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Why Are Your Dog’s Eyes Red?

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Your dog makes eye contact with you a lot, so chances are you’ll quickly notice if something is out of the ordinary with her eyes. If you have a dog with red eyes, there are many things that could be causing the problem. Here are some common reasons for red eyes and how to manage them.

Symptoms of Dog Eye Infections

If your dog has red, itchy, or watery eyes, she may have an infection. Here are a few tsigns of an eye infection in dogs:

  • Your dog rubbing her face on the ground or against furniture to try to scratch her eyes
  • Red eyes
  • Watery discharge 
  • Crusty eyes or other discharge 
  • Difficulty opening the eyes all the way, or more frequent blinking

Here are some likely causes for a dog with red eyes …

6 Common Causes Of Red Eyes In Dogs

There can be many different reasons for red eyes, and not all of them are something to worry about. Your dog may have red eyes due to allergies, injury, or a foreign object in her eye. There are some possible infections that may also be the culprit and may require a veterinarian’s help to treat.

1. Corneal Ulceration In Dogs

The cornea is the clear layer over the front of the eye. When something damages this layer, such as a foreign object scratching it, it can open it up to bacterial infection. This is very painful, so if your dog has a scratch in her cornea you will probably notice her squinting, scratching at the eye, and probably an icky discharge from the eye.

Eye conformation can be a factor in corneal ulcers in dogs as well. A University of London study found that brachycephalic (flat faced dogs like Pugs) were 20 ties more likely to get corneal ulcers than non-brachycephalic breeds (1).

Corneal ulcers can be a true emergency, so If you suspect a corneal ulceration, see your veterinarian or veterinary eye specialist (2. Once you know what it is, you can ask your holistic vet about treatment. However, this can be one time when antibiotics may be needed to stop harmful bacteria before they do too much irreparable damage to the cornea (3).

2. Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is a common infection in dogs. It may be due to bacterial or viral infection and can be painful for your dog. If you notice your dog squinting, be sure to have your veterinarian check for corneal ulcers, which may be present along with conjunctivitis. Some conjunctivitis may be autoimmune (4).

Symptoms of conjunctivitis include redness and swelling and noticeable eye discharge. The redness can be extremely red – you can’t miss it. The gooey discharge can range from mild to very thick in more serious cases.

Mild cases can be improved with gentle eye washes every few hours using saline solution or soothing herbal teas such as chamomile or calendula.

Is Dog Conjunctivitis Contagious?

You might wonder whether dog conjunctivitis is contagious? It depends on what the cause of your dog’s conjunctivitis is. If it’s bacterial, then it could spread to you and other dogs. If it’s caused by allergies or an irritant in the eye, it isn’t contagious. To be safe, it’s always good to take precautions by washing your hands before touching your own face or other dogs.

3. Uveitis 

Uveitis is not very common, as it’s caused by a systemic infection or serious disease in dogs (5). It is the inflammation of the entire eye, which can be very painful. Some causes of uveitis infection are:

  • Metabolic disease or high blood pressure
  • Bacterial diseases like Lyme disease
  • Viral diseases like rabies and distemper
  • Parasitic disease like toxoplasmosis

You may notice your dog trying to avoid light if she has uveitis. You’ll need to consult a veterinarian to determine the root cause and choose the appropriate treatment.

4. Glaucoma 

Glaucoma in dogs occurs when there is a problem with normal drainage of fluid from the eye. When fluid can’t leave, the build-up puts extra pressure on the eyeball. Certain breeds are more likely to develop glaucoma due to genetic abnormalities (6).

Secondary glaucoma can develop due to uveitis, lens dislocation or damage, intra-ocular bleeding or tumors (7).

Your dog may have glaucoma in one or both eyes. Some signs include swollen blood vessels, enlarged eyeballs, squinting, redness, and vision loss. This is a serious condition that can lead to blindness if left untreated, so be sure to get to the vet or ophthalmologist if you suspect it.

5. Blepharitis

Blepharitis is a condition in which the eyelids and tissues surrounding the eye get inflamed. Like other types of eye infection in dogs, this can be very painful and lead to vision problems. Blepharitis may have autoimmune causes (4).

Symptoms of blepharitis include redness of the white parts of the eye, swollen eyelids, flaky skin around the eyes, pain, and eye discharge.

This type of infection can be caused by allergies, bacteria, parasites, virus, tumors, and injuries. If your dog is a breed that has many skin folds in the face, like a Sharpei, she may be at higher risk for this kind of infection.

6. Dry Eye

Dry eye (called Keratoconjunctivitis sicca) is often due to autoimmune disease that causes your dog’s tear production to dry up (8, 9).

Symptoms include red, dry eyes, sometimes with a gooey discharge. You’ll want to confirm the diagnosis with your vet, but homeopathy and other natural treatments can be used successfully for this condition. 

These homeopathic eye drops can ease dry eye conditions … or consult a homeopathic vet for help selecting the best remedy. 

Causes of Dog Eye Problems

Aside from bacteria, viruses, and parasites, there are a few other reasons leading to dog eye infections.

Breeds Prone To Eye Infections

Most types of eye infections can happen at any age and in any dog. However, certain breeds are more prone to eye infection.

Dogs with flat faces and facial folds are more likely to develop certain types of infection like blepharitis and conjunctivitis. Examples of breeds like this are Pugs, Lhasa Apsos, Bulldogs, and Chows. Other breeds have facial make up that makes them prone to eyelid problems that cause red eyes (like Bloodhounds).

Trauma

Your dog may bang her eye or get scratched by bushes or branches while playing. Depending on how hard she hit an object (or an object hit her!), you might see swelling, reddening, tears, and squinting.

If it’s not too serious, it should resolve itself.  If your dog seems to be in pain and unable to blink normally after 30 minutes, go to the vet to get it checked out.

Foreign Body In the Eye

Working dogs like hunting dogs are at higher risk for getting foreign bodies in their eyes. In some cases the homeopathic remedy Silica (or Silicea) can help push them out. Follow the recommendations for foxtails in the eye described by homepath Brenda Tobin in this article. However, because the eye is such a sensitive area, it’s safest to contact a homeopathic veterinarian for advice before you give the remedy. Sometimes foreign bodies in the eye will need surgical removal (10).

Allergies And Environmental Irritants

Just like humans get irritated eyes with exposure to certain environmental contaminants, so do dogs (11). Smoke, artificial scents, and chemicals like pesticides can lead to red, itchy eyes in your dog. Swimming in the salty ocean or in a chlorinated pool may also irritate your dog’s eyes.

Dogs can show hayfever or allergy symptoms in response to pollen allergy too. This type of irritation should be mild and will usually resolve itself once your dog is removed from the exposure, 

How To Prevent Dog Eye Problems

Now you know how many different conditions can affect your dog’s eyes. But how do you prevent dog eye issues?

  • Protect your dog’s eyes from irritants and foreign bodies. For example, when you are driving, keep the window closed so that dust and other things don’t fly into your dog’s eyes. Consider buying dog goggles if your dog really likes to have the window open or stick his head out.
  • Keep your dog’s face clean. When there is discharge, wipe with a clean wet cloth or saline solution to discourage any bacteria. If your dog has long hair around the eye, trim it so it doesn’t grow inward to irritate the eyeball.
  • Give your dog plenty of antioxidant-rich foods to support overall eye health. Berries like blueberries and raspberries are a great choice.
  • Feed a good quality omega-3 fatty acid supplement.
  • If you can get them, feed eyeballs to support your dog’s eye heallh (feeding the organ you want to support is long natural medicine tradition). Eyeballs contain natural omega-3s like docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), as well as vitamin A (retinol). DHA and EPA are also plentiful in brain and other organ meats, so feeding those can also benefit your dog’s eyes.

Eyes are fragile organs. Holistic veterinarian Dr Edward Bassingthwaighte recommends a vet exam any time your dog has an eye problem that doesn’t get improve quickly … especially if you see your dog squinting,  Sqinting can mean a corneal ulcer and that needs vet treatment.

If your dog does need an eye exam, go to a veterinary ophthalmologist if possible. You want someone who specializes in the eyes for the best possible outcome for your dog.

References
  1. Packer RMA, Hendricks A, Burn CC (2015) Impact of Facial Conformation on Canine Health: Corneal Ulceration. PLoS ONE 10(5): e0123827
  2. Belknap EB. Corneal Emergencies. Top Companion Anim Med. 2015 Sep;30(3):74-80. 
  3. ]Franck J. Ollivier. Bacterial corneal diseases in dogs and cats. Clinical Techniques in Small Animal Practice, Volume 18, Issue 3, 2003.
  4. Teresa Peña, Marta Leiva,.Canine Conjunctivitis and Blepharitis. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice, Volume 38,Issue 2, 2008
  5. Wendy M. Townsend. Canine and Feline Uveitis. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice, Volume 38, Issue 2, 2008.
  6. Boevé MH, Stades FC. [Glaucoma in dogs and cats. Review and retrospective evaluation of 421 patients. I. Pathobiological background, classification and breed predisposition]. Tijdschrift Voor Diergeneeskunde. 1985 Mar;110(6):219-227. 
  7. Johnsen, D. A. J., Maggs, D. J., & Kass, P. H. (2006). Evaluation of risk factors for development of secondary glaucoma in dogs: 156 cases (1999–2004)Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association229(8), 1270-1274
  8. Dodi PL. Immune-mediated keratoconjunctivitis sicca in dogs: current perspectives on management. Vet Med (Auckl). 2015 Oct 30;6:341-347.
  9. David L. Williams. Immunopathogenesis of Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca in the Dog. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice, Volume 38, Issue 2, 2008.
  10. Tetas Pont R, Matas Riera M, Newton R, Donaldson D. Corneal and anterior segment foreign body trauma in dogs: a review of 218 cases. Vet Ophthalmol. 2016 Sep;19(5):386-97. 
  11. Mueller A. Allergic Conjunctivitis: An Update. Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2022;268:95-99.

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