Conjunctivitis in Dogs
The conjunctiva is the moist tissue that covers the front part of the eyeball and lines the eyelids. Breeds that tend to have allergies or autoimmune skin diseases tend to have more problems with inflammation of the conjunctiva. They are also more likely to have dry eyes, the result of a disease in which the animal is allergic to substances in the environment, such as pollen, that would not normally cause health problems. Otherwise, there does not appear to be a breed predilection for this disease.
Conjunctivitis can affects both dogs and cats. If you would like to learn more about how this disease affects cats, please visit this page in the PetMD health library.
Symptoms and Types
- Squinting or spasmodic blinking (blephora)
- Redness of the moist tissues of the eye
- Discharge from the eye(s); it may be clear or may contain mucus and/or pus
- Swelling from fluid build-up of the moist tissue covering the eyeball
- Follicle formation; follicles are accumulations of lymphoid tissues located at the moist tissue surface of the eyelids, causing a cobblestone appearance; lymphoid tissue contains lymphocytes, a type of white-blood cell that is involved in allergies and act in response to irritants
- Primary condition -- not secondary to other conditions, such as dry eye
- Neonatal conjunctivitis: newborn inflammation of the moist tissues of the eye - accumulation of discharge, often associated with a bacterial or viral infection; seen before the eyelids separate or open
- Follicular conjunctivitis
- Plasma-cell conjunctivitis -- inflammation of the moist tissues of the eye characterized by the presence of plasma cells, especially in German Shepherds
- Related to generalized (systemic) immune-mediated diseases in which the body's immune system attacks its own tissues
- Tumors (rare)
- Lesions that appear to be cancer, but are not cancerous. Inflammation of the border between the cornea (the clear part of the eye, located in the front of the eyeball) and the sclera (the white part of the eye); characterized by the presence of nodules, it is most commonly found in collies and mixed collies, and usually appears as a pink mass
Secondary to disease of the tissues surrounding the eye:
- Lack of normal tear film (dry eye)
- Lid diseases
- Lash diseases
Secondary to trauma or environmental causes:
- Foreign body in the moist tissues of the eye
- Irritation from dust, chemicals, or eye medications
Secondary to other eye diseases:
- Ulcerative keratitis
- Anterior uveitis
- Disease of the eye, in which the pressure within the eye is increased; known as glaucoma
The first thing your veterinarian will look for is evidence of other ocular (eye) diseases. For example, the disease may not be in the conjunctiva but in other parts of the eye. Your doctor will conduct a complete eye exam. Different methods of examination may include a fluorescein stain, which is spread on the surface of the eye to make scratches, ulcers, and foreign material stand out under light. This is to rule out ulcerative keratitis. Foreign materials may also have gotten caught in the lids or eyelashes, so they will be examined thoroughly as well. A test for glaucoma will be conducted by determining pressures in the eye, and the nasal cavity may need to be flushed out to rule out disease there. If there is discharge from the eye a culture will be done to determine what the discharge consists of, since infection may be indicated, and a biopsy of conjunctiva cells may be collected for microscopal examination. A skin test may also be conducted if skin allergies are suspected to be the cause.
There are many possible causes for this disease, and the course of treatment will be determined by the cause. For example, if there is a bacterial infection, your veterinarian will probably prescribe an antibiotic ointment, and possibly antibiotic medication to be taken by mouth. An elimination diet may also be recommended if dietary allergies are suspected -- foods will be cut back to the minimum, or changed, and then different foods will be slowly added to the regular diet to test whether the source of the reaction is food based. In some cases, surgery may be required to remove an obstruction in a duct. If cancer is the diagnosis, surgical removal of the tumor may be recommended, followed by radiation therapy. Your veterinarian may recommend cryotherapy, a therapy which uses cold application. In the most serious and severe cases, removal of the eyeball and surrounding tissues will need to be performed.
If inflammation is present, medications will be prescribed depending on the cause. Your veterinarian will make these determinations and recommendations. In the case of newborn conjunctivitis, your doctor will open the eyelids with great care, drain the discharge, and treat the eyes with a topical antibiotic.
Living and Management
If the cause is an allergy, you will need to try to prevent contact with whatever your pet is reacting to. To decrease the risk of spreading an infectious disease, try not to expose your pet to other animals, especially in regards to the canine distemper virus.
If your doctor makes a diagnosis of food based allergies, you will need to follow the recommendations concerning diet. You may need to make a strict plan to determine what foods, if any, are causing the irritation. You will need to take your pet for a veterinary recheck after five to seven days.
If a large amount of discharge is noted, gently clean the eyes before applying any ointment. If both solutions and ointments are prescribed, apply the solutions first. If several solutions are prescribed, wait several minutes between the application of each. If the condition worsens and it is apparent that your pet is not responding to the treatment, or is even having an adverse reaction to the treatment, you will need to contact your veterinarian immediately for advisement. An Elizabethan collar to protect the eyes from scratching or rubbing can be especially helpful for the healing process.