Dog Eye Health: How to tell if your dog's eyes are healthy?Emma Frain 07 October 2021
Written by Veterinary Surgeon Dr. Linda Simon.
We look closely at our dog’s eyes every day and most owners will notice if something is different right away. Realising your dog may have an issue with their eye health can be jarring, as we all know just how important their vision is for their day to day life.
Signs that your dog may have a problem
There are a range of signs your dog may display when something is going on with one or both of their eyes. These signs may progress slowly or come on seemingly overnight. Watch out for the following:
- Squinting (a sign of discomfort)
- Discharge. This may be in a range of colours including transparent, yellow, green or brown. For some, it streams down their face. For others, it clumps together and causes matted fur.
- Redness of the lining of the eye (the conjunctiva).
- Signs of irritation which may include face rubbing or pawing at the eye
When to visit the vet about your dog's eyes?
Home is not the place to be diagnosing or attempting to treat an eye issue. It is important that a dog with an eye problem be seen by a vet right away. This is especially true if they seem in discomfort or are a dog breed known to suffer with significant eye issues such as a Pug or Shih Tzu.
The vet will check your dog all over and ask you questions about the signs you’ve noticed. They will assess your dog’s vision and ocular reflexes and should look right into the back of the eye to assess the retina. It is likely your vet will measure your dog’s tear production and stain the cornea for any scratches or ulcers. If there is a concern for glaucoma (raised pressure), the eye pressure will be measured. All of these tests can be done quickly and during a routine consultation by a ‘GP’ vet.
Common eye issues in dogs
While there are a huge range of eye conditions that can affect dogs, below is a short explanation of some of the more common ones.
- Bacterial or viral conjunctivitis. Dogs can develop eye infections at any age and signs will include red and weepy eyes. One or both eyes can be affected. For some, the infection will have spread from the skin or ears. Most infections can be treated quickly with topical antibiotics.
- ‘Dry Eyes’ or Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca. When a dog does not have adequate eye lubrication from their tears, the eye becomes dry and feels scratchy. Affected dogs develop a thick, yellow discharge and are prone to infections and ulcers. Certain breeds such as the Pug, King Charles and Westie are predisposed. It is a good idea for vets to monitor the tear production of these dogs at their annual check, regardless of signs.
- Corneal Ulcers. Ulcers can be caused by traumatic injuries (such as a scratch from the family cat) or underlying medical issues such as Dry Eye. Most heal within a few days when there are no complications. A buster collar may be needed to help protect the eye as it heals.
- High pressure in the eye itself causes intense pain and requires urgent treatment. The vet will need to determine what the underlying cause is and address this promptly.
- Nuclear sclerosis. As a dog gets older, their eyes can develop a slight blue haze. Many owners worry that this is a cataract. In fact, this old age change is not thought to significantly affect vision and is a normal occurrence in an older dog.
Why do my dog's eyes always water?
For some dogs, a mild discharge that is clear is ‘normal’ for them. These dogs will have brown or red tear stains under their eyes and will not show signs of ocular discomfort.
Certain dog breeds, such as the Maltese and Poodle are notorious for tear stains and the colour is due to a pigment called porphyrin. This tear staining is not a concern and is more of a cosmetic issue. However, it is sensible to confirm with your vet that there is nothing more going on.
How to clean your dogs eyes
If your dog has a medical reason for their eyes to be discharging or crusty, your vet will advise you on how best to clean them. This will usually involve warm water or saline washes before the application of medicine.
For those with tear staining, there are several products on the market that claim to reduce the appearance of tear stains. In my experience, none work brilliantly. Owners can gently clean under the eyes with rose water each morning, being sure to dry the fur well after. This prevents crusts from forming and keeps the dog more comfortable.
Want to know more about how to take care of your dog's grooming needs at home? Read our article by award winning dog groomer to find out her top tips for grooming your dog at home.