A degree of haziness or cloudiness in a dog's eye as they age is considered normal. But these changes can also be a marker of something more serious. Damage to the surface of the eye, cataracts or glaucoma can all show themselves as a cloudy eye. If left untreated, ocular issues could put your dog's vision at risk, so it's time to see the vet.
As there are so many different causes of cloudy eyes, a vet will need to try to get to the bottom of this and work out what’s going on in there. Eye problems often require different tests, topical medications and should never be treated at home without consulting a veterinarian.
What could be wrong if my dog has cloudy eyes?
From cataracts to glaucoma, any number of issues can cause your dog’s eyes to lose their natural brightness. Let’s take a look at some of the most common causes of cloudy eyes:
Eyes are complicated things. There are lots of different layers, structures and substances. Cataracts are caused by an abnormal cloudiness in the lens. These changes in the lens prevent light from reaching the back of the eye leading to eventual blindness. Cataracts often start as small areas of cloudiness in the eye, but progress until the whole lens is affected. There are multiple causes of cataracts including:
- Ageing or senile cataracts.
- Diabetes: excess sugars accumulate in the lens turning it opaque. This type of cataract often form quickly.
- Glaucoma, or high pressure in the eye.
- Uveitis: severe inflammation of the internal aspects of the eye.
- Injury or trauma to the eye.
- Lens luxation: lenses can prolapse through the narrow pupil and become stuck.
Cataracts can also be hereditary. Certain dog breeds are predisposed to developing cataracts, these may be congenital (i.e. the puppy is born with them already formed) or develop over time. High-risk breeds include golden retrievers, miniature schnauzers, west highland white terriers, bichon frise, old English sheepdogs, poodles and spaniels.
Cataracts may point a vet towards an underlying health condition, such as diabetes, and further testing may be required to determine what has caused this to develop. Depending on the type of cataract, if left untreated they can damage your pup's eyesight and lead to complications.
Lots of cataracts, once fully developed, are stable. Unfortunately this does that mean your dog will be blind in the affected eye, but most aren't painful and dogs adjust quickly to sight loss. If cataracts have developed without a cause, there aren't any drops or medications that will make them go away. Specialist ophthalmologists may offer surgery to treat cataracts. This is an option you can discuss with a vet.
Nuclear sclerosis sounds scary, but this is just the medical term for a blue haze that appears in the lens of older dogs. Really, this is just the natural ageing of your dog's eyes. Nuclear sclerosis doesn't significantly change your dog's vision, and most dogs are able to see just fine. This is a common condition and differs from cataracts. The condition makes eyes appear blue, rather than white, and usually affects both eyes symmetrically.
Nuclear sclerosis happens as the lens of the eye becomes harder with time. It is possible for cataracts to develop secondary to nuclear sclerosis. But the good news is that this won't happen to all dogs. If cataracts begin to form, vision will be affected. Treatment isn't necessary for nuclear sclerosis alone, but regular assessment with a vet will help to check for any cataract formation.
Dry eye, or keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), is appropriately named. This condition is a lack of lubrication in your dog's eye(s). This is a common condition and is caused by a reduced production of aqueous tear film from the lacrimal gland. Once the cornea and surrounding tissues begin to get too dry, inflammation occurs. Tears are made from a mix of mucous, fatty liquids and water. If there isn't enough 'water' produced, you may notice that the discharge in your dog's eyes is stickier or more mucoid than normal.
Any condition that affects the lacrimal gland can cause dry eye. Common causes include:
- Immune mediated disease: the body's immune system attacks the cells that produce tear film, causing reduced production.
- Certain medications, such as sulphonamide antibiotics.
- Infectious or systemic diseases such as distemper.
- Nervous system dysfunction: usually disease affecting the inner ear.
- Underactive thyroid glands, or hypothyroidism.
Certain breeds of dogs are more prone to developing KCS including; cavalier King Charles spaniel, west highland white terrier, cocker and springer spaniels, pugs, lhasa apsos, shih tszus and Yorkshire terriers.
Most dogs with KCS have red, irritated, dry and painful eyes. Your dog might wink, blink more often or squint. A thick yellow or green mucoid discharge is often present and eyes look dry or not as shiny as before. The condition usually affects both eyes, and is most commonly seen in older animals. If eyes aren't well lubricated, they're more prone to developing corneal ulcers, or damage to the surface of the eye, so it's important to get this diagnosed and checked by a vet as soon as you can.
Dry eye is diagnosed through simple tests. A Schirmer tear test is a special piece of paper that is put under your dog’s lower eyelid, and measures the tear production over one minute. If this is low, and the rest of your dog's clinical exam and history match up, then it's likely the vet will diagnose your dog with dry eye. Other tests like a fluorescein drop may be applied to check for ulcers, and a vet may want to check your dog's ocular pressures in case glaucoma is present, too.
Treatment aims to stimulate tear production and replace the tear film. This usually requires a combination of treatments; tacrolimus or cyclosporine are used to stimulate tears, and a tear film replacement to lubricate the eyes. Sometimes antibiotics or anti-inflammatories are required to treat secondary infection or inflammation. If you aren't able to medicate your dog, surgery with a specialist opthalmologist is an option. Most dogs with dry eye live a happy and pain-free life, provided that the condition is managed effectively.
Eye ulcers are as much fun as they sound, which is not fun at all. Ulcers can be secondary to underlying pathology within the eye (such as dry eye), or can be caused by trauma to the eye – like a scratch or something piercing the cornea. Physical issues, like ingrowing eyelashes or eyelid abnormalities, are another common cause of ulcers.
Ulcers can present in lots of different ways. Some dogs don't show any changes on the surface of their eye, and may just be winking or holding their eye shut. Some eyes may weep or the conjunctiva may appear red. Ulcers that have been present for longer may show as white spots on the surface of the eye, there might be some blood vessels over the surface of the eye, or you may be able to see a dent on the cornea. There might be larger areas of white, and the eye might be weeping or have a mucoid discharge.
Ulcers are very painful. Most humans have experienced a small hair in their eye, and can imagine the irritation that comes with this. Ulcers are much, much worse. Dogs often try to rub their faces on the ground or scratch at their eyes. It's important to stop them from causing any further damage to their eye if this is happening, so most dogs need to wear the 'cone of shame'.
Ulcers require immediate veterinary attention, so get them checked out by a vet if you see any signs that could relate to an ulcer. The vet will need to assess your dog’s eye using an opthalmoscope, and apply a special drop that highlights any damage to the surface of the cornea. This dye sticks to any damaged areas and turns bright green. The vet will need to assess how deep this ulcer is, as severe ulcers risk perforating the eye.
Most superficial ulcers clear up quickly with topical medication. The vet will probably prescribe a course of antibiotics, a lubricant and pain relief. It's important to follow the instructions of the vet to make sure this heals quickly and without complication. Deeper ulcers, or ulcers that aren't healing with medication, sometimes require surgery. If ulcers aren't treated quickly, the damage to the eye can be so severe that the whole eye needs to be removed.
If you’ve noticed that your dog’s eye looks cloudy after an injury, or is cloudy with a discharge, then get it checked out by a vet, this could be an ulcer.
The cornea is the transparent surface visible at the front of the eye. Corneal dystrophy is a term used to describe a group of conditions that affect the eye, causing the cornea to become opaque or cloudy. This condition is inherited and isn't associated with any other problems in the eye or body. Epithelial or stromal corneal dystrophy (affecting the most superficial layers of the eye) isn't usually painful, but can cause loss of vision as the condition progresses. Endothelial corneal dystrophy affects the deeper layers and can cause the formation of painful ulcers.
There isn't any treatment available for this condition, unless there are resulting ulcers. Most dogs live normal lives, but regular check-ups with a vet to monitor progression of this are important.
Glaucoma is an ophthalmological emergency, and requires immediate attention. If left untreated it can permanently damage your dog's vision.
Glaucoma is a disease that causes the intraocular pressure (pressure in the eye) to increase. Glaucoma is caused by poor drainage of the fluid in your dog's eye, this causes the pressure to build up. Glaucoma can be primary, caused by inherited issues associated with drainage, or secondary, due to disease or injury. Certain breeds are more commonly affected. Secondary glaucoma is more common, and is usually a result of:
- Lens luxation
- Bleeding into the eye
- Trauma or damage to the lens
Symptoms of glaucoma include: blinking/holding eye shut or rubbing at the eye, swelling or bulging of the affected eye, a blue tinge to the surface of the eye, weeping or discharge, sudden blindness. These signs can happen suddenly, or can happen over a longer period of time. If you suspect your dog has glaucoma, they must be checked by a vet immediately, damage can be irreversible and this condition is painful.
Treatment of glaucoma involves pain medication and medication to try to reduce the pressure in the eye. This may require you to use a number of different eye drops. If you notice one or both of your dog’s eyes bulging, or a difference in size between the eyes, it could be glaucoma. Contact your vet immediately.
Eye infections are something vets see commonly, and most are quickly treated with antibiotic eye drops (and sometimes anti-inflammatories if they’re really sore). Eye infections can be bacterial or viral in origin, they may happen after getting something in their eye or just appear sporadically, just as with humans.
Conjunctivitis is something vets deal with all the time. The pink undersides of the eyelids may be puffy, red and inflamed, and you may notice your dog holding their eye shut more than usual. Lots of dogs with eye infections have a green or white discharge from their eyes – some have a lot, and some only have a little.
Conjunctivitis may be nice and simple, but if left untreated can become very painful. If the eyes become dry and inflamed, it may make them more prone to developing an ulcer. Never just assume that your dog’s eye infection is just that, as this condition can look very similar to an eye ulcer. Get it checked out by a vet, and hopefully a short course of eye drops later, it’ll be cured.
Why is my dog’s eye looking sideways?
Strabismus, or looking sideways, may be caused by multiple things. If your dog’s eye isn’t pointing in the right direction, this could be a sign of neurological problems. This is something a vet will need to investigate, and lots of testing might be needed to get to the bottom of this.
How do you deal with cloudy eyes in dogs?
The eyes are one of the most sensitive organs in the body, and you should never try to treat an eye problem without consulting your vet. There are many, many different causes of cloudy eyes in dogs, and it's important to establish the cause of this before putting anything into the eye.
Ulcers and glaucoma are conditions that require immediate treatment, so if you're concerned your dog may be showing symptoms then they need an appointment as soon as possible. Check your dog's eyes regularly, and take notes or photos if you think anything might be changing. If changes are sudden or severe, it's time to visit your vet. Remember: never use drops that aren't intended for dogs.
What does it mean when a dog's eye is cloudy?
A cloudy eye might just be a sign your dog is growing older, but cloudy eyes can indicate something is going wrong on the surface or inside your dog's eye. Changes in the appearance of the eye may be nothing to worry about, but should always be checked by your vet.
What home remedies are there for a dog’s cloudy eyes?
It's not recommended to put anything into your dog's eye unless the vet has prescribed the medication for this specific condition. Any drops you find in the cupboard, whether human or animal, shouldn't be put near your dog's eyes unless you've seen your vet. Eyes are incredibly sensitive, and putting drops into your dogs eyes without getting them checked out first could risk your dog's sight.
Do cloudy eyes go away by themselves?
Some causes of cloudy eyes may be curable. If your dog has an eye ulcer that's made the surface go cloudy, this opacity should disappear as the ulcer heals. Glaucomatous eyes make eyes look blue and, if treated appropriately, you might notice an improvement in this. Cataracts won't disappear on their own, and once formed they tend to stay there. These can be removed with surgery, which will restore your dog's eye to its normal appearance. Old age changes aren't something that will go back to normal, but most dogs live happy and normal lives – even if their sight isn't perfect.
When should I discuss my dog's cloudy eyes with a vet?
Because eyes are so sensitive and problems can progress so quickly, it's essential to get any changes you notice checked out with a vet as soon as you can. Glaucoma is always an emergency, and if you think your dog has this book an appointment straight away. If you notice sudden changes, such as an eye going cloudy seemingly overnight, this requires a vet check quickly.