Contributed by Sarah Wooten, DVM, CVJ.
Tips for Preventing and Treating Dog Eye Discharge
A dog’s eye is remarkably similar to a human eye. Dog eyes can get all the same eye problems that we do, including cataracts, conjunctivitis and glaucoma. One of the most common dog eye problems we see as veterinarians is ocular discharge.
Here are the most common causes of dog eye discharge, what constitutes an ocular emergency, what you can do to prevent dog eye discharge, and when you need to visit a veterinarian.
What Causes Dog Eye Discharge
Dog eye discharge has many causes. The most common reason for eye discharge, secondary to seasonal allergies, is canine conjunctivitis. Just like humans, dogs’ eyes can get itchy and red from dust, dirt, wind and allergies to pollen, mites and mold spores. Some dogs can develop benign tumors on their eyelids that rub on the surface of the eye and cause discharge and discomfort. Dogs can also be born with incomplete or collapsed tear ducts, causing tears to chronically spill over and stain the fur below the eyes. Other dogs are born with eyelids that roll in or droop, causing chronic irritation or dryness that leads to eye goobers. When the cornea, which is the surface of the eye, gets traumatized, it can also cause dog eye discharge. Dry eye, or keratitis conjunctivitis sicca (KCS for short), can also cause slimy green mucus to build up on a dog’s eye. Dogs can also get excessive tearing from canine conjunctivitis infections, glaucoma or aberrant eyelashes that are growing inward and poking the eye.
Preventing Eye Discharge
Depending on the underlying cause of dog eye discharge, there are measures you can take to prevent certain dog eye problems. One of the best things you can do is get your dog’s eyes examined by a veterinarian once or twice a year. She can detect problems early and and ensure the right dog eye care to prevent issues down the road. If you know your dog has seasonal allergies, start pretreatment with diphenhydramine or talk with your veterinarian about other antihistamines. If you have a dog that has long, wispy hair that tends to stick to their eyeballs, trim the hair away from the eyes, or have the groomer trim the hair. If your dog has any conformational abnormalities, like rolled or everted eyelids, deep nasal folds that rub on the eye, eyelid margin tumors or collapsed tear ducts, talk with your veterinarian about having those issues corrected surgically.
Treating Dog Eye Discharge
For dog eyes that are itchy and red from allergies, the best treatment is to gently irrigate the eyes with sterile saline to remove dust, pollen and other irritating substances from the eye daily, or even twice daily during allergy season. Some dogs are not used to, afraid of, or do not like having their eyes rinsed, so be sure to praise your pet profusely when irrigating the eye, and follow up with some yummy treats as a reward. If your dog’s allergies seem particularly bad, you can see if the diphenhydramine will help. If your dog’s eye discharge is due to allergies, you should see an improvement right away; if not, it is time to enlist the help of your local veterinarian.
When a Veterinarian Is Needed
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, veterinary attention is needed to resolve dog eye problems. We are here to help! Dog eye discharge can be the initial sign of a more serious issue that can lead to blindness and pain, so if you aren’t noticing an improvement your pet’s ocular discharge or comfort level within 24 hours of starting irrigation therapy, then it is time to see the vet. I recommend calling and making an appointment anyway when you start irrigating the eye; that way you have it set up in case you need it. If the problem resolves, then you can just cancel the appointment.
Your veterinarian will do a complete ocular exam with an ophthalmoscope. They will also stain the eye to look for corneal ulcers, and may check ocular pressures with a tonopen. This enables them to tell you what the problem is and how to treat it.
It is important to follow all your veterinarian’s instructions, including completing all medication as prescribed. In my experience, dogs that do not receive the full prescribed treatment are more likely to relapse with dog eye infection symptoms, so even if the eye looks great 3 days after starting treatment, go ahead and finish the full 5-7 days of treatment and return for the recheck if you are asked to do so by your veterinarian.
Sometimes a red, runny eye can constitute an ocular emergency. If the eye that is tearing looks bigger than the normal eye, or if the dog seems to have gone blind in the affected eye, then that is suspicious of glaucoma, which is an eye emergency and requires immediate veterinary attention to save the dog’s eyes.