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Dog Eye Infection: Causes, Signs, Treatment & Prevention (Vet Verified)

Written by: Chris Dinesen Rogers

Last Updated on April 19, 2024 by Dogster Team

Veterinarian check on the eyes of a dog dachshund. conjunctivitis eyes of dog. Medical and Health care of pet concept.

Dog Eye Infection: Causes, Signs, Treatment & Prevention (Vet Verified)


Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca Photo


Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca


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

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Your dog might experience much of the world through their nose, but their eyes are equally as important, and maintaining good eye health is essential for their well-being. This means that any signs of a problem with your dog’s eyes warrant prompt attention.

Some eye conditions require little treatment, while others need more intensive veterinary intervention to determine the cause and next steps. Suffice it to say that you should get your pup to the vet if they show any signs of an eye problem. It’s worth noting that some issues are irritating and painful, and your dog may only make things worse if they paw at their eyes. If you suspect an eye infection, you’re probably here to learn as much about it as possible. Let’s get into the details.

What Is an Eye Infection?

An eye infection describes a condition where an infectious agent, typically a bacteria, contaminates or affects your dog’s eyes. Other pathogens that cause eye infections in dogs include viruses, parasites, and fungi. Most bacterial eye infections in dogs are secondary. This means that for it to happen, the eye must suffer from a primary condition that weakens its defense mechanisms. That’s especially true if your dog’s eye is scratched. These injuries can provide a pathway for these pathogens to affect your pet. Anything involving your pup’s eyelids or eyelashes can also lead to an infection. It’s important to note that some issues appear to be eye infections but are something quite different, such as glaucoma, dry eye, or tumors.

Unlike bacteria, viruses and parasites can infect your dog’s eyes in a primary way. Some examples include canine Herpesvirus-1 and Thelazia and Onchocerca parasitic species.

Small particles, like a grain of sand or dust, could irritate your dog’s eyes causing signs resembling an eye infection, but they tend to disappear fairly quickly. Other types of foreign bodies, such as grass seeds, can get lodged in your dog’s eyes and instigate an inflammatory response as your dog’s body tries to handle the situation. Secondary bacterial infection is common in these situations. Of course, a big concern are complications or worsening caused by your dog’s attempts to deal with the itching, swelling, or irritation. That can make a seemingly minor issue become worse quickly.

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

What Are the Signs of an Eye Infection?

The signs of an eye infection are apparent, with weepy eyes often the first thing you notice. Tearing up is a normal reaction of the eye to irritants. Think of how you feel when you get something in your eyes; it never fails to surprise us how something as tiny as a speck of dirt can cause such aggravation. That’s what your dog is experiencing.

The eye reacts in a fairly universal way to the various problems it suffers. This accounts for the similar signs you see across the board with different causes of eye infections. They include the following:

  • Excessive blinking
  • Sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • Pawing at their face
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Redness
  • Yellow, green, or white eye discharge
  • Eye appears cloudy
  • Prolapse of the third eyelid

What Are the Causes of an Eye Infection? 

Let’s begin with the frequent causes of eye infections, which are injuries caused by things like low-hanging branches or other vegetation, scratches from another dog or a cat, and foreign bodies. For example, a dog on the hunt may not notice these hazards until it’s too late. They may get a scratch in the cornea, the transparent layer that covers the front of the eye, which gets contaminated with microorganisms. Bacterial, viral, parasitic, and fungal diseases can all cause eye infections. Other common eye problems include:

  • Uveitis: an inflammation of the uvea, the internal vascular layer of the eye
  • Problems with the tear ducts or eyelids
  • Allergies
  • Conjunctivitis of different types: an inflammation of the conjunctiva or the mucous membrane covering the white part of the eye
  • Dry eye or keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS)

The signs of an infection aren’t necessarily diagnostic of themselves. Irritation from any source may present the same. That’s why veterinary attention is essential.

dog suffering from eye infection
Image Credit: Alexandr Jitarev, Shutterstock

How Do I Care for a Dog With an Eye Infection?

Treatment will depend on the type of infection your dog has. Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotic eye drops or ointment, whereas fungal infections are usually treated with antifungal drugs. However, if your dog has an eye infection caused by a complication of another condition, this primary problem will also need to be diagnosed and treated. No matter what, you need to take your dog to the vet. Your vet will examine your dog with special eye equipment, such as an ophthalmoscope or a slit lamp, to look for scratches or evidence of uveitis. They will likely conduct additional testing to pinpoint the cause, and treatment will involve caring for that problem in addition to the eye infection.

For example, common tests can include doing a culture from the discharge or the eye surface to identify the type of infection. Your vet may perform a fluorescein stain if they suspect an eye injury. We mentioned dry eye as a potential cause. A Schirmer tear test (STT) will measure tear production to determine if it’s the culprit.

Glaucoma isn’t an eye infection; it involves an increase in the intraocular pressure, however, a pet owner may mistake the signs of glaucoma for an eye infection because the eye reacts very similarly to various health conditions. Measuring the intraocular pressure can provide your vet with the info they need to make this diagnosis. Additional signs of glaucoma include lack of appetite, dilated pupils, and eye swelling. It’s worth mentioning that complications from uveitis can cause glaucoma.

Your vet may prescribe topical or oral medications, although the drugs vary with the cause and severity of the condition. Surgery is also an option for issues, such as foreign bodies or deep scratches (corneal ulcers). Your vet may put your pup on artificial tears or tear stimulants in the case of dry eye. The takeaway is that there isn’t one treatment for eye infections, given the various causes. Your biggest task is to ensure your pooch gets their medications as your vet prescribes them or to follow their instructions to fix the issue.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

When Should I Take My Dog to the Vet?

We recommend contacting your vet as soon as you notice anything amiss. Your dog can only make the situation worse without relief from the irritation. Besides, many conditions can make your pup uncomfortable, making it essential for responsible pet owners to act.

vet examining dog's eye at the clinic
Image Credit: Ermolaev Alexander, Shutterstock

Can I Use My Eyedrops on My Dog?

We strongly urge you not to use your personal medications or OTC products on your dog. They can be potentially harmful to your pet even though they are safe for humans to use.

How Can I Prevent Eye Infections?

We suggest checking your pup’s eyes after they come in from the backyard or the dog park. Other dogs can spread these conditions. You can also ask your vet to recommend a wipe that you can use to clean your pup’s eyes when they come inside after being outdoors.

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Eye infections can be serious conditions if left untreated. Recognizing the signs can help relieve your pet’s discomfort and reduce the risk of complications that could threaten your pet’s sight. You should let your vet handle the diagnosis and treatment. It’s not something you should treat on your own. Your dog can recover without ill effects with prompt attention. The key is not to ignore the obvious signs and to get in touch with your vet right away.

Featured Image Credit: Hugo1313, Getty Images

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