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Dog eye infections

Black and white border collie with yellow eyes advice
© Pixabay

It's not uncommon for a dog to suffer from an eye infection. Symptoms include inflammation around the eye, redness, and green discharge. These can look pretty unpleasant, but all of these symptoms can be treated and managed with the right kind of treatment.

By Ashley Murphy

The causes and symptoms of different types of eye infections

There are many different types of eye infections; here are some of the more common issues:

Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis can be triggered by lots of different factors so it's important to get to the root cause. If not, the infection may keep coming back. The most obvious symptom is a yellow or green discharge around the eye. You'll also notice some swelling and reddening of the eye, and your dog may have trouble keeping it open. Depending on the cause, conjunctivitis can be treated in different ways. If the infection has been caused by an allergy or irritation, your vet can prescribe medication, eye-drops, or saline washes. Conjunctivitis can also be caused by genetic defects, especially in and around the tear ducts, and some dogs may need surgery.  

Epiphora

Otherwise known as excessive tearing, epiphora can be caused by allergies, inflammation, ulcers, and genetic abnormalities.. Apart from the watery eyes, many dogs will have stains underneath their eyes. Again, most dogs respond really well to antibiotics and steroids, but surgery may be needed if the infection keeps coming back.

Dry eye

Dry eye occurs when the tear ducts stop creating enough moisture. The right amount of moisture inside the eyes helps keep them healthy. Without it,  there's nothing to wash away the nasty bacteria that lead to infections. The symptoms of dry eye include a sticky discharge in and around the eye, as well as inflammation and swelling. It can also lead to ulcers on the cornea. Dry eye is very uncomfortable and your dog will need to see a vet. In most cases, they'll prescribe antibiotics or eye drops, and the infection normally clears up within a few weeks.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is caused by too much pressure on the eyeball. The pressure is regulated by fluid flowing in and out of the tear ducts. If the flow is disrupted, the pressure on the eye starts to increase. Glaucoma can be very painful, and symptoms include a distinct blue-grey clouding in the eye, squinting, and a sensitivity to light. Glaucoma requires swift attention: 50% of glaucoma infections will spread to the other eye if not treated in time. Treatment options include medication, although surgery is likely in advanced cases.

How to apply drops for your dog's eye infection

A vet will often prescribe eye drops, especially when it comes to minor eye infections. Eyedrops are very effective, but they can be awkward to administer. Here are a few quick tips:

  • Start by tilting your dogs head back. Rest your hand on top of the dogs head and gently pull back the eyelid. Then squeeze the drops into the upper part of your dog's eye.
  • Wipe away any discharge from around the eye. Use warm water and some cotton wool.
  • And remember, this isn't going to be comfortable for your dog, and they won't understand that you're only trying to help them.  It might take a few attempts to get it right, but stay patient! And always reward your dog for their good behaviour.

Are some dogs more susceptible to eye infections?

Yes. Dogs with flat faces, like pugs, bulldogs, and boxers, are more likely to suffer from eye infections. Their flat faces mean they have shallower eye sockets and protruding eyes. In other words, their eyes are more exposed to bacteria and infection.

The technical term for these kinds of dog is brachycephalic breeds, which means “shortened head”. This creates problems with fluid draining in and out of the eye. Some short-headed breeds also have eyelids that roll inward, or eyelids that don't close completely, leading to irritation and possible infection.

Other at-risk breeds include Bloodhounds, Cocker Spaniels and St Bernards.

Preventing eye infections in dogs

Regularly checking your dog's eyes will certainly help. Their pupils should always be the same size, and the iris should look bright and clear. It's also a good idea to check underneath the eyelids. Gently pull down on the lower lid. It should be bright pink -  a red or white colour may indicate a lurking infection.

And look out for excessive tearing, staining under the eye, or any discolouration or clouding. Other things you can do include:

  • Trimming the hair around the eyes. This way it can't irritate the eyeball.
  • Keep your dogs face clean, especially around the eyes.
  • Take your dog for an allergy test. This might help you get to the root cause of the infection.
  • You could even look into buying specially designed doggy goggles!
  • Boost their diet with some natural supplements. Vitamins A, C, and E have been found to improve eye health. The same goes for zinc, bilberry extract, and Mixed Carotenoids.

Some eye infections are a lot more serious than others, but even these can be treated with the right medication and care. Until then, do your best to maintain your dog's eye health, and take particular care if your own a breed that is more susceptible to eye infections.