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Husky with blue eyes

The essentials

  • Dogs experience some of the same eye issues as humans — These conditions include glaucoma, cataracts, and corneal ulcers, among others.
  • Unaddressed eye problems can lead to vision loss or blindness — This is more commonly seen in senior dogs but can affect pups of all ages.
  • Some dogs are more prone to eye ailments than others — Brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds and those with long hair on their faces tend to be more susceptible.

What a healthy dog’s eyes look like

The eyes of a dog are like human eyes when it comes to design and function. Sight plays a huge role in a dog’s health and quality of life. It’s up to pet parents to keep their canines’ eyes healthy and strong. Healthy doggie eyes tend to have these characteristics:

  • Bright, clear eyes. Cloudy eyes are often among the first clinical signs owners notice that suggest underlying eye issues.
  • White eyeballs. The white of the eye, known as the sclera, should be free of discoloration in healthy dogs. The blood vessels should be thinly visible and not enlarged.
  • Round, same-sized pupils. The pupil is the black spot in the center of the eye. Healthy pupils in dogs should be round, free of clouding or discoloration, and equal in size.
  • No tearing, discharge, or crusting. Any discharge coming from the eyes should be cause for concern. Excessive or crusty buildup are often red flags for eye ailments. While excess tearing is problematic, a lack of tears due to dry eyes is also a cause for concern.
  • Pink eyelid lining. The mucous membrane that lines the eyelid is called the conjunctiva. In healthy dogs, it should be a shade of pink similar to the gums. The discoloration is usually a sign that something’s amiss.

Symptoms of eye issues in dogs

Some signs of eye problems in dogs are obvious to spot. Others can be much trickier to detect. It’s not uncommon for dogs to be in advanced stages of vision loss by the time their owners take them to a vet. So, it’s important to know what troublesome eye symptoms to watch for. This way, you can help catch your dog’s condition or disease as early as possible. Some common signs of eye issues in dogs include:

  • Discharge, pus, or crust. Many dogs have a normal, ongoing eye discharge, due to a variety of factors including head shape and allergies. A persistent, thick discharge of pus or mucus, especially if creating a crust on the eyelids, is likely a sign of an underlying disease.
  • Excessive tears. Tearing or watery eyes might mean dirt or a foreign object in the eye. But, it’s also a common sign of several canine eye conditions.
  • Different sized pupils. Besides ocular issues like glaucoma and uveitis, different sized pupils in dogs can be caused by a neurological condition as well as cancer of the eye.
  • Yellow sclera. It’s concerning when the “white of the eye” is no longer white. If it begins to turn yellow in your dog, this is often a sign of jaundice, also called icterus.
  • Red or white conjunctiva. Red eyes occur in dogs for many reasons. The eyelid lining should be pink, and a deeper red often indicates a problem. Conversely, a pale pink or white color may indicate anemia.
  • Visible third eyelid. The nictitating membrane or “third eyelid” protects dogs’ corneas, but it’s usually not visible. If the third eyelid is showing , it could be a sign of a common condition called cherry eye. Although, this can also occur due to neurological conditions.
  • Cloudiness. It’s common for senior dogs to experience clouding of their lens as they age. Owners should be aware, though, that this is a common early symptom of cataracts.
  • Excessive eye rubbing. Dogs rub or paw at their faces to relieve eye discomfort, just like us. In some cases, it indicates dirt or foreign bodies stuck in the eye, but could also be a warning sign of a more serious underlying issue.

Common dog eye problems

Some of the most common eye conditions in dogs are ones we as humans experience ourselves. There are a wide variety of factors, from genetic to environmental, that cause certain symptoms in dogs. Here are some of the most common eye conditions that are seen in our furry friends:

Cataracts. Cataracts are the clouding or opacity of the lenses of the eyes. Cloudy eyes are somewhat common in aging dogs. But the development of cataracts can impact vision and lead to blindness, depending on how much of the eye they cover. Cataracts are commonly caused by inherited disease, and therefore can be difficult to prevent. Certain dogs are more vulnerable than others, with Boston terriers, cocker spaniels, poodles, and schnauzers among the predisposed breeds.

Glaucoma. Glaucoma occurs when intraocular pressure (IOP), the fluid pressure inside a dog’s eye,  becomes too high. Primary glaucoma is inherited and affects certain breeds more commonly. These include American cocker spaniels, basset hounds, chow chows, shar-peis, and Boston terriers.  Secondary glaucoma is often caused by disease or injury to the eye. Symptoms include pain, tearing, and swelling of the eyeball. Dogs with glaucoma should be brought to a veterinarian or veterinary ophthalmologist ASAP. Excessive IOP in dogs can quickly lead to blindness if left unaddressed.

Conjunctivitis (pink eye). Like in humans, pink eye in dogs is a result of inflammation of the eyelid tissues. It is often marked by swollen, itchy, or red eyes, discharge, and excessive rubbing or pawing at the face. Many factors, including foreign objects, allergens, trauma, and more can lead to conjunctivitis. On the genetic side, flat-faced or brachycephalic breeds like pugs, due to their short noses and large eyes, may be more prone to the disease.

Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). The retina is a layer of cells in the back of the eye containing photoreceptors, special cells in the eye’s retina, to sense light. PRA refers to a group of degenerative diseases in dogs that cause the breakdown of the retina cells, ultimately leading to blindness. Some commonly affected breeds of PRA include Bedlington terriers, Cavalier King Charles spaniels, and Fox red Labrador retrievers, among others.

Corneal ulcers. Commonly caused by trauma, corneal ulcers are a deterioration of the skin cell membrane (“the window”) of the eye. Ulcers may be superficial or deep, and treatment depends on the severity. Deep corneal ulcers can lead to a leaking of fluid and a risk of eye rupture or blindness. So, they should be treated as an emergency is suspected. All dogs are susceptible to corneal ulcers due to the very nature of the canine lifestyle. However, dogs with long hair around their eyes and faces tend to be prone to trauma. Brachycephalic breeds, like the American bulldog, boxer, and shih tzu, have also proven to be more at risk for corneal ulcers.

Allergies. Any human with allergies knows how they can affect the eyes. Dogs experience all kinds of allergies, whether seasonal, environmental, or food-based. Allergy symptoms often include red, itchy, and watery eyes. A visit to the vet can help you get to the bottom of what’s causing your dog’s allergic reaction.

Dry eyes. Some dogs are unable to produce enough tears. The diminished moisture production dries out the eyes, which can cause inflammation and subsequent discomfort and/or squinting from your dog.

How to inspect your dog’s eyes

Pet parents should always bring their pup to a vet if they believe their dog is having eye issues. But, there are ways to watch a dog’s eyes at home to watch for warning signs. Follow these simple steps to keep a closer eye on your pet’s ocular health.

  1. Bring your dog to a well-lit area and closely examine their eyes. The pupils should be equally sized, the white area should be white, and the eyes should be bright and clear.
  2. Use your thumb to gently roll down your dog’s lower eyelid, the conjunctiva. The lining should be pink, not white or red.
  3. Use a clean, damp cloth to wipe away any obvious dirt, debris, or foreign objects.
  4. Carefully groom the hair around your dog’s eyes if it’s too long or causing irritation.
  5. Monitor changes in behavior. If your dog is squinting, rubbing, or pawing at their face more than usual, this is a sign they’re experiencing some type of eye condition or illness. Taking a photo of your dog’s eye is a good way to help your vet notice any changes.

Tips to improve your dog’s eye health

Sadly, some eye diseases in dogs are progressive with no current cure. Many conditions may be managed with medications and/or surgery. In some cases, though, lasting damage will have already been done by the time owners seek veterinary care for their pet. So, like with many issues affecting our dogs, prevention is often the best defense when it comes to eye ailments.

Inspect your dog’s eyes — As discussed above, this can be done in a few minutes at home. No one knows your dog better than you do, so who better to check for abnormalities? Doing so can help uncover issues early.

Don’t skip annual vet visits — It can be tough to keep up a normal vet routine, especially if your dog “seems” healthy. But annual visits are a crucial way for professional doctors to monitor our pets with the best methods and tools available.

Feed your dog a healthy diet — A dog’s vision and overall eye health are impacted by their diet. Certain antioxidant-rich foods can go a long way in providing the nutrients important to eye health. A few examples include blueberries, sweet potatoes, eggs, and sardines. You can even consider a dedicated dog vision supplement. Vitamin A is important for eye health, although diets that follow AAFCO standards may not need supplements.

Avoid irritants — Many commercial cleaning products like soaps, sprays, and even shampoos can irritate dogs’ eyes. Always choose non-harsh pet-safe cleaning products, and try to keep them away from your pet whenever possible.

Frequently asked questions

How do I know if something is wrong with my dog’s eyes?

Healthy dog eyes should be bright and clear, with matching pupils, and no discoloration of the whites or eyelid linings. They should be free of discharge and excess tears, and should not be cloudy or swollen.

What are some common eye diseases in dogs?

Dogs experience some of the same eye issues as humans, including glaucoma, cataracts, and conjunctivitis. They’re also prone to corneal ulcers, allergies, and trauma, among other risk factors.

How can I prevent my dog from developing eye issues?

Sadly, some eye issues in dogs are genetic and tricky to prevent. While certain breeds are predisposed to issues, there are some ways to keep eye problems at bay. These include regular vet visits,

Will my dog go blind?

Many canine eye issues, including simple vision loss from aging, can ultimately lead to blindness. Your dog may or may not go blind, but if they do, don’t distress. Hundreds of thousands of blind dogs lead happy, healthy lives, and there are plenty of ways to help your dog adjust to blindness.