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Common Eye Problems for Dogs

Nicole Cosgrove

June 15, 2021

Sadly, there are quite a few eye problems that can affect dogs. Different breeds are more prone to specific eye problems than others. Often, there is some sort of genetic component. There may be a direct genetic component, or the structure of the eye may cause the problem.

Luckily, many of these conditions can be cured or stopped if they are caught early enough. It is important to keep your eye out for these problems, as early treatment is often essential to the dog’s health.

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1. Cherry Eye

Bulldog with cherry eye pixabay closeup

Dogs actually have three eyelids. Two are visible on the surface of the eye, while another one usually hides in the corner. This third eyelid contains tear glands that are necessary to keep your dog’s eye wet. These glands are typically underneath your dog’s outer eyelids, so they aren’t visible. Occasionally, the eyelid and glands may slide up, however. This will leave a red bump in the corner of your dog’s eyes.

This condition does have a genetic component. Those that get it in one eye are much more likely to get it in the other eye later. Luckily, this condition is not very serious. Dogs can live comfortably with this problem for a long time. However, fixing the eyelid usually involves a simple surgery that simply returns the gland to a normal position.


2. Dry Eye

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Image Credit: rawan Pattarawimonchai, Shutterstock

Dry eye is also called KCS. This condition is characterized by the glands producing fewer tears than normal. Tears are extremely important for all sorts of functions, such as removing foreign bodies from the dog’s eye and keeping the eye moist. A lack of tears isn’t technically a problem in itself. However, it can cause all sorts of serious problems, such as corneal ulcers and chronic drainage.

This condition is easily treatable with artificial tears, which will need to be dropped into your dog’s eye regularly. There are also medications to stimulate the production of tears, which works in mild cases. For dogs affected severely, a surgery that redirects a saliva duct to the eye may be necessary.


3. Corneal Wounds

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Image Credit: wimala namket, Shutterstock

Just like people, dogs can scratch their eyes and cause wounds. This can be done in a number of ways. Lacerations, punctures, and ulcers are all possible corneal wounds in dogs. Usually, direct trauma is the cause. Your dog may have accidentally poked themselves in the eye with a stick, ran through tall grass, or scraped their eye while playing.

Some dogs are more prone to wounds than others. Dogs with eyes that “pop out” are more likely to injure them simply because more of the eye is exposed.

Usually, dogs with this condition will rub their eye, which may be red and swollen. They will act similarly to a person with an injured eye. Their vision may be affected, or they may become light-sensitive.

Luckily, eyes heal rather fast on their own. Sometimes antibiotics are necessary to prevent infections. Pain management may also be necessary if the wound is particularly bad.


4. Conjunctivitis

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Image Credit: WANALEELAND, Shutterstock

Inside your dog’s eyelids are the conjunctiva, which are mucus membranes. Conjunctivitis occurs when these membranes become inflamed. Usually, the symptoms are exactly what you would expect: redness, swelling, eye drainage, and discomfort.

Conjunctivitis isn’t technically a disease itself. Instead, it is a symptom of an underlying problem. The membranes become inflamed for a reason. These reasons include infections, irritations, and allergic reactions. For conjunctivitis to resolve, the underlying condition needs to be treated. Treatment may include saline eyewashes, antibiotic ointment, or something else.

You can catch conjunctivitis from your dog if it is caused by an infection. However, this is quite rare. Just be sure you wash your hands after treating your dog’s condition.


5. Glaucoma

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Image Credit: Page Light Studios, Shutterstock

There is a constant pressure of the liquid inside the eye. When this gets disrupted, glaucoma occurs. There are many symptoms of this disease, including pain, redness, cloudiness, dilated pupils, and increase tear production. Treatment is important, as blindness can occur otherwise.

Treatment usually involves medication to treat inflammation inside the eye and lower fluid production, which will allow the pressure to fix itself. Surgery may be required. Sometimes, this condition is caused by an underlying problem, which will need to be treated.


6. Entropion

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Image Credit: Todorean-Gabriel, Shutterstock

Some breeds have eyelids that are prone to rolling forward, which is called entropion. Because your dog has hairs on the outside of the eyelid, this can cause serious problems. The hairs will seriously irritate the eye and cause all sorts of problems. Pain and increased tear production are common symptoms, though you can often see that the eyelid is rolled as well. Eventually, the eye will be damaged without treatment.

This condition can be congenital, which means the puppy is born with it. Alternatively, it can develop later in life. Sometimes, the problem can be temporarily fixed by suturing the eyelid into a normal position. However, surgery is often required to permanently fix the problem.


7. Progressive Retinal Atrophy

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

PRA is a progressive disease that eventually leads to blindness. It is genetic, so puppies must inherit the disease from their parents to be affected. Some breeds have genetic tests available to determine if parents are carriers of PRA, which helps prevent puppies from inheriting it. This is one reason why it is so important to adopt from a qualified breeder, as they are more likely to do this necessary genetic testing.

There is no cure for PRA, and it inevitably leads to blindness. The first symptom is usually night blindness. The dogs may not appear to be severely affected until they are placed in an unusual environment or go completely blind. Luckily, the condition is painless.


8. Cataracts

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Image Credit: Masarik, Shutterstock

As you might imagine, all dogs begin to lose their vision as they age. Because cataracts usually occur in older dogs, they are sometimes confused with normal vision loss. However, veterinarians can tell the difference with a simple eye exam.

Cataracts are curable with surgery, though this may not be considered a good option until their vision is severely affected. Many dogs adapt well to poor vision. Plus, if the dog is older, cataracts may not have time to worsen considerably.


9. Pannus

Pannus occurs when blood vessels and scar tissue invade the cornea. Severe cases result in blindness, as most of the corneal area will be covered. This disease does have a genetic component and is mostly seen in German Shepherds. However, technically any breed can be affected. As the tissue progresses, the lesions will enlarge, and scarring will occur.

If not treated, this disease leads to blindness. Pannus is usually treated easily with the use of topical steroids. Sometimes, antibiotics are used to prevent or cure secondary infections, which are quite common. If there is lots of scar tissue, surgery may be recommended to remove it.

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Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.

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