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Red puffy inflamed dog's eyes with an infection

Pink eye in dogs is usually a result of an irritant or trauma.

The essentials

  • Dogs can get conjunctivitis, or pink eye — The symptoms are redness, swelling, discharge, and itchiness.
  • It’s rare for dogs to contract the more contagious form of conjunctivitis — Usually, pink eye shows up in dogs as a result of an irritant or trauma.
  • Pink eye in dogs is typically easy to treat — There are many potential causes, so you should seek help from a veterinarian for proper treatment.

The basics of conjunctivitis (pink eye)

Pink eye is one of the most common eye problems for humans, especially small children. But your pets can get it, too. While dogs can get conjunctivitis, it’s typically not the contagious variety.

What is conjunctivitis?

At a basic level, conjunctivitis is inflammation of the conjunctiva, the tissue covering the eye and that lines the inside of the eyelids, including the third eyelid. This can happen for a number of reasons, and only some of them are contagious. Dogs breeds that have short noses and large eyes, like pugs, are more prone to getting conjunctivitis.

Is canine conjunctivitis contagious?

Pink eye is known for being extremely contagious in humans, but it doesn’t quite work the same with our furry companions. Though contagious pink eye is rare for dogs, it can be transmitted from pet-to-pet, human-to-dog, and dog-to-human. If you or your dog have pink eye, try to minimize contact. You should also avoid taking your dog to public places where they can spread the conjunctivitis to other pets.

Symptoms of conjunctivitis

  • Swollen, itchy, red eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Mucous or eye discharge
  • Excessive blinking or pawing at eyeballs

Types of conjunctivitis

There are several types of conjunctivitis, but they can be broken down into contagious and non-contagious types.

Primary (contagious) conjunctivitis

This is the type of conjunctivitis that is contagious and can be transmitted between humans and animals (but it is rarer in dogs). If you or your dog has primary conjunctivitis, you should avoid physical contact.

  • Purulent conjunctivitis This is the result of a bacterial infection and will require antibiotic treatment. In newborn puppies, this kind of pink eye is called neonatal conjunctivitis and is typically due to improper cleaning after birth.

Secondary (non-contagious) conjunctivitis

This type of pink eye is not contagious, so you won’t have to worry about keeping your dog away from people and other pets.

  • Serous conjunctivitis Typically caused by irritants, like dust, pollen, or wind.
  • Allergic conjunctivitis This is a type of serous conjunctivitis, caused by allergens like smoke or chemicals.
  • Keratoconjunctivitis sicca Also known as KCS, this type of conjunctivitis is caused by an autoimmune condition in which your dog’s immune system attacks their natural tear glands, causing your dog to develop “dry eye”..
  • Follicular conjunctivitis This type of pink eye is similar to allergic conjunctivitis, the main distinction being that a specific type of cell, lymphoid follicles, are also inflamed. This is usually triggered by allergens, but it can also be a reaction to an infection.

Pink eye in dogs can also be triggered by upper respiratory infections, like kennel cough. Dogs with genetic abnormalities like droopy eyelids (entropion) or inverted eyelashes (distichia) can be especially prone to conjunctivitis.

Causes of conjunctivitis

Pink eye can be a reaction to another disease, so it’s important to understand the cause. Often, it’s as simple and harmless as an allergen. Other times, it may be more severe. Here are a few potential conjunctivitis triggers:

  • Foreign objects, like dust, dirt, or sand
  • Allergens
  • Tear duct inflammation
  • Ulcerative keratitis (inflamed cornea)
  • Glaucoma
  • Tumors or lesions of the eye or eyelid
  • Trauma to the eye
  • Anatomy, such as abnormal eyelids (entropion) or eyelashes (distichia)

Treating canine conjunctivitis

Because there’s a wide spectrum of causes, treatment for canine conjunctivitis varies. If you notice the symptoms, you shouldn’t waste time getting to treatment. A veterinarian can help with diagnosis and appropriate course of treatment.

As a first test, you can try flushing your dog’s eye with sterile saline solution or eye wash for dogs. If the pink eye is the result of something simple like a pollen allergy, this might do the trick. If symptoms don’t quickly improve, you should bring your dog into the veterinarian.

The first step will be determining whether the conjunctivitis is primary or secondary. A veterinarian will conduct an eye exam, which may involve testing for corneal damage or glaucoma. They may also measure tear production with a Schirmer tear test, which measures how much tears your dog’s eyes produce within one minute. This is usually done to see if your dog may be suffering from KCS or “dry eye”.

From there, your veterinarian will prescribe treatment based on the results of the exam. For example, conjunctivitis due to a viral infection will require a much different approach than pink eye caused by allergies. For bacterial conjunctivitis, antibiotic eye drops will be prescribed. If it’s the result of KCS, or “dry eye,” you may need artificial tears. If the cause is related to allergies, your veterinarian may recommend an antihistamine like Benadryl.

In many cases, a veterinarian will prescribe an anti-inflammatory to help with the symptoms. If your dog is constantly trying to scratch at their eye, your vet may recommend that they wear an E-collar until the medications start to kick in, so they don’t damage their eye further.

There are herbal remedies that some claim to be effective, like chamomile and calendula, but your first step should be consulting a veterinarian. Even if you do pursue a natural remedy, you should have a veterinarian do an eye exam to ensure that your dog has no eye injury from foreign bodies or prolonged infection.

How to prevent canine conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is not 100% preventable, but you can take some steps to reduce your dog’s exposure to eye irritants.

  • Try to limit outside time when pollen is prevalent
  • Avoid severe weather that can damage the eyes (cold and wind)
  • Avoid walking through thick brush where your dog can easily get foreign objects lodged in their eye,
  • Limit exposure to harsh chemicals and cigarette smoke
  • Keep your dog up to date on vaccinations
  • Avoid contact with humans and animals that have conjunctivitis