Eye Discharge in Dogs, Symptoms, Treatment, and Causes

Eye article image

Last Updated on 6 months by Dr. Shannon Barrett

Many of our canine friends are plagued by pesky eye discharge, and I commonly see it in my patients.

There are many causes, such as allergies, that over-the-counter medication may treat. However, other reasons require a trip to the vet, such as dry eye or Keratoconjunctivitis sicca( KCS).

Let’s explore the most common causes of eye discharge in your dog and how to treat them so you can both have bright eyes again!

What are Common Causes of Eye Discharge in Dogs?

  • Allergies
  • Infections
  • Epiphora
  • Dry Eye (KCS)
  • Eye Trauma

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What is the difference between eye allergy and eye infection in dogs?

There is no easy answer to this question. Generally speaking, eye allergies are caused by an immune response to an environmental trigger such as dust or pollen.

Food allergies can also trigger eye allergies if you have recently changed your dog’s food. Consider hypoallergenic dog treats and food if your dog may be sensitive.

Eye infections may occur due to underlying health conditions such as upper respiratory infections. For instance, has your dog been boarded or groomed recently?

Are they showing other signs of illness, such as sneezing, coughing, or lethargy?

Have they had contact with other dogs, such as a recent trip to the dog park?

It can be confusing because eye allergies and infections can be accompanied by other respiratory signs, including runny nose or sneezing.

This is especially true if we see them with a change in seasons.

Depending on the underlying cause, eye infections may be treated with antibiotics or other medications, while eye allergies may only require over-the-counter treatments or a food change.

Ultimately, the best way to determine the cause and appropriate treatment for your dog’s eye issues will depend on their unique medical history and symptoms.

If you are concerned about your dog’s eye health, consult with your veterinarian for specific recommendations and guidance.

Anything that causes inflammation or infection to the pink tissue lining the eye is called Conjunctivitis.

What is Conjunctivitis in dogs?

conjunctivitis dog image
Conjunctivitis in Dog. Photo courtesy of Dr. Andrea Weidner and Veterinary Partner.

Conjunctivitis in dogs is a condition that causes inflammation and irritation of the thin, pink layer of tissue that lines the inside of your dog’s eyelids.

This can result in swelling and redness around the eyes, excessive tearing or discharge, sensitivity to light, or other symptoms like pain or discomfort.

This is commonly mistaken for “pink eye,” which is less common in dogs.

There are many possible causes of Conjunctivitis in dogs, ranging from environmental allergies to more serious underlying health conditions.

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Some common causes include:

  • Allergies to dust or pollen
  • Bacterial or viral infections such as kennel cough or canine influenza
  • Dry eye (Keratoconjunctivitis sicca)
  • Trauma or corneal ulcers

The eye discharge in these dogs may be yellow, white, or green. Depending on the underlying cause of Conjunctivitis, treatment will vary.

Treatment may include antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs, lifestyle changes such as avoiding specific allergens or irritants in your dog’s environment, and home care practices like cleaning their eyes regularly and using eye drops as needed.

If due to seasonal allergies, your vet may prescribe over-the-counter antihistamines.

With the proper care and attention from you and your veterinarian, your dog can recover from Conjunctivitis and enjoy good eye health in the future.

To learn more about conjunctivitis in dogs, read the Veterinary Partner article here

What is Watery Eyes (Epiphora) in dogs?

Runny eyes in a dog
Runny Eyes in a Dog. Photo courtesy Dr. Kim Downes and Veterinary Partner

Watery eyes or excessive tear production is known as epiphora. This condition causes excessive tearing and discharges from the eyes in dogs.

We see this commonly in our patients, and it is especially prominent in those with white fur.

This is because the pigments in tears called porphyrins cause the fur under the eyes to stain red.

Dogs with this condition usually produce too many tears or have an issue with tear drainage that results in excessive tearing.

Other causes include irritants to the eye, such as fur or eyelashes touching the eye. Infections or allergies can also cause excessive tearing.

Some common treatments include medications, lifestyle changes, and home care practices like eye drops or warm compresses to keep their eyes clean and clear.

It is essential to maintain the area under the eye and not allow the fur to build up excessive moisture. If this occurs, the fur can become matted, and the skin underneath can become infected.

To learn more about excessive tear production in dogs, read the Veterinary Partner article here. 

Tear-staining wipes by I-MED work pretty well; however, with any product, they need to be used daily to see the best results.

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What is KCS (Dry Eye) in Dogs?

KCS in dogs
KCS in a Dog. Image Courtesy of Clinicians Brief

Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) is also known as dry in dogs.

These dogs do not make enough tears to lubricate their eyes, so they literally have dry eyes.

As we all know, when your eyes are dry, they can feel like sandpaper and become itchy and irritated.

Adequate tear production is required to keep the cornea lubricated and healthy. When there is insufficient tear production, these dogs will get a goopy discharge in their eyes.

The most common cause of KCS is an immune problem where dogs’ tear glands do not produce enough tears.

However, there are other causes, including a reaction to certain drugs, infectious causes, and neurological causes.

Common treatments include prescription eye drops or eye ointment from your veterinarian. Your dog will likely require life-long treatment (depending on the underlying cause) since it cannot produce enough tears on its own.

Some dogs with KCS may benefit from Systane eye drops, but this must be applied several times a day (up to 8 times a day in some cases), and this will not fix the underlying issue of not producing enough tears.

Your veterinarian can test your dog’s tear production to diagnose your dog with KCS and start them on prescription medication to help with the underlying cause.

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**Check with your veterinarian before applying any eye medications to your pet. This does not serve as veterinary medical advice.

For detailed information on KCS, visit the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO)

What are the signs of eye trauma in my dog?

Eye trauma in dogs can have a range of symptoms, depending on the type and severity of the injury. Some common signs include:

  • Redness or swelling around the eye
  • Discharge from the eyes or nose
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Difficulty blinking or keeping the eyes open
  • Pain or tenderness around the eye
  • Vision changes

If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, it is crucial to seek veterinary attention immediately to avoid complications and ensure proper treatment.

There are several causes of eye trauma in dogs.

Causes range from accidents involving blunt force trauma (such as being hit by a car) to contact with chemicals or foreign objects which damage the eyes. Bites or scratches from other animals are also essential sources of eye trauma. 

One of the most common eye traumas we see is corneal ulcers; dogs usually come to us because owners notice that their dog is holding one eye shut or blinking out of one eye.

These dogs are often squinting because something has scratched their cornea, and this is very painful.

To test for corneal damage, we numb their eye and stain it with a bright green stain. The stain will only adhere to the part of the cornea that is scratched.

Treatment for corneal ulcers is topical eye medications that must be applied several times a day. Rechecks are required to make sure the eye is healing appropriately.

What Can You Give Dogs With Eye Allergies?

Dogs can show signs of eye allergies. These may include excessive tearing, discharge from the eyes or nose, redness or swelling around the eyes, and more.

Some common treatments for eye allergies in dogs include taking antihistamine medications to reduce inflammation and soothe eye irritation. Your veterinarian can guide you on which ones are safe for your pet.

Dogs and cats cannot take decongestants, so never give your pet an antihistamine with a decongestant.

Other treatment options include avoiding allergens like pollen or dust that may be causing an allergic reaction, using over-the-counter eye drops or ointments to keep the eyes clean and clear, and making other lifestyle changes to help reduce allergy symptoms.

If these treatments do not provide relief, you may want to consult your vet about other potential options, such as hyposensitization shots and allergy testing, to identify the specific allergens triggering your dog’s allergies.

With proper treatment and care, your dog’s eye allergies should be much more manageable, allowing them to feel better overall.

Zaditor is an over-the-counter eye drop for allergic conjunctivitis in humans. The active ingredient is Ketotifen. It may help if your dog has environmental allergies.

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Can I Use Human Eye Drops for My Dog?

Using human eye drops may seem like a logical remedy if your dog is experiencing symptoms of eye allergies or other types of eye irritation.

However, we generally do not recommend using human eye drops for dogs since these products are typically formulated differently and can cause side effects or further irritation if misused.

Some potential side effects of using human eye drops on dogs include increased tearing and redness, sensitivity to light, swollen eyelids or conjunctiva, vision changes, and more.

If your dog is experiencing symptoms of an eye infection or other type of eye issue, the best course of action is to consult your veterinarian about the best treatment options.

This may involve prescription-strength topical medications that are specially formulated for dogs or other types of treatment depending on the underlying cause of your dog’s eye issue.

For dogs that seem to have mild eye redness from allergies, some may benefit from Zaditor eye drops.

Check with your veterinarian to see if this is the correct treatment for your dog.

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For dogs with suspected dry eyes from allergies, I-MED makes I-DROP VET PLUS drops and gel options to lubricate eyes. 

Drops can be easier to apply to your dogs eyes but often require more frequent application.  The gel can provide more long-lasting relief but some dogs may find the gel irritating causing them to paw at their eyes.  Links to both are listed below:

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**Check with your veterinarian before applying any eye medications to your pet. This does not serve as veterinary medical advice.

How can I apply eye drops to my dog’s eyes?

applying eye drops to dog

There are many different factors to consider when applying eye drops to your dog’s eyes.

These include:

  • Age
  • Your dogs Specific Eye Symptoms
  • Medical History
  • Type of Eye Drop Used

Some general tips for efficiently applying eye drops to your dog include:

  1. Have someone help you restrain your dog if needed.
  2. Keep their head positioned at an angle so that you can easily access their eyes
  3. Use a clean applicator or syringe to apply the drops.
  4. Ensure the dropper or syringe does not come into contact with your dog’s eyes.
    • If it does, clean the dropper with alcohol once you have finished your application and allow it to air dry.
  5. Try to come from behind your dog when administering eye drops, as this can help with the application. Most dogs dislike being approached from the front when applying eye drops.
  6. If your dog seems anxious or uncomfortable when trying to administer eye drops, it may help to use positive reinforcement techniques such as treats or praise to keep them calm and relaxed.
  7. Always consult your veterinarian about the specific type of eye drops and how often they should be applied to treat your dog’s symptoms effectively.
    • The frequency of when they should be applied is fundamental as many prescription eye drops need to be used 3-5 times a day!

When should I contact my veterinarian about my dog’s eye discharge?

If you are concerned about your dog’s eye discharge, you must speak with your veterinarian as soon as possible.

This is especially true if the discharge appears thick or pus-like, or if you notice other signs of infection such as redness, swelling, pain around the eye socket, or excessive rubbing or pawing at the eyes.

Additionally, suppose your dog seems lethargic or generally unwell in general.

In that case, it could also be a sign of an underlying medical condition that may need to be evaluated by your veterinarian.

In these situations, it is best to seek medical attention right away to ensure that there are no underlying conditions causing discomfort in your dog.

How can I take care of my dog’s eyes at home?

For mild symptoms such as runny eyes, you may want to try using warm compresses on the eyes to loosen any hard eye discharge.

Once the discharge has softened, gently wipe it away. Then use a dry, soft cloth to dry the skin under the eyes.

Make sure not to touch your dog’s actual eyes. If you notice the skin under the eyes is red or irritated, contact your veterinarian, as it may be infected.

For our canine friends that get hairs around their eyes, please pay close attention to ensure none of the hairs are touching their eyes.

If so, you can gently use moistened cotton swabs to gently clean away any hairs that may be getting close to their eyes. If these hairs persist around their eyes, contact your vet or groomer to have them trimmed.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. Can food allergies cause eye discharge?

Yes, food allergy is one of the many causes of eye discharge in dogs.

2. What if the discharge is only in 1 eye?

If your dog only has discharge in 1 eye, we worry more about diseases that only affect 1 eye such as trauma to the eye.

3. Can the eye discharge in my dog be normal?

In general, yellow or green discharge is associated with an infection, while clear or white discharge is more commonly associated with irritation or allergies.

However, we always recommend having your pet checked by your veterinarian to assess eye discharge.

4. Is there a vaccine for eye allergies in dogs?

No, there is no vaccine for Conjunctivitis in dogs however, if your dogs’ eye discharge is secondary to environmental allergies, you can discuss hyposensitization vaccines with your veterinarian. These are available for dogs with environmental allergies.

5. Is Dog Conjunctivitis contagious?

Dog Conjunctivitis is not contagious; however the underlying cause of the Conjunctivitis may be contagious if it is due to an infectious disease such as kennel cough.

The information in this article is for general purposes only and is not a substitute for advice from your veterinarian. Any reliance you place on such information is strictly at your own risk.

Dr. Barrett veterinary blogs

Dr. Shannon Barrett brings an exceptional blend of academic excellence and professional expertise to the world of veterinary medicine. With a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Western University of Health Sciences, where she graduated with honors, and dual Bachelor degrees in Biological Sciences and Psychology, her depth of knowledge is extensive. A member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Dr. Barrett's insights and contributions to pet health have been featured in leading publications such as Rover, MarketWatch, and Newsweek.

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Dr. Shannon Barrett

Veterinarian with a Passion for Educating Pet Parents

Pets change our lives for the better and we are always trying to do the same for them. This site is a combination of tips and product recommendations to enhance the lives of our pets and the people owned by them.  Thanks for stopping by!

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