When your dog looks at you with his big, soulful puppy dog eyes, it makes you want to melt. But, when those eyes are red and bloodshot, it can worry you. Dogs’ eyes are fairly similar to humans’ eyes; the biggest differences are dogs have a third eyelid to help protect the eye, and dogs have more rods in their cornea. More rods enable dogs to track light and movement well, but they don’t see as many colors as humans.
Dogs can get red eyes for several reasons, and many are fixed easily and not cause for too much concern. However, if you notice your dog has red eyes, you should definitely look into the situation as soon as possible.
What Causes a Dog’s Red Eyes?
Your pup can get red eyes for various reasons, including an injury, a foreign object in the eye, allergies, and a host of eye conditions like glaucoma, conjunctivitis, and dry eye. If your dog has red eyes, you can take care of some issues at home, while others need to be addressed at a veterinary clinic.
Your vet will conduct a full ophthalmologic exam and run a series of different tests to narrow down the cause for your dog’s eye issues. Once you know why your dog has red eyes, you can get him the proper treatment.
Here is a look at several of the causes for your dog’s red eyes and symptoms and treatments for each:
Allergies are one of the most common reasons for red eyes in dogs. Just like with humans, allergens can cause your canine companion’s eyes to get itchy and uncomfortable. If your dog has an allergic reaction to particular irritants in the environment or in his dog food, his eyes can become inflamed and red in appearance.
- Watery discharge
- Excessive tearing
- Swollen, red eyes
The best way to treat red eyes from allergies is to bring your pup to a vet for allergy testing. Together, you and your vet can pinpoint what your dog is allergic to. You can then remove the offending items from your home, change your pup’s food if necessary, and your vet might prescribe medication for your dog.
Some of the most common causes of dog allergies are fleas, pollen, dust mites, certain foods, some household cleaners, perfumes, dander, feathers, and smoke. Wipe your pup down after he’s been outside, make sure to use cleaners and products that are safe for your dog, keep his food bowls clean, and avoid spraying intense fragrances around your pooch. If your pup’s allergies are really intense, you can get an air purifier to help remove airborne irritants.
Foreign Object or Injury
If your pup gets injured in the eye area, or you notice his eyes are suddenly red, there could be a foreign object in his eye. Anything that gets into your pup’s eye can irritate it and cause redness. The item can be small, like a piece of sand, or your dog can suffer an eye injury such as a stick poking him in the eye.
- Your dog has redness, swelling, and discomfort (especially if it is just in one eye)
- Your dog is pawing at his eye and having trouble keeping it open
- Excessive tearing
Examine your pup’s eye to see if you can spy the offending item. Use a dog eyewash or saline solution to flush out your dog’s eye. You may need to put an Elizabethan collar on your pup to keep him from scratching and pawing at his eye. It is best to have your pup’s eye checked by a vet to make sure everything is clear.
If something is embedded in your pup’s eye, do NOT attempt to remove it. Bring your dog to the vet ASAP.
Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)
Conjunctivitis is relatively common in dogs and usually occurs in one eye. The tissue coating the eye becomes inflamed and the eye becomes red.
- Squinting or blinking
- Swelling and redness
- Watery discharge, either clear or with some mucus
If your pup has pink eye, bring him to the vet. The vet can determine the actual cause of the problem and prescribe the right treatment. Your dog might need certain medications for inflammation, or he may need an antibiotic ointment if a bacterial infection is present.
In rare cases, your pup might need surgery. If a blocked tear duct causes his issue, your vet will need to remove the blockage.
If your pup suffers from dry eyes, he doesn’t produce enough tears to keep his eyes lubricated. His eyes can become very dry and red.
- Thick, white or yellow mucus around the eyes
- Cloudy, dull eyes
- Frequent eye infections
- Excessive blinking
You can use different eyewashes to help keep your pup’s eyes moist and clear. Talk with your vet about your dog’s best options and consider if a prescription might be necessary.
Glaucoma is a serious issue caused by fluid and pressure build-up in the eye. If glaucoma is not treated quickly, it can lead to blindness.
- Rubbing at the eye with paws or rubbing eyes on the floor
- Different-sized pupils
- Excessive squinting
- Redness and swelling
- Vision loss
- Cloudy eyes
- Sensitivity to light
Your vet will prescribe medications to treat your pup’s glaucoma. In some cases, your dog may need surgery or his eye may need to be removed.
These ulcers are usually caused by an injury, such as a scratch to the eye. The thin membrane in front of the eye wears away and causes trauma to the eye.
- Pawing at the eye or rubbing eyes on the floor
- Drainage from eye
- Sensitivity to light
If the ulcers are not severe your vet will prescribe antibiotic eye drops and advise that your dog wear an Elizabethan collar to prevent him from pawing at his eye. For more serious cases, your pup might need surgery or a corneal transplant. In some cases, your pup might wear a soft contact lens over his cornea until it heals.
Uveitis is when the tissue in front of your dog’s eye becomes inflamed and causes redness and pain. If not addressed quickly, this condition can cause blindness.
- Redness and swelling
- Excessive tearing
- Small, uneven pupil
- Cloudy or dull eye
- Eye color changes or becomes uneven
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Your vet will prescribe a combination of antibiotic ointments and drops for the eyes and oral medications. In very rare cases, eye removal might be necessary.
If none of these issues cause your dog’s red eyes, there might be underlying health issues at play like hyperthyroidism, diabetes, or cancer. Your pup’s red eyes can be a signal to you and your vet that something is going on, which is why it is vital to investigate immediately. When in doubt, always see your vet!
Are Certain Dogs More Prone To Eye Issues?
While any dog can suffer from red eyes, there are certain breeds more prone to eye issues than others. Breeds with long hair on their faces, older dogs, and flat-faced breeds are all more susceptible to specific eye issues.
How To Keep Your Dog’s Eyes Healthy
While sometimes there might be nothing you can do to prevent your pup’s red eyes, there are several things you can do to keep your dog’s eyes as healthy as possible:
- Keep the hair around your dog’s eyes trimmed.
- Clean your dog’s eyes as needed with a soft, damp cloth.
- If your pup is a breed prone to eye problems, use eyewash to clean his eyes regularly.
- Don’t let your pup hang his head out of the car window when driving; this makes him an easy target for foreign objects that can fly into his eyes.
- Have your pup’s eyes checked regularly by your vet.
— Update: 09-02-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article 5 Warning Signs of a Pet Eye Emergency from the website www.petful.com for the keyword my dogs eye is red and can’t open it.
Every week, a veterinary office will field hundreds of questions concerning pet eye problems. “Watchful waiting” is advised with some minor complaints, but never with eyes.
A non-veterinarian person cannot assess an eye problem’s severity, and a description over the phone just doesn’t cut it. In other words, when someone calls in and says their pet’s eye “looks funny,” it’s time for a trip to the vet.
Your vet may even direct you to a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist for immediate assessment if the emergency requires it.
5 Warning Signs of a Pet Eye Emergency
Red, inflamed or swollen eyes? Each of these symptoms can be caused by different ailments.
1. Red Eye
The white of the eye should be pristine white, with the odd lazy blood vessel meandering across the surface. If you’re not sure what this looks like, check out your own eye in the mirror.
Red eyes are not normal.
Gently lift the upper eyelid to check, and you’ll see anything from a rosy pink to a livid red. As a rule of thumb, the angrier the eye looks, the more urgently it needs checking.
Causes of red eye range from irritation and infection to a condition called glaucoma.
- Glaucoma: Pressure builds within the eye, like blowing too much air into a balloon. The most common cause is a problem within the eye and is often breed related (Basset Hounds, Cocker Spaniels, terriers and northern breeds are at greatest risk). The pressure can damage the retina and cause blindness, so swift action is essential.
- Conjunctivitis: Infection causes reddening of the eye. Sometimes the problem can be self-limiting, but — especially if there is a sticky yellow-green discharge, too — see a vet.
2. Yellow-Green Discharge
It’s normal to have white gloop in the corner of an eye first thing in the morning. Just wipe this away with a clean, damp cotton wool.
Also, rust-colored gloop is fine. This is normal gloop that’s been exposed to the air for a while and oxidized (like when you cut an apple in half and it goes brown).
What isn’t normal is a thick, yellow-green discharge from one or both eyes. This is commonly a sign of infection.
Have the vet check the eye because some infections need antibiotics, while others can occur as a complication of another problem that needs attention.
3. Swollen Eye
If there’s something odd about your pet’s face, compare one eyelid with the other to see if one side is swollen.
Eyelid swelling can be the result of an allergy, trauma or infection. It’s best to seek vet attention, because the eyeball needs checking to make sure it wasn’t damaged.
4. Dull Eye
Is the eye lackluster?
A normal eye is bright, and you can see reflections on the surface.
But sometimes the surface is dull and reflections aren’t clear, or those images are broken up or haphazard.
The most common reasons for this are either a dry eye or a corneal ulcer:
- Dry eye: Our eyes are kept comfortable by the production of tear fluid. A pet with dry eye fails to produce enough tear fluid, which leads to the surface drying out. One consequence is a dull surface, and another is the eye tries to protect itself by producing a thick, glue-like discharge. In the long term, scar tissue forms, impairing the vision.
- Corneal ulcer: This is like a burst blister on the surface of the eye. In some cases, it heals on its own, but other times it can be dangerous and cause perforation of the eye.
5. Closed Eye
A closed eye is painful: Just think of the last time you had grit in your eye.
The pain might be due to a corneal ulcer, a knock to the eye or a foreign body — anything from dust to a grass seed or even a twig. When our pets are sniffing around, it’s not uncommon to get something lodged behind the eyelids.
Your vet will put drops of local anesthetic into the eye to get a better look and remove the object.
5 Most Common Eye Emergencies in Dogs
Here, we go into more detail about some of the top ophthalmologic emergencies we see with dogs in general practice.
1. Corneal Ulcers
Corneal ulcers are the most common acute eye problems seen. (This goes for cats as well.) The cornea is the outer “skin” of the eye; an ulcer occurs if this layer has been damaged.
Corneal ulcers are often traumatic in origin, although certain diseases of the cornea can result in an ulcer. Trauma to the cornea can occur with a scratch from a bush, a stick or even another critter.
Treatment involves early diagnosis of the severity of the ulcer and the administration of appropriate eye medications.
More serious ulcers may require surgery, and frequent re-checks are needed to ensure the cornea is healing nicely. When a corneal ulcer goes from bad to worse, the cornea can actually rupture — this is a true emergency indeed.
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Proptosis occurs when an eye literally bulges out of the socket and the eyelids entrap the globe. This occurs most frequently in brachycephalic breeds and is a true emergency.
Even with immediate care, the dog may lose the eye depending on the extent of trauma sustained by the extraocular muscles, nerves and blood supply.
Many of these eyes can be replaced and vision saved in about 20% of dogs, but only if you act immediately.
3. Corneal Laceration
Corneal laceration occurs when there is a complete tear through the cornea. I have seen 2 of these from a cat claw, the most common offender.
A sharp object, like a stick, can also puncture the cornea. The dog is almost always holding the eye completely shut and is in significant pain. Again, immediate surgery may save the eye.
Get to the vet. There is a very small window of opportunity when it comes to repairing these eye injuries.
4. Lens Luxation
Lens luxation is over-represented in certain breeds like the Russell Terrier and other terriers.
In these dogs, due to a genetic disorder, the lens can spontaneously luxate, or become dislocated. In other breeds, causes may vary — head trauma is one example.
This is a difficult diagnosis and may require a visit to an ophthalmologist.
Compared with the normal eye, a lens luxation can look like a very dilated pupil or a blue or whitish eye. Removing the lens can save the eye and save the dog from pain and total blindness.
Here are some helpful tips from a vet on how to medicate a dog’s eye:
5. Acute Glaucoma
Acute glaucoma looks like a discolored, a “red” or an inflamed eye. There may be discharge and painful blinking (called blepharospasm).
Glaucoma occurs when, for whatever reason, the pressure in the eye elevates, leading to pain, secondary changes and blindness. The condition is usually obvious in just one eye, but both eyes are at risk.
Again, this is over-represented in certain breeds like the Cocker Spaniel, Basset Hound, Shih Tzu, Great Dane and northern breeds.
As with every other eye problem discussed here, acute glaucoma should be assessed and treated immediately. Both systemic (oral) and ophthalmic drugs are used. Get an opinion from a veterinary ophthalmologist to help your primary care vet manage the case.
Final Thoughts on Pet Eye Emergencies
Don’t mess around with eyes. Ophthalmic problems need early diagnosis and treatment.
If someone at your vet’s office puts you off, be aggressive. Say you need to be seen today.
Follow veterinary instructions to prevent further damage to the eye and see a veterinary ophthalmologist if your vet recommends a referral. Often, your vet can manage the case after initial assessment and treatment recommendations by the specialist.
Your chance to save your pet’s eye is today, not tomorrow. Advocate for your pet’s health and get treatment immediately.
— Update: 09-02-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article Dog Won’t Open His Eyes? Here’s What This Means (and what to do) from the website topdogtips.com for the keyword my dogs eye is red and can’t open it.
The last few days, you’ve noticed your dog looking at you a little funny. It was almost like a cute winking in one eye or both. Today though, you are sure of it – your dog is genuinely squinting, and it is in both eyes. “My dog won’t open his eyes,” you think. So what should you do?
Anytime your dog is having a problem with its eyes, you should take it seriously and consult your veterinarian. There are many potential eye problems in dogs that may or may not be serious. Your vet can help determine the underlying cause, whether benign in nature or something severe, and set your dog on the right treatment program.
In most cases, when pet owners run into the vet’s office saying their dog won’t open his eyes, dog eye pain is the reason. There’s something that causes your pooch pain whenever his eyes are open. Thus he chooses to keep them closed to avoid eye pain.
When a dog is suffering from eye pain, its reaction is to squint and keep its eyes closed. Sometimes your dog may show signs of behavioral distress. Your dog could hide it by sleeping more or can show decreased appetite, aggression, and hiding behaviors. You need to consider several things if your dog won’t open his eyes, so here’s everything you must know.
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My Dog Won’t Open His Eyes. What Should I Do?
Canine Eye Pain
Canine eye pain or discomfort can occur from either external or internal irritation of the eye (Dr. Mcnabb, 2015). There can be other signs of eye pain in dogs, including pawing at the eyes, or avoidance of hard foods, and a refusal to fully open his mouth, too.
Dogs can’t tell you what they are feeling, so it may not always be easy to know that your dog’s discomfort is due to eye pain. Many different causes could be behind your dog’s eye pain, including eye infections, bacteria, or injury. The first thing most owners do is try a few basic at-home remedies like saline to flush the eyes; after that, if your dog won’t open his eyes still, then you have to seek the help of a professional.
In most cases, when you find yourself saying your dog won’t open his eyes, the likely cause is that your pooch is suffering from eye pain that needs to be dealt with. Your dog’s eyes’ reaction to pain is due to a high concentration of pain fibers or nerves within the cornea and conjunctiva. The highest distribution of these nerve fibers is located near the surface.
A corneal ulcer or scratch can be extremely painful and cause a reflexive spasm of the iris inside the dog’s eye. The severe pain that these types of dog eye nerve reactions can cause your dog will result in your dog squinting or holding his eyes shut completely as a way to cope or try to deal with the pain.
The important thing is that once you realize that flushing with saline or dog eye drops is not a solution, that there is no debris in your pet’s eye to cause the discomfort, you need to seek medical attention for your dog immediately to determine what could be any one of several causes of eye pain. Below is what you should consider.
Common Causes of Eye Pain
There are many different causes of eye pain that your veterinarian will go over with you when you arrive. Your vet will use special equipment to look into your dog’s eyes to see things that are not visible to the naked eye.
Your veterinarian is looking for signs that point to common causes of eye pain. Some of these causes of eye pain in dogs that veterinarians find more frequently, according to Merck Vet Manual, are:
- Debris or other foreign material on the surface of the eye.
- Inflammation of the iris or anterior uveitis may cause dog eye pain. Your vet will have to determine the direct cause of the uveitis to treat it.
- Dog glaucoma, which causes an elevated pressure on the inside of the eye, can feel like a pain sensation to a dog. Their instinct can be to hold their eyes closed.
- Trauma, or some injury to the eye tissue or the eyelids, may be causing pain.
- Internal eye socket (orbital) infections are excruciating and will often cause signs of mouth-related issues, such as refusal to open his jaw.
- Dry eye, or KCS (keratoconjunctivitis), can cause dogs to have a painful gritty, dry sensation on the surface of the eye. This can lead to keeping the eyes closed.
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Your veterinarian will go over the common causes of eye pain while examining your dog. Generally, it will be one of these conditions that are causing your dog’s eye pain, and your vet can start a treatment plan right away. Your vet can use a special ophthalmic medication, atropine, to immediately reduce the symptoms of pain for your dog.
Furthermore, on some occasions, your dog may be keeping his eyes shut because of the dog eye care products you’ve used to deal with this, like dog eye boogers (tear stains). Some of these can be overdone, and others are not always completely safe, even if they’re effective. Angel Eyes for Dogs, for example, is a controversial product.
Symptoms of Dog Eye Pain and Issues
When your dog is having eye pain, he’s likely to demonstrate this in several ways. If you’re saying my dog won’t open his eyes, it’s the first sign of something wrong. But other signs can be physical, while others are behavioral. Some dog eye pain symptoms may be obvious to you, and others you may not even notice.
While there are several dog eye care products, you can try to flush out your pet’s eyes to make sure there’s no debris. If your dog still won’t open his eyes after that, a vet visit is a must.
Your veterinarian will discuss the number of symptoms that you should be watching for as you start treatment for your dog’s eyes. These symptoms are also the most common signs of dog eye pain in which you should seek veterinarian assistance right away:
- Squinting or closed eyes
- Excessive tearing
- Mucus or any pus-like discharge from the eyes
- Bloodshot or red eyes
- Any cloudiness, bluish haze, or filmy covering of the eye
- Dilated, constricted, or uneven pupil sizes
- Photophobia, which is fear of bright lights
- Excessive rubbing of eyes
- Cherry eye, or red covering of the eye
- Pain when opening the jaw
Whenever your dog is showing these types of dog eye pain symptoms, it is time to call the veterinarian. It is important because even if you do not understand your dog’s fear of bright lights or hiding behavior, know that not all eye diseases cause direct eye pain sensations.
Your dog may be having other eye difficulties that it is having trouble expressing, such as a type of dog eye allergy. The only way to know is through a complete and thorough examination at the vet’s office.
Eyes are a susceptible issue, so this must not be delayed. If you find yourself looking up information online on my dog won’t open his eyes, and you’ve already tried washing them, then it’s time to call your vet. Ignoring it may not only impair your dog’s sight but its ability to communicate.
Complete Examination of Dog Eye Pain
When your dog gets to the veterinarian or specialist, the first thing is to go over your dog’s complete medical history and do a thorough physical examination. Your vet will then begin a complete ophthalmic examination.
Often the dog’s eye exam can only be done after the vet uses a topical pain reliever to stop the squinting, and even after that, most dogs have so much anxiety about the pain and the procedures that many doctors opt to sedate the dog to be able to do a more thorough exam of the eye.
Your vet will do several tests, including a Schirmer test, a fluorescein stain of the cornea, and tonometry. Using magnification, an examination of the eyelids and the surface of the dog’s eyes is completed.
From there, your vet can do additional eye examinations as needed, such as an ocular ultrasound. Complete blood counts are also taken to see if there are any other underlying conditions. Because eye pain in dogs can be a symptom of a severe health problem, all possible conditions need to be ruled out through a thorough examination and diagnosis.
Corneal Ulcers in Dogs
Corneal ulcers are one of the most common causes of eye pain in dogs (NHAH, 2014). A corneal ulcer can be a severe condition and is often caused by trauma. They are also tough to treat, and some veterinary sources say that it may even be impossible.
Dogs rubbing their eyes on the carpet or getting a cat scratch can cause an ulcer. Veterinarians use the fluorescein stain to see the layers of the epithelium to see if there is an abrasion or ulcer in the dog’s eye and how deep it has formed.
Corneal ulcers in dogs are a severe condition that requires veterinary attention right away. It’s painful for the dog, and your vet can help get treatment started immediately.
Glaucoma in Dogs
Glaucoma is a common condition that results in eye pain in dogs. This condition causes pressure to be placed on the dog’s eye, causing inner eye fluid drainage blockages.
Glaucoma can become a chronic condition. It can cause eye pain and, if left untreated, will eventually lead to blindness. However, regardless of treatment, over 40% of all dogs who get glaucoma will go blind within a year, even if they get treatment (Slatter, D. 2001).
When you run into the vet’s office saying your dog won’t open his eyes, your veterinarian will prescribe a treatment plan for your pooch to follow based upon the diagnosis that he receives after the examination. You must follow the plan accordingly. It could include things like steroid eye drops, antibiotics, or even surgery.
It would help if you were sure to follow through with your veterinarian’s orders. Your dog’s eyes will last their lifetime and are its way of getting through life, protecting itself and you, and expressing its emotions and feelings.
Your best friend is committed to you, no strings attached. Now it’s up to you to follow through and help your dog get through this medical emergency.
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References and further reading:
- AnimalPlanet. (2017). Dog Eye Disorders.
- Dr. Mcnabb, N. (2015, August 6). Ocular (Eye) Pain and Squinting in Dogs.
- NHAH. (2014). My Dog is Squinting. Corneal Ulcers in Dogs. Retrieved from Newport Harbor Animal Hospital: http://www.newportharborvets.com/services/dogs/blog/my-dog-is-squinting
- PetMD. (2017). Glaucoma in Dogs.