Eye Injuries in Dogs

By PetMD Editorial on Aug. 16, 2010
Eye Injuries in Dogs

Even the smallest eye injury (a tiny scratch, for example) can develop into an infected wound and loss of vision. Never gamble with your dog's eyesight -- always seek immediate treatment, even for minor eye injuries.

What To Watch For

If you see your dog squinting, avoiding bright lights, and excessively blinking, examine her eyes. Tear production is also a frequent sign of problems, as is watery, green, or yellow discharge. At worst, the eye may even be out of its socket.

Primary Cause

Much like in humans, eye injuries often occur when a small object enters or becomes embedded in the eye. In addition, scratching or pawing of the cornea, abnormal growth of eyelashes, and inverting of the eyelids can lead to eye injuries.

Immediate Care

1. If the eye is out of its socket, it should be treated as an emergency. Every minute is valuable if the dog’s sight is to be saved, so act quickly:

  • Do not attempt to put the eye back in its socket.
  • Cover the eye with a damp, clean cloth and bandage it loosely to the head.
  • If you can do it quickly, soak the cloth in warm, salty water or a supersaturated sugar solution to help preserve the eye.
  • Get immediate veterinary attention, keeping the dog as quiet and calm as possible. Ideally, you should go straight to a veterinary ophthalmologist -- most of them keep emergency hours for this type of situation.

2. If your dog is blinking or squinting excessively and avoiding bright lights, there is likely something in his eye:

  • Use a thumb to lift the upper eyelid and check for debris underneath.
  • Do the same with the lower lid, using the other hand.
  • If you can see something that needs removing, but which is not penetrating the eye, flush it out with tepid water or use a damp cotton swab to ease it out.
  • If you can’t remove the object, bandage the eye and bring the dog to the veterinarian. Do not delay.
  • If the object has penetrated the eye, bandage it immediately or fit the dog with an Elizabethan collar and take him to the veterinarian immediately. Again, most of them keep emergency hours for this type of situation.

3. If the dog is squinting and tearing up excessively or has red eyes, it is usually indicative of a scratched eye. Check for foreign objects in the eye area. If nothing is found, follow these guidelines:

  • If you can see a scratch on the eye, cover it with a clean, damp cloth.
  • Bandage the cloth to the head, use an Elizabethan collar, or bandage the dog’s dewclaws to prevent further damage.
  • Take her to the vet the same day.

4. If the dog’s eyelids are bruised or torn (usually from a fight or other trauma):

  • Place a cold compress on the affected eye, to help reduce swelling.
  • Keep the compress in place for 10 minutes.
  • Take her to the vet the same day.

5. If the dog's eye(s) has been exposed to chemicals, there may be burn damage:

  • Flush the eye with fresh water for at least 10 minutes.
  • Refer to the chemical’s packaging to see what further treatment is suggested.
  • Bandage the eye to prevent further damage and bring the dog to the vet immediately.
  • Remember to bring the chemical's container or packaging with you. On the way to the vet, call poison control so they are notified and treatment can be initiated promptly.

6. If you see a watery discharge coming from the dog’s eye:

  • Check for objects trapped in the eye (see #2).
  • Flush the eye using tepid water, diluted cold tea, or a dog-specific eyewash.
  • If there is no indication of a foreign object, seek veterinary advice. Your dog may have an allergy, abnormal eyelash growth, eyelid defects, or blocked tear ducts -- all of which cause chronic tear production.

7. If you see green or yellow eye charge:

  • Flush the eye using tepid water, diluted cold tea, or a dog-specific eyewash.
  • See your vet within 24 hours, as it generally indicates an infection.
  • Watch for other signs of illness to help diagnosis.

Other Causes

Eye injuries may be caused by fighting, infection, or accidents with chemicals or other harmful substances. Some breeds, such as the pug, are predisposed to eye problems.

Living and Management

Your vet will be able to tell you how to manage a dog with an injured eye. It is likely that damage-prevention measures (such as an Elizabethan collar) or some follow-up treatment will be needed, either at home or at the clinic.


There is little that can be done to avoid most causes of eye injuries, although obedience training, which limits the dog's propensity for fighting, helps. Extra care when using chemicals is also essential; if possible, keep your dog in a separate room when using bleach or similar fluids. For more advice on treatment and prevention, see the "Burns and Scalding" article.

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