Our dogs communicate with us in a variety of ways, one of which is with their eyes. Therefore, when you notice that your dog’s eyes are red, watery, or swollen, you want to treat it and make sure that Fido is not experiencing irritation in his eyes. Red eyes in dogs are not normal, and they can be indicative of a number of things.
A dog with red eyes may be caused by something simple—minor irritation, an allergy (yes, dogs develop allergies just as we humans do), or even a minor injury. However, a dog’s red eyes can also indicate a major health issue, so it is best to investigate and find the cause for proper treatment.
Dog’s Eyes are Sensitive
Although you probably already know that your dog can’t see as keenly as you do, they are more sensitive than our human eyes.
Dogs have a third eyelid, which rests in the inside corner of the eye. This eyelid is meant to protect the eye from irritants and from being scratched. This part of the dog’s eye is called the nictitating membrane. Dogs have more rods in the cornea of their eyes than we do, allowing them to see movements better than we humans even though their vision isn’t as sharp as ours (dogs typically have 20/75 vision in human terms).
Because dogs have these extra rods in the cornea, their eyes are much more sensitive to light than ours (imagine how it feels after having your eyes dilated at the ophthalmologist’s office).
Does this mean they are more prone to injury and irritation? Yes and no. Some breeds are more prone to an eye injury than others.
Causes of Red Eye in Dogs
The most common causes of red and watery eyes in dogs include:
- eye injury or eye trauma
- a scratch or an irritant/ foreign object in the eye
- a food allergy
- an environmental allergy (yes, dogs can be prone to this)
- pink eye (conjunctivitis)
- corneal ulcers
The most common symptom for any of these issues is red, bloodshot, and watery eyes.
An eye injury can be either major or minor. If you wash your dog’s eyes and they remain bloodshot and watery for more than three days, then it is a good idea to see the vet in case the injury is more pronounced than originally thought.
A scratch can cause redness and irritation in the eye. However, a mild scratch should heal with a little at-home treatment after a few days. Again, if the eye does not improve within three days, see your vet.
Most irritants do somewhat scratch the eye. Wash the eye with a product made for dog’s eyes. If the redness persists after a day or two with no improvement, you may need to see the vet for a more thorough examination.
Allergies are a little harder to pinpoint. Allergies could be the result of something in the dog food, or they could be something in the dog’s environment. Allergies may persist as redness in the eye for days or weeks, especially if the allergy is related to a dog’s food. However, if you observe this persistent redness for several days, head on over to the vet and discuss whether the redness could be an allergic reaction to something. Getting an answer may be a bit of a process, but allergies are usually easy to treat.
Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, is something we humans don’t usually associate with dogs, but, dogs can definitely develop the issue. Suspect conjunctivitis if only one eye is red. This can be treated with a topical solution, often over the counter.
Now, let’s talk about some of the more serious causes of redness in the eyes.
Glaucoma is a build-up of fluid in the eyes that creates pressure in the eyes. Again, we think of glaucoma as a human illness, but it is also found in dogs. Left untreated, glaucoma can cause blindness in your beloved pup. You may suspect glaucoma if the eye is not only red but swollen.
KCS (Keratoconjunctivitis sicca) is also known as dry eye syndrome . This is really a symptom of something else, typically a major eye illness. This should always be evaluated by a vet.
Uveitis is also a symptom rather than an illness. It is a painful inflammation of the eye.
Corneal ulcers are fairly common, and, like other causes of redness in the eye are typically symptomatic of prior injury or irritation of the eye.
What dog breeds are more prone to developing eye problems?
Brachycephalic dog breeds
This includes Pugs, Boston Terriers, and English Bulldogs. These dogs are flat-faced and their eyes may come in contact with things that other dog breeds—those with “normal” muzzles—may not get into as easily.
Long-haired breeds, especially if their long hair grows into the eyes
This includes Maltese dogs, English Sheepdogs, and Poodle varieties. The hair, when not trimmed properly, can cause major irritation of the eyes. These pups can also pick up objects in the hair that can inadvertently land in the eye as well. Keep their hair trimmed regularly, but, if they do develop red-eye (or eyes), then go through the list of potential causes before visiting the vet.
Older dogs of any breed are prone to developing diseases of the eye. Dogs that have diabetes may also have issues with their eyes. High blood pressure can affect the eye health of dogs as well.
When should I take my dog to the vet?
Redness in your dog’s eyes shouldn’t be an immediate cause for rushing to the vet unless you know for a fact your dog has injured her eye(s). In fact, in the case of small irritants or a minor scratch, then you can most likely treat the issue at home and, within a few days, the redness will subside. However, if you have tried at-home remedies with no change or a worsening of the eye redness, then it is time to head over to the vet. If it is a case of cherry eye, or the prolapsing of the third eyelid gland, you may want to have your dog checked by the vet—often by veterinary ophthalmologist.
What will my vet do to determine what’s causing the redness?
First, your vet will carry out a total ophthalmological examination on Fido. It is important for the vet to ensure that the eye is healthy in order to determine what is causing the redness. Don’t be surprised if the vet takes out an object such as a dog toy that she will move around in front of the dog’s face. She is checking to see if your dog successfully follows the object.
Next, your vet will use the ophthalmoscope to look in your dog’s eye. Here, your vet may find some irritants or foreign object in your dog’s eye, and you can rest knowing otherwise Fido’s eye health is perfect.
Here is where a doggie eye exam is different from a human’s. The vet will carry out a Schirmer tear test. This will tell the vet if your dog is naturally lubricating the eye properly. Now, this test can be a tad bit uncomfortable for Fido, but the discomfort is at a minimum, and it is over quickly.
The vet will use a tonometer to check the inner pressure of your dog’s eye (glaucoma).
The vet will then carry out a Fluorescein stain test, which allows the vet to see if there are any scratches on the eye as well as any corneal injuries (this can prevent corneal ulcers).
While this isn’t always the case, if the vet can’t find any other cause for your dog’s red and irritated eyes, she may perform bloodwork to see if there is another underlying condition she hasn’t seen symptoms of in your dog.
What types of treatments are available for my dog’s red eyes?
Most treatments for eye redness in dogs are topical. They may be creams or they may be antibiotic eye drops. Some are over the counter, while others require a prescription from your veterinarian. Keep in mind that if your dog develops a more serious eye health condition, you may have to bring Fido back to the vet for other types of treatment.
What can I do to prevent redness and irritation in my dog’s eyes?
Think of your dog as you would a toddler—you can’t prevent every little bump, fall, or accident. So, you can’t completely prevent your dog from getting red or irritated eyes; there’s no possibility of doing so. However, you can take some preventative measures to promote good eye health.
- If your dog has long hair, keep the area around the eyes trimmed regularly. Be sure to keep it clean, too.
- Use a damp cotton ball to clean “eye goobers” from the corners of your dog’s eyes and on the eyelid. Always dampen the cotton ball with water, and remember to be very gentle as these hard pieces could inadvertently get in the eye and scratch it. You should know how to wash a dog’s face too.
- Check to see that your dog isn’t excessively rubbing her head or pawing at her eyes. This is often a sign that your dog’s eye is irritated. It could also be a sign of something more serious in your dog’s health. This might be a good time to see the vet.
- Keep your dog’s head inside the car; don’t roll the window down and allow Fido to hang his head out. Surprisingly, this is a common cause of eye injury as something could fly into Fido’s eyes while going down the road.
- If your dog really wishes to hang his head out the window, then invest in a pair of goggles for dogs (Doggles).
- Be sure to take your dog in for periodic vet checks. Dogs past twelve months of age should have a yearly check-up; dogs over seven years of age should go in twice a year.
Overall, if your dog’s eyes are red and watery, and you try over-the-counter or home remedies with no improvement after 72 hours, take Fido in so the vet can make sure the redness is not due to a serious eye health issue.
1. How do I treat my dog’s red-eye?
You can most likely treat it at home with an over-the-counter (made for canine) eye treatment. Do not use Visine on a dog’s eyes. Use only pet-approved remedies. If the redness does not improve after three days, then take Fido to the vet.
2. How can I treat my dog’s red eye at home?
There are topical treatments and eyewashes one can purchase at pet health stores, but, if your dog’s issue has not gotten better within a day or two, or you notice pawing at the eye, then get your dog in to see the vet ASAP.