepers are red or irritated, he may be dealing with an eye infection. Left untreated, a dog eye infection can become serious and lead to permanent damage. Fortunately, there are many things pet parents can do at home to prevent and manage this common condition.

Before you decide how to proceed, it’s essential to learn what causes these infections and how to spot them. In this article, we will provide you with all the information you need so that you can get your pup feeling better in no time!

Dog Eye Infection Symptoms

Our dogs are family, and we want nothing more than for them to be happy and healthy. Unfortunately, even the healthiest of dogs can succumb to eye infections. These infections can be incredibly painful and irritating to your pup.

That’s why it’s important to be aware of the early warning signs of a dog eye infection. Remember, it’s always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to your pet’s health. Here are five of the most common warning signs to look out for:

Excessive Tearing or Discharge

One of the first things you may notice if your dog has an eye infection is that their eyes seem excessively watery. Your dog may also produce a thick discharge from one or both eyes. This discharge may be clear, yellow, green, or even white in color and can often make the fur around your dog’s eyes appear matted or wet.

Rubbing or Scratching at Eyes

If your dog is constantly rubbing or scratching at their eyes, this can be a sign that something is irritating them. This irritation could be caused by an infection, foreign objects such as dirt or dust, or even allergies.

Sneezing or Sniffling More Than Usual

When your pup is sick, their nose may run more than usual as their bodies work overtime to flush out the irritants causing the infection. In humans, this is referred to as a “runny nose.” If you notice your dog sneezing or sniffling more frequently than normal, this could be a sign of infection (especially if this symptom is paired with others on the list).

Red, Swollen, or Crusty Eyes

Another telltale sign of eye infection is redness, swelling, crustiness, or puffiness around one or both eyes. You may also notice that your dog’s eyelids appear crusty or crusted when they wake up. In humans, this is often referred to as having “sleep” in your eyes. While normal to some extent, excess discharge or crusting is usually a sign of infection.

Squinting or Holding One Eye Closed More Than Normal

One final symptom to watch out for is if your dog starts squinting more frequently than usual or holding one eye closed most of the time. This can signify that something is irritating their vision and causing discomfort.

Dog Eye Infection Causes

Now that we’ve learned about the symptoms of dog eye infections, one vital question remains: how do dogs get eye infections?

Some of the most common causes of a dog eye infection include:

  • Bacterial Infections
  • Viruses
  • Allergies
  • Foreign Bodies (such as dirt, dust, grass seedlings, etc.)
  • Underlying Health Conditions (such as Diabetes)
  • Autoimmune Disease
  • Eyelid Abnormalities
  • Dry Eye
  • Trauma

Whether it’s bacteria, a virus, or an allergy, many things can cause an infection in your dog’s eye. As a pet parent, it’s important to be aware of all the potential causes and symptoms of an eye infection so that you can act quickly to get things under control.

Related Eye Problems

Dog eye infections are relatively common among our four-legged friends. While most are minor and easy to treat, others can develop into more serious problems that require special care. Three of the most common eye problems associated with infection are conjunctivitis, corneal ulcers, and glaucoma.

Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the tissue that lines the inner surface of the eyelids and covers the white part of your dog’s eye. Conjunctivitis is one of the most common inflammatory conditions associated with an eye infection in dogs. It can be caused by bacteria, viruses, allergies, trauma, or environmental irritants.

Corneal Ulcers

Corneal ulcers are painful open sores on the surface of the cornea (the transparent outer layer of the eye). These ulcers are usually caused by trauma to the eye, such as rubbing or scratching, but can also be caused by bacteria or viruses.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a buildup of pressure inside the eye that can damage the optic nerve and lead to blindness. It’s most seen in older dogs but can occur at any age. Glaucoma can often be treated with medication to lower the pressure inside the eye. However, surgical intervention is often required in more serious cases.

If left untreated, a simple eye infection can quickly evolve into a more serious problem, such as glaucoma, conjunctivitis, or the development of corneal ulcers. The good news is that, with a little knowledge and understanding, you can treat your pet’s eye infection quickly, ensuring that it clears up without causing any lasting damage.

Diagnosing a Dog Eye Infection

Many different treatment options exist to clear up your pet’s eye infection. An essential first step in determining the best choice for your own pet? Obtaining an affirmative diagnosis of the type of infection itself. This is commonly done during a visit with your veterinarian.

As my vet did for Piper, your pup’s doctor will likely perform a physical examination along with some standard testing, such as a Schirmer Tear Test or Fluorescein Staining. These diagnostic tests can help to investigate the cause of the dog’s symptoms and rule out other potential issues. Let’s look at each one in more detail.

Schirmer Tear Test

One of the most common symptoms of eye infections in dogs is excessive tearing. The Schirmer Tear Test is a simple and quick way to diagnose the cause of this condition. During the test, a strip of absorbent paper is placed under the dog’s lower eyelid.

After a few minutes, the strip is removed, and the amount of moisture it has absorbed is measured. A reading of less than 15 mm/min is considered normal, while a reading of more than 30 mm/min indicates an eye infection.

Fluorescein Staining

Another common way to diagnose an eye infection is through fluorescein staining. This involves placing a drop of fluorescent dye in the conjunctival sac (which is the space between the eyeball and the eyelid). Once absorbed, the dye will highlight any areas of damage, such as ulcers or scratches on the cornea.

IOP Measurement

Intraocular pressure (IOP) is a measurement of the pressure inside the eye. IOP is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). The normal range for dogs is 10-24 mmHg, with 14-16 mmHg considered optimal. A dog’s IOP may be increased due to various disease processes, including glaucoma, uveitis, and certain systemic diseases such as hypertension.

Measuring a dog’s IOP can help to diagnose an eye infection, as well as to track the progression of disease. Additionally, IOP can be used to help assess the efficacy of treatment. To measure IOP, your veterinarian will use a specialized instrument known as a tonometer. This instrument measures the resistance of the eye to indentation and provides a reliable estimation of IOP.

Different types of infections require different treatments, so getting an accurate diagnosis from your vet is important before choosing a plan of action. Most eye infections will clear up with proper treatment within a few weeks.

Dog Eye Infection Treatment

There are many different options available for treating your dog’s eyes, and the best course of action will depend on the type and severity of the infection itself. From veterinary care to popular suggestions on how to treat dog eye infections at home, here are a few things you can do to help your dog feel more comfortable and speed up the healing process.

Home Remedies for Dog Eye Infections

If your dog’s eye infection is mild, or if you find yourself wondering how to treat dog eye infections without the vet, you can first try to treat it at home. First, wipe away any discharge with a clean, damp cloth or cotton ball. Just be sure not to use anything too rough that could irritate your dog’s eyes further. You can also use a saline solution to routinely flush the eyes - saline will help to flush out any bacteria or debris that might be causing the infection.

If your dog is experiencing a lot of discomfort, you can also try using a warm compress. Simply soak a clean cloth in warm water and hold it against your dog’s eye for a few minutes at a time. The warmth will help to soothe any irritation and may help to reduce swelling.

If your pet’s eyes are inflamed, one over-the-counter option to consider is Benadryl. A popular antihistamine for allergies, Benadryl can help to reduce swelling and irritation. Benadryl is typically dosed at 1mg per pound of body weight. Of course, we always recommend that you give your veterinarian a quick call before giving any over-the-counter medications to your pup just to make sure that it’s safe. And if your vet is as awesome as mine, they will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

Veterinary Care for Dog Eye Infections

If your dog’s eye infection is more severe, you may need to take them to the vet for treatment. Your vet will likely prescribe antibiotics to help clear up the infection. They may also recommend using medicated drops or ointment to help relieve symptoms and speed healing. In some cases, oral antibiotics or pain meds may also be necessary.

For viral infections, anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed to help reduce swelling and pain. Allergy-related infections can be treated with antihistamines or corticosteroids. And if there’s a foreign body in your dog’s eye, the vet will carefully remove it.

Your vet will likely want to see your dog again after a week or two to ensure the infection is clearing up. If it isn’t, they may need to adjust the dosage or type of medication prescribed. Surgery may even be necessary in very severe cases to correct the problem.

A Word on Antibiotics

If your pet does need an antibiotic to clear up the infection, we always recommend adding a probiotic to his diet afterward. Antibiotics, while often essential in treating eye infections, have the potential to wipe out your pet’s gut flora (both good and bad). Using a probiotic after the antibiotic is finished helps to restore your pet’s good gut flora, strengthening his immune system.

FAQ's About Dog Eye Infections

"What does it mean if my dog's eyes are producing colored discharge?"

Green or Yellow Discharge

Green or yellow ocular (eye) discharge is a common symptom of infection. This type of discharge is usually produced as a response to bacteria that have entered the eye, causing inflammation and irritation. However, it can also be an indicator of more serious eye-related conditions such as corneal ulcers or injury to the eye’s surface.

Clear Discharge

Many dog breeds will produce clear discharge on a normal basis. Pugs, for instance, will produce clear discharge to lubricate their oversized, bulging eyes. However, if your dog suddenly develops clear ocular discharge, it could signify allergies or environmental irritants (such as pollen, dirt, or dust).

White Discharge

White discharge is often produced in response to allergies or other environmental irritants. However, it can also be a dead giveaway of conjunctivitis or dry eye (a condition that causes a dog to stop producing tears).

"Are dog eye infections contagious?"

Some illnesses can indeed be passed from animals to humans and vice versa. However, it is important to note that not all eye infections are contagious. In fact, most infections are caused by bacteria or viruses that are specific to each species.

For example, conjunctivitis in dogs is often caused by the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica, which cannot infect humans. However, there are some exceptions. One recent study found that a type of bacteria called Pseudomonas Aeruginosa can be transmitted between dogs and humans. This bacteria is commonly found in the environment and can cause conjunctivitis and other serious eye infections.

If you develop any symptoms of an eye infection, such as redness, pain, or discharge, you should see a doctor immediately. While most dog eye infections are not transmittable, it is always a good idea to approach any illness or medical condition cautiously.

"How can I tell the difference between dog eye allergies versus an infection?"

When your dog’s eyes start looking red and irritated, it’s natural to worry that they might have an infection. However, it’s also possible that your dog is simply suffering from allergies. How can you tell the difference? Here are a few key things to look for.

If your dog’s eyes are watery and itch constantly, it’s more likely that they’re allergic to something in their environment (such as pollen or dust). But, if the eyes are swollen and there is discharge or crusting around the eyelids, this is usually a sign of an infection.

Of course, the best way to know for sure is to take your dog to the vet for a professional opinion. They will be able to determine whether your dog has an allergy or an infection and recommend the best course of treatment for either scenario.

Conclusion

If your pup is feeling a little under the weather, don’t wait to get them checked out. The sooner you address any potential eye infection issues, the sooner your pup can return to a happy, carefree life. And remember, prevention is always better than a cure, so be sure to keep those eyes clean and clear! Have you ever dealt with an eye infection in your pet? If so, what was the treatment like? Let us know in the comments below.

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