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Medically Reviewed by Veterinarian Angela Dwyer, DVM on January 9, 2018
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Welcome back, dog lovers. As we kick off the new year, I’ve been revisiting some old topics about your dog’s health, because I think it’s important that new readers and old subscribers alike can keep up with the basics of great pet care. It is one of the main reasons we started this blog, after all! We’ve talked a lot on this blog about how to properly care for different parts of your dog’s health. Dental health for example, has come up more than once, because poorly cared for teeth can lead to other serious health concerns. But one thing that many owners don’t know much about is doggie eye care. If you’ve ever noticed “eye boogers” or red stains around your dog’s eyes, you’ve probably asked yourself if there’s something you should be doing for their eyes when grooming.
The answer is a little more complicated than a simple yes or no, but you won’t have to change much about your regular grooming and care routine. Unlike people, dogs rely on other senses before they rely on their sight, so this isn’t a top priority for their health. Here’s what you need to know about eye conditions that dogs can develop, and how to care for your pup’s peepers.
How a Dog’s Eyes Work
I’ve spoken at great length about the dog’s sense of vision before, and I highly recommend you check out that post if you want a more thorough explanation of how the eyes work and what types of issues they face. But to give you a quick summary here:
The dog eye is a lot like other mammal eyes, with an additional third eyelid between the lower lid and the eyeball itself. Dog eyes have evolved for excellent night vision, sacrificing the ability to see certain colors in order to detect movement better than we do at dusk and dawn. (Fun fact: Dogs don’t actually see in black and white like most people thing. Their vision is mostly blue, yellow, and violet.)
Dogs are better at detecting motion in part because they have a wider field of peripheral vision than we do; however, they lack the depth perception that we have.
Finally, the doggie sense of vision is not as important to a dog as ours is to us. Dogs have a much stronger sense of smell, and their kinetic sense of balance and awareness of their surroundings is much more evolved than ours is – the nerve endings in their paws, joints, and spine, help a dog move through its surroundings more than their sense of sight does.
What Can Go Wrong
There are a few things that dogs can develop if their eyes are never provided any care. Those include:
Cataracts: This is a genetic condition that leads to blindness, but can be treated.
In-growing eyelids: This condition causes pain and possible cornea damage.
Third eyelid prolapse: This condition is often seen in “flat faced” breeds, and is easy to spot due to a swollen inner eye and lots of yellow mucus.
Eye infection: Caused by a wide range of things, eye infections can lead to many more serious conditions.
Conjunctivitis: This condition causes red, swollen eyes that often include discharge. In humans, we call this “pink eye”.
Dry Eye: This condition means that your dog doesn’t produce tears, which can cause discharge, squinting, and inflammation.
Cherry Eye: This condition results in a cherry-like growth on the dog’s eye, caused by an enlarged tear gland.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy: This genetic condition causes night blindness, followed by more severe symptoms.
In order to avoid these conditions and others, it’s important that some basic, regular eye care be observed when taking care of your dog. For the most part, the best care for a dog’s eyes will be offered during their regular veterinary appointments. But here’s what you can do at home to ensure that no problems are sneaking up on you.
What Signs to Watch for With Your Dog’s Eyes
Just like checking a dog’s ears for infection periodically, it’s a good idea to take a close look at the eyes and the area around the eyes as well. You’ll start by inspecting the eye itself, as well as the eyelids. Using your thumb, gently roll the dog’s eyelids down to check out the inside of the lid. What you should not see:
Crusty “eye boogers” or discharge
Red or white eyelids on the inside
Eyes that appear cloudy or have changed in color
Tear-stained fur in the inner corners or under the eye
Eyes that won’t open
Visible third eyelid
Irritants, which could be anything from a blade of grass to dust. Irritants can also be invisible, such as herbicides. Redness, swelling, and runny eyes can alert you to the presence of irritants.
If any of those things appear on your inspection, it may be time to see your vet. However, many pet owners understand that some breeds just have a problem with that black gunk that builds up in the corners of the eyes. Cocker spaniels and toy poodles, for example, often have tear-stained fur and discharge. One thing that you can do at home is to try a “tear remover” cloth like Angel Eyes or Miracle Care. You can also simply wet a cotton ball with water and wipe away from the corner of the eye, or try flushing the eye with water.
If you see a lot of this kind of discharge, it’s likely that your dog has an allergy. You may remember the story of Leroy and his red eyes, which turned out to be a simple case of hay fever rather than the mental illness my neighbor was so worried about. Allergies are typically simple to treat in a dog – they can take Benadryl just like we do!
Although many dogs love driving with their heads out the window to soak up all that fresh air, this practice can be bad for a dog’s eye. Microscopic debris will fly right into their delicate eyes, which can lead to irritation, discharge, dryness, and injury. It may be best to avoid letting your dog ride with their head out the window.
Do pay attention to the way your dog behaves. If you notice them pawing at the eyes, rubbing eyes against things, or shying away from having their face or head petted, then there could be something wrong with their eyes. At that point, it is time to see a vet.
Do keep the hair around a dog’s eyes trimmed very short. Dangling “bangs” could scratch a dog’s cornea and cause serious injury. Round-tip scissors are the best choice for trimming around a dog’s delicate eyes. This will also help cut back on the dark tear stains. If these stains continue to be a problem, you may want to try a special comb designed specifically for tear stain removal. Some companies even make nutritional supplements designed to help reduce tear stains through optimal nutrition.
One of the most common eye issues to see with a dog is an eye infection. There are so many reasons this could happen – maybe Fido did get his head out the window, and a bit of dirt got lodged under his eyelid. Or maybe your dog planted their face in the ground to dig a hole and found a piece of grass with their eye. The possibility for a dog getting an eye infection is pretty large, so you can count on experiencing it at least once in your lifetime as a pet lover.
Luckily eye infections aren’t too bad if they are treated correctly. Left alone they can become serious – but for the most part, they are just a nuisance for the average pet owner. A trip to the vet for some antibacterial drops is a good way to cure this issue, but there are a few home remedies that pet owners have tried and found successful. I am an advocate for visiting your vet first, but these remedies are all natural and can’t do any harm if you decide to try them.
Saline solution drops: Often times, an infection is caused by debris that has settled into the eye. Dropping in some saline solution can clear the eye so that it can start to heal.
Vitamin A or C supplements: These have been shown to reduce infection recovery times in dogs, and you can typically find these supplements in the pet food aisle at a pet store. If nothing else, they’ll help strengthen the dog’s immune system so they are less prone to infection.
Chamomile tea: This is a new one for me, but a surprising amount of research shows that a cold chamomile tea bag applied directly to the eye can reduce infection. This remedy can be used multiple times per day till the infection is gone.
None of these remedies are guaranteed to work of course, but they are safe and gentle remedies that may help in some way. However, if you see pus or blood being discharged from the infected eye, your pet is not eating or seems “off” in their energy levels, or they can’t open their eye at all, definitely seek out your vet.
One last thing: if your pet’s eye became infected after a trauma, such as getting poked in the eye with a stick, then you need to see a vet. There could be deeper tissue damage that needs closer inspecting.
We’ve also talked before on this blog about natural ways to keep your dog healthy that will have an impact on their eyesight without even trying. These ways include things like getting plenty of exercise, eating a good diet with plenty of vegetable ingredients, and watching out for your dog’s immune system.
One thing we’ve also discussed is an eye massage to help improve the circulation in the eye. This is an easy process that most dogs come to enjoy after you’ve done it a time or two. Both Janice and Leroy like their eye massages when I remember them! All you have to do is place your fingertips gently on the outside corner of the eyes, and make gentle circular motions moving around the bony areas. The key word here is gentle, if you didn’t catch that. If your dog feels like you are poking their eye, they might try to move, which might make you actually poke their eye. Just be very soothing and gentle, and don’t spend too long in this area. Increased circulation will mean less chances of infection happening, and faster recovery times.
Other unconventional remedies for canine eye health that have been explored by pet owners include acupuncture, herbal remedies, and chiropractic adjustments. My veterinarian, Stephen, is open to the idea of holistic treatments, though we haven’t tried any of these on Janice and Leroy. But if your dog is a sufferer of constant eye infections, and medicines don’t seem to be helping, then some of these remedies may be worth looking into. Just keep in mind that when you use natural treatments like these, it’s even more important to vigilantly check your dog’s eyes for good health.
To sum it up, dogs’ eyes can develop a variety of conditions and illnesses, ranging from the mildly annoying to the very serious. While there’s nothing you need to do on a regular basis to care for their eyes, there are some steps you can take to be on alert for problems. Be sure to give your dog’s eyes a quick check periodically, and to keep hair trimmed away from their eyes to avoid injury. So long as your dog’s eyes are clear, focused, alert, and free of any kind of discharge or stains, then they are healthy and should be fine! If you have any questions, I recommend asking your vet if there are any other steps you can take to keep your dog’s eyes healthy.
If you own a breed that is susceptible to eye problems, be sure to start handling your dog’s face as young as you can. The more they get used to the feeling of your hands near their eyes, the easier it will be to take care of them in the future.