Dog Eye Problems

Emily A. Fassbaugh, DVM
By Emily A. Fassbaugh, DVM on Oct. 22, 2021

Eye problems in dogs are pretty common. While some of them are mild and can be managed at home, others can be quite serious and threaten your dog’s vision.

The most affected parts of a dog’s eye are the:

  • Cornea (the clear part at the front of the eye)

  • Eyelids

  • Conjunctiva (the moist pink tissue under the eyelid and around the eye)

  • Sclera (the white part of the eye)

  • Lens (transparent tissue behind the pupil that focuses light)

  • Retina (the back of the eye that receives light and sends images to the brain)

If you suspect that your dog has an eye problem, contact your veterinarian for advice on what to do. They can determine if your dog needs to be professionally examined and treated.

Here are some common dog eye problems and signs to look for.

Common Dog Eye Problems

Dog Eye Infections

Dog eye infections can affect the eyelid, the conjunctiva (pink part inside the eye), or the eye itself. They can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungus.

Take your dog to the vet if you notice any of these signs:

  • Yellow, green, or red drainage from the eyes

  • Swelling, crusting, and hair loss on the eyelids

  • Very red and swollen conjunctiva and whites of the eyes

  • Your dog squinting or holding their eyes closed

Your veterinarian may do an eye stain to check for injury to the cornea. The treatment involves giving your dog eye drops to heal the infection and relieve inflammation. If there is an infection of the eyelid, your veterinarian may also prescribe oral antibiotics.  

Cherry Eye in Dogs

Cherry eye is a prolapse (displacement) of the tear gland on a dog’s third eyelid. It occurs most often in brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs, such as English Bulldogs and Pugs, and in giant dog breeds with droopy eyelids, such as Bullmastiffs and Newfoundlands, but it can happen to any dog.

The dog’s tear gland moves from behind their third eyelid and becomes inflamed and swollen, forming a ball of pink tissue that blocks the inside of their eye.

Always take your dog to the vet if you suspect they have cherry eye.

When cherry eye in dogs is mild, an anti-inflammatory eye drop can occasionally cause the tear gland to return to its normal position. However, most of the time, surgery is required to replace the tear gland behind the third eyelid. Unfortunately, cherry eye can come back after a dog has surgery. 

Glaucoma in Dogs

Glaucoma in dogs is increased pressure in the eye. Normally, fluid flows in and out of the eye to maintain pressure. With glaucoma, there is either too much fluid going in, or there’s a drainage problem, which causes a greater amount of pressure.

Early signs of glaucoma in dogs include eye pain or redness and visible vessels on the whites of the eye. As the disease progresses, a dog’s eye can become larger and more painful, and the cornea can become cloudy from being stretched.

Early glaucoma is treated with medication to decrease fluid production in the eye and allow for better drainage of fluid, reducing the pressure.

If the medication cannot control the eye pressure and the pain, your veterinarian may recommend removal of the eye, also called enucleation. This may sound extreme, but dogs can still have a great quality of life without the affected eye. 

To help avoid eye loss, take your dog to the vet as soon as possible if you notice any of the signs of glaucoma.

Conjunctivitis/Pinkeye in Dogs

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is a bacterial infection of a dog’s conjuctiva, the moist mucosal tissue around the eye and under the eyelid.

You will see these symptoms:

  • Green or yellow discharge from the eye

  • Squinting or holding the eye closed

  • Rubbing the eye because it is painful or itchy

  • The whites of the eye will be red or bloodshot, but the cornea will typically be clear

Conjunctivitis in dogs is triggered often by an allergy or, rarely, a virus. It is treated with a bacterial eye drop or ointment, and sometimes, a steroid is used to reduce inflammation. It usually clears up within a week.

Take your dog to the vet so they can be evaluated and prescribed the appropriate treatment.

Ectropion in Dogs

Ectropion is a condition where the bottom eyelid droops or folds outward, away from the eye. Some breeds of dog can naturally have mild ectropion, including Bullmastiffs, Bassett Hounds, Bloodhounds, Retrievers, Bulldogs, and Spaniels.

It is often not a problem, but it can result in chronic inflammation, dry eye, and eye infection in some dogs, so take your dog to the vet if they are exhibiting any of these signs. Surgery can correct ectropion in dogs. 

Entropion in Dogs

Entropion is a condition of the eyelid that causes it to roll inward. It can affect both the upper and lower eyelids. Breeds commonly affected are Chow Chows, English Bulldogs, Irish Setters, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Saint Bernards, Shar-Pei, Rottweilers, Great Danes, and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers.

Very mild entropion may not cause a problem, but if the hair around a dog’s eyes or their eyelid rubs the surface of their eye, it results in irritation and injury as well as infection. In chronic cases, it can cause permanent damage to the cornea, resulting in loss of vision. Entropion in dogs can be fixed with surgery. 

Visit your vet to determine the best option for your dog.

Cataracts in Dogs

In dogs with cataracts, the central part of their eye appears cloudy because the lens has lost transparency. Cataracts can affect one or both eyes.

Cataracts can be inherited or caused by other diseases. One cause of cataracts is diabetes, as the excess glucose causes the lens to swell. The lens can eventually rupture and cause uveitis, or severe inflammation in the eye.

A dog can also develop cataracts as a part of normal aging. Additionally, they can form because of inflammation or infection inside the eye. Depending on the size and the severity of the cataract, some dogs may lose significant vision and become blind.

See your vet to have the underlying cause of the cataract identified so your dog can be treated accordingly.  

Lazy Eye in Dogs

Lazy eye, or strabismus, is a condition that affects a dog’s eye muscles where one or both eyes do not look straight forward.

In some breeds of dogs, such as Pugs and Boston Terriers, strabismus is congenital and common; this does not require treatment. However, if a lazy eye comes on suddenly, always seek veterinary assistance. A sudden lazy eye in dogs can signal a neurological problem that affects the balance system, or it could be caused by a mass in the ring of bone surrounding the eye.

Treating lazy eye in dogs relies on addressing the underlying cause. 

Corneal Ulcers in Dogs

A corneal ulcer is a scratch or injury on the surface of a dog’s cornea, or the clear part of the eye. A dog with a corneal ulcer will have cloudiness in the front of the eye. There may be green, yellow, or clear discharge.

Corneal ulcers in dogs can be caused by an injury or infection, or they can result from inflammation of the cornea due to chronic dry eye. Dogs with “buggy” eyes, like brachycephalic breeds, are especially prone to this.

Corneal ulcers are very painful, so the dog usually squints the eye closed and may rub at it. Seek treatment from the vet as soon as possible to help make your dog more comfortable.

Treatment involves giving your dog an antibiotic eye drop and using an Elizabethan collar to prevent your dog from rubbing their eye, causing further damage. If it does not heal, the eye could rupture or cause scarring of the cornea, which will limit the dog’s vision. Some dogs require surgery to heal the ulcer. 

Retinal Issues in Dogs

A dog’s retina is located in the back of their eye. It contains the cells, called rods and cones, that absorb light signals to send to the brain. The retina is what ultimately allows all mammals to see.

All diseases of the retina cause blindness. There are inherited retinal diseases seen in Irish Setters, Briards, and the Papillon.

Other causes of retinal diseases in dogs include:

  • High blood pressure

  • Distemper virus

  • Fungal infections

  • Sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome (SARDS)

  • Glaucoma

  • Ivermectin toxicity

If your dog suddenly becomes blind or seems to be blind, have them seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

In some cases, you may be able to reverse the damage and preserve their vision. 

Dog Eye Allergies

Allergic disease can affect a dog’s eyes just as it can affect their skin.

Dogs with eye allergies have red, itchy eyes. Bacterial infections are common, and they will sometimes produce a green, yellow, or clear discharge from the eyes.

Treatment involves corticosteroid eye drops and, sometimes, antihistamines. See the vet to determine which are necessary for your dog.

Dry Eyes in Dogs

Dry eye is caused by decreased tear production or increased exposure.

  • Exposure-related dry eye is common in brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs, such as Pugs and Boston Terriers, because they do not close their eyes completely.

  • Decreased tear production is typically due to destruction of the tear glands—either by an autoimmune disease or a nerve problem.

When a dog’s eyes are dry, they become inflamed and red. You may see a mild green or yellow discharge.

Dog-formulated eye lubricants help preserve moisture, and special dog eye ointments are used to stop destruction of tear glands, which increases tear production. Lifelong treatment is necessary to prevent serious damage to the eyes, so see your vet to be prescribed the appropriate medications. 

Watery Eyes in Dogs

Epiphora, or watery drainage from a dog’s eyes, is commonly seen in some breeds of dogs, such as Poodles, Spaniels, and brachycephalic dogs.

If your dog has watery eyes but you don’t see redness in their eyes or skin, it does not require treatment. If your dog’s eyes are red, or if the skin on their face where the tears ran is red and irritated, have your dog assessed by a veterinarian to treat the inflammation.

A blockage in the nasolacrimal duct, a tube that drains the tears from the eyes to the nose, can often cause excess drainage. However, allergies are the most common cause of sudden epiphora.

Bulging Eyes in Dogs

A dog’s eyes can appear to be bulging for two reasons:

  • The eye is larger than normal, which is a sign of glaucoma, or increased pressure in the eye.

  • The eye is pushed out of the eye socket. This can be caused by a tumor or a shallow eye socket, which is typical of brachycephalic breeds like Pugs.

Suddenly occurring bulging eyes in dogs require assessment by a veterinarian.

Swollen Eyes in Dogs

Swollen eyes can be caused by infection, allergies, or injury. It can also be associated with corneal injuries or eyelid abnormalities, like entropion skin infections.

Any swelling of your dog’s eyes should be assessed by a veterinarian to determine the cause and appropriate treatment. 

Irritated/Red Eyes in Dogs

Red eyes in dogs are a common symptom of many eye diseases. It could be caused by something as simple as an allergy. However, it could also be caused by infection, corneal ulcer, chronic dry eye, tumors, glaucoma, and any number of other problems.

Go to the vet if your dog has redness in their eyes. Your veterinarian will be able to determine the cause by looking for other symptoms, including discharge from the eyes, squinting, and cornea cloudiness.

Squinting in Dogs

Squinting is a sign of eye pain in dogs. It is common with many eye diseases, including allergy, infection, corneal ulcer, chronic dry eye, and glaucoma. It can also be associated with painful eyelid afflictions, such as entropion, tumors, and skin infections. 

Take your dog to the vet if you see them squinting.

Glassy Eyes in Dogs

Glassy eyes are a symptom of eye inflammation, which can be caused by pink eye, chronic dry eye, or allergies. Dehydration also causes glassy eyes.

Solving the issue relies on determining the cause and treating it. So, if your dog has glassy eyes and is lethargic or not eating or behaving normally, take your dog to the vet as soon as possible. 

Cloudy Eyes in Dogs

There are many causes of cloudy eyes in dogs:

  • Corneal ulcers

  • Chronic dry eye

  • Cornea inflammation due to infection

  • Eyelid diseases that cause irritation to the cornea, such as entropion or eyelid tumors

  • Glaucoma and tumors in the eyes

Cloudy eyes should be assessed by a veterinarian as soon as possible to determine the cause and appropriate treatment.

Addressing the issue promptly ensures your dog can be made more comfortable, and there will be less risk of permanent damage to the eye.

Goopy Eyes in Dogs

All dogs produce a small amount of clear or white discharge at the corners of their eyes; this is normal. The color and amount of eye discharge are important clues to what eye disease your dog may be suffering from.

Some breeds of dogs normally produce more tears than other dogs, causing rust-colored staining on the inside corners of the eyes. Watery clear discharge is typical of allergies or a nasolacrimal duct blockage. Yellow or green discharge is typical of a bacterial infection. Very thick and dry discharge that sticks to the eye is usually associated with chronic dry eye. 

If you see any discharge from your dog’s eyes, contact your vet.

Growth/Lump on a Dog’s Eyelid

Eyelid tumors are very common in middle-aged to older dogs.

Benign tumors at the edge of the eyelid, called meibomian cysts, are usually not a problem unless they are large enough to rub on the surface of the eye. If the cyst becomes inflamed or large enough to injure the dog’s eye, surgery will be required to remove it.

There are malignant tumors that can occur on the eyelid, such as mast cell tumors, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma, and these will require surgical removal. 

Have any lumps on your dog’s eyes checked out by your vet.

Third Eyelid Visible in Dogs

A dog’s third eyelid is an important structure: it holds the largest tear gland in the eye and protects the eye.

When the tear gland prolapses (becomes displaced), it is visible on the third eyelid as a large, smooth, red mass on the top edge of the third eyelid. The third eyelid can also have tumors on it, including lymphoma, melanoma, hemangiosarcoma, and squamous cell carcinoma. Tumors make the third eyelid larger and visible.

A nerve condition, such as Horner’s syndrome, and tetanus can cause the eye to fall back into the socket, causing the third eyelid to move up into view.

Eye pain also causes a dog to pull their eye deeper into the socket, which can bring the third eyelid into view as well. A shrunken eye and dehydration are two other causes of a visible third eyelid. 

Go to your vet if your dog’s third eyelid is visible.

Dog Eye Problems FAQs

How do you know if your dog has eye problems?

Anytime your dog’s eye does not look like it normally does, they could have an eye problem. Discharge from the eyes, red eyes, squinting, and cloudiness of the eyes are common signs of many eye problems, and they should be assessed by a veterinarian.

How can I treat my dog's eye infection without going to the vet?

It is best to contact a veterinarian before putting anything in your dog’s eyes. However, if there is a small amount of discharge, no cloudiness of the eyes, and no squinting present, you can try rinsing your dog with an over-the-counter saline eye wash for humans.

Do not put any medicated or red eye drops in your dog’s eyes. You can also use an Elizabethan collar to prevent your dog from rubbing their eyes. If the saline eye wash doesn’t help, or if there is squinting or eye cloudiness, you should seek care from a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Emily A. Fassbaugh, DVM


Emily A. Fassbaugh, DVM


Dr. Emily Fassbaugh grew up in San Diego. She attended the University of California, Davis for both her undergraduate studies in Animal...

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