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Dog Eye Discharge — What’s Normal and What’s Not

Dog eye discharge can be completely normal or something to bring to your vet’s attention ASAP. Here’s how to determine what’s worrying and what’s not.

Jackie Brown  |  Jul 19th 2017


Have you ever wondered if your dog’s eye goop is normal or not? A dog’s eyes can leak and tear for many reasons, some of which are normal and some of which are not. Tear stains are unsightly, but more importantly, dog eye discharge might indicate a problem that needs to be seen by your veterinarian.

According to Beth Kimmitt, DVM, resident of ophthalmology at Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in West Lafayette, Indiana, a dog’s eye is always producing tears, and these tears typically drain at the corners of the eye. “Technically, a normal eye should not have any ocular discharge, but a small amount of clear discharge may be OK,” she said. Clear discharge might look brown and slightly crusty when it dries.

That said, some dog eye discharge is not normal. Read on to find out what’s normal and what needs a vet exam:

A dog getting his eyes examined by the vet.

Some eye discharge should be examined by your vet. Photography by fotoedu/Thinkstock.

These symptoms mean it’s time to visit the vet.

If your dog has colored eye discharge (yellow or green), schedule a vet appointment immediately. Other signs of a potential problem include squinting, a red-looking eye, or if your dog is rubbing or pawing at his eye. If you think something is wrong with your dog’s eye, don’t wait too long to make that vet appointment — his eyesight could be at risk.

Abnormal eye leakage might signal a dog eye infection or other issues.

“The presence of ocular discharge is a non-specific sign,” Dr. Kimmitt said. “This means that it can be caused by a variety of ocular disorders. Common causes of discharge in dogs include ulcers, entropion, keratoconjunctivitis sicca and conjunctivitis (allergic or bacterial).” A corneal ulcer is damage to the cornea, which is the clear membrane that covers the iris and pupil.

Entropion is a condition in which the eyelid rolls inward, causing eyelashes to rub against the cornea. Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (called dry eye) is dryness of the conjunctiva, which is membrane that covers the white part of the eye. Conjunctivitis (sometimes called pink eye) is inflammation of the eye. A vet exam and tests can pinpoint the cause of your dog’s abnormal eye discharge.

Certain breeds are prone to dog eye discharge.

Brachycephalic dog breeds like Pugs and Boxers might have slightly more eye leakage than other breeds due to the combination of a short nose and large, round eyes. Dog eye discharge might be normal, especially if it’s clear, but abnormal eye boogers deserve a vet visit. Poodles and Cocker Spaniels are more prone to blocked tear ducts, too. Usually, these ducts drain the tears from your dog’s eyes out through the nose and back of the throat. When the tear ducts are blocked, there’s nowhere for the tears to drain, so they spill over the eye rims and run down the face.

If you see brown tear stains, it doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong.

“Dogs with white hair coats (like Maltese, Poodles, etc.) might show the discharge easier than other colors,” Dr. Kimmitt said. You can help minimize tear staining by wiping the under-eye area frequently and keeping it as dry as possible. You can also try one of the whitening products sold specifically to help with tear stains.

It’s important to keep your dog’s eye area clean.

“A soft, wet cloth can be used to gently wipe away the discharge,” Dr. Kimmitt said. You can also use a veterinary eye cleaning product — just make sure it doesn’t contain any alcohol.

Thumbnail: Photography by Tanantornanutra/Thinkstock.

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