Red Eye or Pink Eye in Dogs


Your dog’s eyes should normally be clear, bright, and free of discharge. Red eyes in a dog can signal problems requiring treatment from eye drops to emergency surgery. Conjunctivitis is the most common eye problem in dogs and is defined as an inflammation of the white membranes lining the inside of the eyelids. It leads to red, swollen, itchy, watery eyes. Being able to recognize the signs of an eye problem or injury are the best ways to prevent permanent eye damage and insure visual integrity.

  Signs and Causes

Signs Your Dog Has an Eye Problem:

  • Red eyes.

  • Mucous or watery eye discharge.

  • Thick yellowish-green eye discharge.

  • Swollen eyes.

  • Pawing and/or rubbing eyes.

Causes Of Conjunctivitis in Dogs:

  • Allergies are a major cause of conjunctivitis in dogs. Dogs overly sensitive to pollen, dust and mould often rub and paw at their eyes continuously.

  • Bacteria commonly causes conjunctivitis along with a thick yellowish-green eye discharge.

  • Unvaccinated puppies with distemper virus usually get conjunctivitis.

  Conjunctivitis  In Dogs

Conjunctivitis is an inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva, the tissue lining the eyelids and attaching to the eyeball near the cornea. The conjunctiva can become irritated due to allergies induced by pollens, grasses, etc., or from infections caused by viruses, bacteria, or fungi. If the white portion of the eyeball (sclera) is also inflamed, this condition is occasionally referred to as 'pink eye.' Conjunctivitis is the most common ailment affecting the eye of the dog.

What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of conjunctivitis vary depending on the cause. Typically, both allergies and infections cause a severe redness or 'meaty' appearance of the conjunctiva. This is caused by edema or fluid build-up and an increase in the size and number of blood vessels within the tissue. Either allergies or infections cause the eye to discharge or 'weep.'

The consistency of the discharge often helps determine its cause. Usually infections caused by bacteria, fungi, etc., create a thick yellow or greenish eye discharge. The eyelids may actually stick together when held shut. This results from the accumulation of white blood cells or 'pus' excreted into the area in an effort to fight off the infection. This type of discharge is also typical of a condition called keratoconjunctivitis sicca, or 'dry eye,' in which insufficient tears are produced. Allergies, on the other hand, generally cause a clear or watery discharge. Regardless of the cause, a patient with conjunctivitis will often squint and/or keep the third eyelid partially covering the eyeball. Conjunctivitis is often painful, causing a dog to paw at or rub the eye against objects such as your leg or the carpet.

What are the risks?
Normally conjunctivitis is not life threatening, however, in advanced cases of infection, the organisms can spread and affect other structures of the eye. Vision could become impaired. In addition, infections or foreign bodies may cause corneal ulcers which are extremely serious conditions. Conjunctivitis may also be a symptom of a more serious disease such as canine distemper. As in humans, some infections can be transmitted to other individuals or littermates. Allergies are not contagious and therefore pose no threat to other dogs.

What is the management?
All cases of conjunctivitis should be treated at once. A culture and sensitivity test may be necessary to determine if bacteria are the cause, and if so, what medication should be used for treatment. Scrapings of the conjunctiva can be made and examined to test for various viral infections.

Eye drops or ointments are usually the drugs of choice. Eye drops are watery solutions that must be applied every few hours, while ointments last longer and are usually only applied two to three times per day.

If the cause is suspected to be allergy, then various medications are available containing anti-inflammatories, usually hydrocortisones. If the cause is an infection, then bactericidal or fungicidal ointments or solutions may be applied. In severe cases, oral antibiotics are used in addition to the topical preparations. Most cases will respond to treatment, however, it may take one to two weeks to fully recover. In general, treatment is continued for several days after the eye regains its normal appearance.

Many eye ointments containing hydrocortisones and antibiotics are available and are frequently used when the exact cause of the problem is unknown. It is important however, not to use hydrocortisone-containing agents if a corneal ulcer is present. Hydrocortisone, although great at minimizing eye inflammation, may actually hinder the healing of or worsen an ulcerated cornea.

Drs. Foster & Smith, Inc.
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  Common Type Conjunctivitis
A common type of conjunctivitis in dogs is kerato conjunctivitis sicca, or KCS. This is caused by inadequate tear production in the eye. Some dogs are born with this ailment, but many of those that get conjunctivitis are suffering from an immune system breakdown, with their bodies attacking the lacrimal gland that generates tears.

  Conjuctivitis (Bacterial)

The conjunctiva is a clear membrane that is the tough, leathery outer coat of the eye. The white of the eye lies behind the conjunctiva. The conjuctiva has many small blood vessels and it serves to lubricate and protect the eye while the eye moves in its socket.

When the conjunctiva becomes inflamed, this is called conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis can have many causes, such as bacteria, viruses, chemicals, allergies, and more. In many cases it is difficult to determine the primary cause for the inflammation. One of the most common is bacterial.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is associated with swelling of the lid and a yellowish discharge. The conjunctiva appears red and sometimes thickened. Often both eyes are involved.

Conjunctivitis can be directly cured with treatment. Usually antibiotic drops and compresses ease the discomfort and clear up the infection in just a few days. In a few cases, the inflammation does not respond well to the initial treatment with eye drops. In those cases recheck visits to the office should be made and other measures undertaken. In severe infection, oral antibiotics are necessary. Covering the eye is not a good idea because a cover provides protection for the germs causing the infection. If left untreated, conjunctivitis can create serious complications, such as infections in the cornea, lids, and tear ducts.

  • Treat mild conjunctivitis at home by flooding the eye with saline solution or artificial tears. Be sure to avoid artificial tears that also contain ingredients for relieving red eyes since they may be harmful for pets.
  • To clean out the "sleep bugs," you can dip a wad of cotton into a mixture of warm water and boric-acid solution 50/50. Squeeze a few drops of this in each eye.
  • Use warm used tea bags


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