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Dog Eye Discharge: What’s Normal & What’s Not (Vet-Approved)

Written by: Kit Copson

Last Updated on April 11, 2024 by Dogster Team

close up shih tzu dog with eye discharge

Dog Eye Discharge: What’s Normal & What’s Not (Vet-Approved)

VET APPROVED

Dr. Amanda Charles Photo

REVIEWED & FACT-CHECKED BY

Dr. Amanda Charles

BVSc MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Learn more »

Spotting eye discharge can be concerning for dog parents and leave them wondering if it would be a good idea to seek veterinary advice. While some types of eye discharge are normal and harmless to your dog, others can indicate a more serious issue like an injury, infection, or another eye condition.

It’s not always easy to tell what’s normal and what isn’t, so we’ve put together this guide to help you decide if a trip to the vet is necessary.

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What Is Eye Discharge?

Eye discharge is made up of substances like mucus, tears, dead skin cells, oil, and dust, and it can be seen in or around the eye. There are several types of eye discharge varying in color and consistency, and the type your dog has can indicate whether or not there’s a health issue at play.

For example, it’s not unusual for dogs to have “eye boogers” just like humans do. Tears normally drain through the tear ducts in the corner of the eyes but sometimes a small amount of crusty or goopy material will accumulate and isn’t usually a sign that anything’s wrong.

However, discharge that is excessive or an unusual color like yellow, green, or white-gray is indicative of an underlying problem such as an infection or other health condition and needs veterinary attention.

Conjunctivitis of dog's eye with white discharge
Image Credit: Aritel, Shutterstock

What Are the Signs of Eye Discharge?

Eye discharge is not a condition itself, but rather, in some cases, a sign of a potential health condition or some kind of irritant that’s bothering your dog. Nevertheless, since there are so many different types of eye discharge, it’s important to know which types are not normal and the accompanying signs so you can seek treatment for your dog.

Signs that something could be wrong with your dog's eyes include:
  • Excessive eye watering
  • More tear staining than usual
  • White-gray mucus
  • Yellow discharge
  • Green discharge
  • Rubbing or pawing at the eyes
  • Redness
  • Itchiness
  • Swelling
  • Foul-smelling discharge

What Are the Causes of Eye Discharge?

A small amount of eye discharge is not always a cause for concern, but many conditions could contribute to eye discharge in dogs, so let’s break this down and take a closer look at normal and abnormal causes.

Normal Eye Discharge

1. Eye Boogers

This kind of discharge is related to tear drainage, as the eyes produce tears to clear out dirt and debris and keep the cornea healthy. Sometimes, dried tears and other substances like dust and mucus collect in the corners of the eyes forming clear or reddish-brown discharge with a crusty or goopy consistency. The resulting eye boogers come off easily if you rub them gently with a damp, warm cloth.

As long as the amount remains consistent and there aren’t any other signs that something is up, morning eye boogers are usually nothing to worry about.

Close up dog with eye infection and a lot of eye booger
Image Credit: munalin, Shutterstock

2. Tear Staining

Tear stains are usually caused by the porphyrin pigment in tears that turns a rusty color when it comes into contact with the air. These reddish-brown stains are especially visible in white dogs like Westies, Bichon Frise, and Poodles, and they can be managed with daily wiping with a dog-safe cleaning solution and trimming the hair around the eyes.

Mild tear staining is often normal and doesn’t hurt your dog. However, if your dog starts to produce more tear stains, the color changes, or the eyes are red and sore, see a vet.

Abnormal Eye Discharge

1. Allergies & Irritants

Sometimes, eye discharge is caused by irritants like pollen, dust, smoke, and other pollutants and foreign bodies coming into contact with your dog’s eye. This type of discharge is often clear and watery.

Your dog may experience this from time to time if something irritating blows into their eye, but dogs can suffer from allergic conjunctivitis. Allergic conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the eye usually caused by environmental allergens (like pollen), resulting in redness (often in both eyes) and discharge. See a vet if you suspect this condition.

Dog with irritated red eyes suffering from something allergy
Image Credit: Tatiane Silva, Shutterstock

2. Eye Infections

Yellow or green discharge sometimes coupled with redness is often a giveaway sign that a dog has an infection of the eye, eyelid, or tear glands. Bacterial, fungal, and viral infections can lead to various conditions like conjunctivitis (pink eye) and uveitis (inflammation inside the eye), resulting in symptoms like squinting, blinking, swelling, redness, and discharge.

Foreign bodies can also lead to eye infections.


3. Other/Underlying Health Conditions

Thick white-gray discharge is one of the signs of dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca), a condition caused by a lack of tear production. The eyes become dry and inflamed with a sticky discharge. Affected dogs suffer from frequent eye infections and often corneal ulcers. Dry eye is usually immune mediated but it can also be caused by conditions like hypothyroidism, nerve damage, and as a side effect of certain medications.

Other eye conditions that can cause eye discharge include (but are not limited to):

  • Glaucoma: Glaucoma causes pressure within the eye, and watery discharge is one of the signs.
  • Cherry eye: This occurs when the third eyelid gland prolapses. In addition to a red or pink mass, eye discharge is another sign.
  • Ectropion: Eyelid ectropion causes the eyelid to roll outward, resulting in a droopy look.
  • Entropion: Eyelid entropion is when the eyelid rolls in. Hairs can rub on the cornea.
  • Corneal ulcers: Corneal ulcers are caused by damage/erosion to the surface of the eye, often as a result of trauma such as scratches on walks or from other animals. They can also be caused by eyelid abnormalities, dry eye, and foreign bodies among other conditions. Corneal ulcers may cause the eye to appear cloudy, red and inflamed. They are painful and require veterinary treatment straight away.
close up of black dog with glaucoma
Image Credit: Nitiphonphat, Shutterstock

How Do I Care for a Dog with Eye Discharge?

If your dog is experiencing normal morning eye boogers or tear staining, you can manage this by carefully wiping the area daily with a clean, damp, warm cloth, or pet-safe wipes that are designed to be used around the eyes. However, if you spot other signs like white-gray, yellow, or green discharge, redness, swelling, or itching, or if your dog seems to be in discomfort in any way, it’s essential to see a vet to get to the root of the issue.

Follow your vet’s advice and never try to treat eye infections or other conditions by yourself without asking a vet. Your vet is the best person to make a diagnosis and determine the ideal treatment plan.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

When Should I Be Concerned About My Dog’s Eye Discharge?

If you see an increase in discharge or it is yellow, green, or white-gray, possibly with other signs like swelling, redness, pawing at the face, or tears running down the face, see a vet as these are indicative of an infection or underlying health issue.

How Do I Treat Eye Discharge in Dogs?

It’s important to take your dog to a vet if you see abnormal discharge to get advice on treatment and/or management techniques. Avoid self-diagnosing and using medications you have at home without a vet’s input.

Should I Wipe My Dog’s Eye Discharge?

If it appears to be a normal discharge, like morning eye boogers or a bit of regular tear staining, it’s fine to wipe the area with a warm, clean, damp cloth or cotton wool pad. Start from the inside and wipe to the outside, just be careful not to scratch the eyeball itself with the cloth. Make sure to swap and use a clean cloth or new piece of cotton wool for each eye. If the discharge appears to be abnormal, please speak to a vet before taking any kind of action.

White Poodle dog with Eye Allergy Discharge
Image Credit: Collective Arcana, Shutterstock

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Conclusion

If you spot discharge around your dog’s eyes, don’t panic. Causes are numerous, and some are perfectly normal or easily treated with prescription medications and/or management techniques. Nevertheless, always see a vet if you are concerned about your dog’s eye health in any way to rule out more serious issues.


Featured Image Credit: Anne Kitzman, Shutterstock

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