Dog Eye Infection: Symptoms and Treatment Options

Dog Eye Infection: Symptoms and Treatment Options

Infections are one of many conditions that can cause pain and inflammation of the eye. While it’s only natural to suspect a dog eye infection any time you see the characteristic squinting and redness that accompany irritation, there could be another explanation. That’s why a veterinary visit is essential for an accurate diagnosis. Using a thorough examination and some simple tests, your veterinarian can determine whether your dog’s eye issues are caused by an infection and how to best address it.

Read on to learn more about diagnosing and treating eye infections in dogs. 

What Is a Dog Eye Infection?

Eye infections are a common cause of conjunctivitis (pinkeye) in dogs. Infections cause inflammation of the conjunctiva (the membrane that covers the surface of the eye and the inside surface of the eyelids), leading to redness, squinting, and pain. Conjunctivitis can have a variety of other causes, however, such as allergies, physical or chemical irritation, eyelid abnormalities, and other conditions.

Eye infections can also affect other parts of the eye. The cornea (surface of the eye) can become infected if it has been weakened by a scratch or ulcer. The interior of the eye can also be affected by infections, leading to a condition known as uveitis.

What Causes Eye Infections in Dogs?

Bacteria

Eye infections are often caused by bacteria that live in the environment and on your dog’s skin. The bacteria are typically kept in check by your dog’s defenses, but these defenses can be overcome if the eye is damaged or diseased.

Some eye infections are associated with serious internal infections, like leptospirosis and brucellosis. These bacteria have systemic (body-wide) effects, including on the eye, and may be contracted from other dogs or from wildlife.

Viruses and Fungi

While viral eye infections are very common in humans, they are not quite as common in dogs. However, viruses like distemper virus, herpes virus, and canine influenza virus can lead to conjunctivitis. 

Fungal infections (like blastomycosis) are rare, but they can occur in some areas of the country. Fungal infections may be spread by inhaling fungal spores or contact with contaminated soil.

Dog Eye Infection Symptoms

The most common signs of eye infection include:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Squinting of one or both eyes
  • Clear watery discharge (with viral infections)
  • Thick green/yellow discharge (with bacterial infections)
  • Frequent blinking
  • Holding one or both eyes closed
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Pawing at and/or rubbing the eye on the carpet or furniture, as if they are uncomfortable or trying to remove something

However, it’s important to note that these signs are relatively non-specific indicators of eye inflammation and can be caused by a variety of eye conditions. Therefore, a thorough veterinary workup is needed to determine whether your dog’s eye issues are a result of an infection or another problem. 

Diagnosing Dog Eye Infections

If your dog shows signs of an eye problem, seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Injuries and infections of the eye can cause blindness if they are left untreated, so this isn’t a situation where you want to adopt a “wait and see” approach. 

Your veterinarian will begin by performing a thorough physical exam, paying special attention to your dog’s eyes. Next, your veterinarian will likely recommend diagnostic tests.

The most common tests used to assess the eyes include: 

  • Fluorescein stain. This brightly-colored stain is used to diagnose defects in the cornea, including scratches and ulcers
  • Schirmer tear test. This test measures your dog’s tear production and is used to rule out dry eye (also known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca or KCS) 
  • Tonometry. Measuring your dog’s intraocular pressure (eye pressure) can rule out glaucoma

Based on physical exam findings and the results of diagnostic tests, your veterinarian will be able to arrive at a diagnosis and determine the best treatment for your dog.

Dog Eye Infection Treatment

Treatment of an eye infection depends on the type of eye infection that is present, and the severity of the infection. 

Bacterial Eye Infection

Bacterial eye infections are typically treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics for a dog eye infection are often given as drops or ointment, applied to the surface of your dog’s eye(s) every four to eight hours or as directed by your veterinarian.

Viral Eye Infection

Viral infections generally resolve on their own, as the dog’s immune system fights off the virus. However, your veterinarian may prescribe topical eye medication to soothe any inflammation and discomfort. Give these medications as directed.

Fungal Eye Infection

Fungal eye infections (and some serious internal bacterial infections) are treated with oral medications. Oral antifungal medications and oral antibiotics can be beneficial in the case of systemic infections.

Other Infections

Other causes of conjunctivitis, such as allergies and mechanical irritation, require different treatments. This is why it’s essential to have your dog’s eye condition diagnosed by a veterinarian, so you can ensure your dog receives the right treatment.  

Home remedies are not recommended for eye infections. Saline flush might be helpful if your dog has dust or dirt in their eye, but other human eye medications should be avoided in dogs. If your dog’s eye inflammation persists for more than a couple of hours, visit your veterinarian. 

How to Prevent Dog Eye Infections

While there is no way to prevent all eye infections, these steps can help reduce the risk: 

Schedule consistent examinations. Have your dog examined by a veterinarian regularly. Early detection of eye abnormalities can reduce the risk that these abnormalities lead to an infection.

Stay on top of vaccines. Keep your dog up to date on recommended vaccines, which can help prevent viral infections of the eye. 

Keep an eye on your dog’s eyes. Check your dog’s eyes regularly at home, and contact your veterinarian at the first sign of a problem. A small scratch on the surface of your dog’s eye can easily become infected, leading to more serious problems. 

Don’t forget about grooming. If your dog has long hair, keep the hair on their face trimmed away from their eyes.

Stay away from dust and debris. Avoid letting your dog put their head out of the car window to reduce the risk of dust and other materials damaging their eyes. 

Related Conditions

  • Conjunctivitis
  • Corneal ulcer
  • Uveitis

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