Can You Use Human OTC Eye Drops for Dogs?

Does your dog suddenly have irritated or possibly infected eyes? Should you use medicated OTC eye drops for humans as eye drops for dogs? Please read this first!

A dog getting his eyes examined by the vet.
Some eye discharge should be examined by your vet. Photography by fotoedu/Thinkstock.

One morning last summer, I spotted a troubling green discharge in the corner of my dog, Baby’s, right eye. I spend the best part of each day thinking, researching and writing about other dog owners’ canine health and behavior questions. Weirdly, this means I often take my own dog’s hardiness and well-being for granted. For several heartbeats, I experienced the same mixture of indecision and panic that I imagine drives most dog owners straight to use their own human eye drops as eye drops for dogs.

I’ve written enough about dog eyes to recognize the verdant hue of the sludge accumulating in Baby’s eye should be a source of concern. I didn’t know what the problem was, but I marched instinctively to see what over-the-counter eye wash I might have to try and deal with it. Should I reach for Visine or whatever human eye wash or ointment I might have ready at hand? Can human eye drops be used as eye drops for dogs?

For simple dog eye problems, a simple solution

A closeup of a dog eye.
Can you use human OTC eye drops as eye drops for dogs? Photography ©fotokate | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

If you’re reading this, then we’ve both remembered that Google can be our friend and ally. Reading through a number of trustworthy sites, I began to see the same solution: a simple, no-frills, saline solution that is applied with nothing more complex than cotton balls. Over the course of a few days, Baby’s right eye cleared up, and the sleep that accumulated in the corners of her eyes took on their customary white coloration. There was no need for medicated eye drops.

The easiest or most convenient choices, the medicated OTC eye drops and ointments you keep at home, are not the best things to use as eye drops for dogs! In fact, using these as eye drops for dogs can exacerbate the issues at hand, or create new ones that may ultimately cost you more at the vet’s office or cause your dog needless additional pain. Let’s take a look at three of the most common dog eye problems for which you might need to use eye drops for dogs:

  1. Dog eye infection
  2. Conjunctivitis (a.k.a. pink eye) in dogs
  3. Dog eye allergies

1. Treating a dog eye infection

Minor dog eye infections can arise from any number of causes. My dog doesn’t have long hair on her head, and there was no prolapse of the eyelid, so I could rule out hair as a potential irritants as well as cherry eye. It was a hot and dry summer, and there was plenty of loose sand at the park when we hiked. Any kind of foreign body, down to a stray piece of dust blowing into her eye and getting caught there, might’ve led her eyes to produce green discharge.

Couldn’t you just use your basic human over-the-counter eye drops as eye drops for dogs? Well, the active ingredient in Visine is Tetrahydozoline hydrochloride, which narrows the eye’s blood vessels. If your object is to dislodge a bit of mobile debris from your dog’s eye, drugs of any kind are not called for. Use human eye treatments only if and when you get veterinary approval. If you have half an hour or so, you can even make your own saline eye wash for a true home remedy!

2. Conjunctivitis in dogs

Baby’s eyes are always a little red or pink when she first wakes up from a long nap or first thing in the morning, so it’s not usually a reason to get anxious. The most common form of pink eye in dogs is serous conjunctivitis, also called “dry eye.” Similar to the kind of eye infection described above — and frequently a cause of it— is an environmental irritant that prevents a dog’s eye from producing the tears needed to flush it out naturally. There was no swelling or inflammation in Baby’s eye, and the greenish goo was inconsistent with pink eye.

You might be tempted, as I was, to grab your own over-the-counter eye drops out of instinct or force of habit. According to Dr. Kathryn Primm, however, “you will have done nothing to address the reason” for the dog’s ocular discomfort. Basic saline solution and cotton balls, the kinds you can get for about $4 to $5 total at your nearest drug store, constitute a safe and reliable preliminary approach. If the symptoms persist, the discharge takes on the look or scent of pus, and you notice your dog pawing at their face frequently, seek a vet’s advice before turning to medicated eye drops for dogs — or any sorts of washes or ointments.

3. Dealing with dog eye allergies

As Dogster‘s own resident veterinarian, Dr. Eric Barchas has written, “allergies are not a terribly common cause of eye problems in dogs.” Nonetheless, they can occur, and, like my own dog’s eye health issue, tend to be most frequent in the summer months. Like the two conditions we’ve described above, inflammation, redness and watery discharge in one or both of a dog’s eyes might be the result of an environmental allergen or irritant.

Dr. Barchas also notes that the vast majority of canine allergies are, in the first place, caused by fleas, and, in the second, manifest themselves in irritated skin and relentless scratching. Have you started using a different kind of cleaner in the house? Just switched to a scented cat litter in a room where your dog also spends time? Did you just give your dog a bath using a new shampoo? For dogs dealing with a newly arisen eye problem, try to rule out external causes before potentially causing the dog extra difficulties with medicated eye drops or washes.

The bottom line: Don’t use your eye drops as eye drops for dogs and consult a vet with questions!

After three years of writing about dog health issues, I’ve learned two essential things that every dog owner should internalize at the earliest opportunity: Take a moment every day to really look at your dog. During one stretch, I did so many pieces on dog digestive problems, that I made a habit of watching Baby poop as a barometer of her overall health. It wasn’t until I noticed the warning signs of a possible eye infection that I started doing a quick check on her ocular health every morning, too.

The second: Human medications, even “baby” or “child” varieties of popular, name-brand, over-the-counter formulas, can do more harm than good to our dogs. For any minor health issue lasting two days or fewer, there is almost always a simpler, non-medicinal solution that dog owners can turn to. If there’s a longer-term problem your dog is dealing with, or one you fear is developing, your dog’s vet will be glad to suggest the proper eye drops for dogs or eye medications for dogs — ointments, wipes, antibiotics or whatever is prudent— and their proper usage, or direct you to a canine ophthalmologist!

Having trouble giving your dog eye medication? Head here for tips >>

Thumbnail: Photography by fotoedu/Thinkstock.

This piece was originally published in 2017.

About the author

Melvin Peña is a writer, editor, and social media manager who spends most of his time in Durham, North Carolina. His interests include his dog, Baby (of course!), art, hiking, urban farming and karaoke.

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37 thoughts on “Can You Use Human OTC Eye Drops for Dogs?”

  1. I have 14 year old Westie with KCS in right eye. His meds prescribed by vet cost 50 dollars per month. I can't afford this amt. Is there anything less expensive on market that will work to help with KCS? I really appreciate advice.

  2. The writer is not a vet nor claims to be. The writer is a professional writer and does marketing. Always check the sources and consult a veterinarian professional.

  3. Reason out more substance some gta 5 money contend. You status to couple that playing the brave without the GTA 5 money cheater can be slatey, it instrument necessitate you weeks or months to terminate the total fearless.

  4. Do not use Visine on dogs eyes for eye infection. Go to Vet. He/she has to diagnose it. You can use a eye drop TEARS that will wash out and moisturize the eyes to give relief I was told over the phone.

  5. My rescued Jack Russel came with severe dry eye – an auto-immune disease that will lead to the loss of the affected eye if not treated. We eventually settled on Tacrolimus drops 3x/day (forever) as the main treatment. However, until my dog’s tear gland re-established itself, the vet told me to use Genteal eye drops as needed. They are OTC at any drug store, but not cheap! I had bottles all over the house and gave him drops pretty much every time I saw him. After 3-4 months, his eye mostly cleared, the ulcerations are gone, and his bad eye is nearly as bright as his good one.

    1. Hi Brian, my dog has just been diagnosed with dry eye and was prescribed tacrolimus. I’m curious to know if It is helping your dog’s eye? I don’t want to waste money on it if it is not helping. It is very expensive

  6. I love the way he looks at me with his puppy eyes. That’s why I ensure to take diligent care of my pup’s eyes. Well, this is such helpful information to beware of eye infection and allergies in dogs. Will take a note of it. Thanks!

  7. This post was not very informative and actually unhelpful. Visine is not an artificial tear. It’s an anti-red drop. Seek an expert for questions.

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  18. We took our dog to the vet several times. each time it was a different diagnosis and nothing they recommended helped. The first vet said the itchy eye was a bee sting. The second said it was a scrape to the cornea while trying to itch the eye. The third said allergies. None of the recommended meds including antibiotics and hydrozoline and Benadryl and Certirazine (Zyrtec) reduced the itching and lids swelling. So, the moral of the story is that when vets do not work we ar eleft to our own, so resources that go beyond “don’t try XYZ and go to the vet instead” are sometimes counterproductive.

  19. Our pet opthamologist prescribed eye gel for our puppy with dry eye. They claim to have their own special mix with visco So I purchased it for $20. Under the label i see it is equate comfort gel lubricant eye gel from walmart. Can u tell me what visco is? Trying to figure out if this is just the over the counter walmart gel which i can buy for $4 or if this actually is a special mix. I am paying them $20 for this ??‍♀️

    1. Same dry eye problem with my dog. Can walmart equate eye gel be used. My current prescription costs $57 thank you in advance for your reply

    2. I’m anxious to know did you ever get any answers to your question my dog is 12 1/2 years old and her eyes have started to drain particularly the left eye and mostly when she has been on a walk she does par at them but there’s no color in her eye drainage .

  20. Can I make a batch of the saline solution that I use for MY Neti pot and use as a rinse, or for dabbing with a cotton ball on my cats eyelid?

    It has an abrasion on it that I don’t want to get any worse. It is NOT bad now. Last night, when I was trying to wipe away some crud from the inner side (between eye and nose) of his eye, between the two of us moving, he woke up with the lightest of scratches on the Sking of the lower lid, but at the outside side of the eye. Just like where women make their ‘Cat Eyes’ with liner…

    Seriously though….can I use that solution?

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  22. Our Little Baby’s Vet Said that it is Ok to Give Her Children’s Benadryl for Itching. I Give Her 10 mg. of it After Our Walk at The Park.

    1. I’ve always been told to give 5 mg of Benadryl and no more. My dog is a Maltese, perhaps your dog is larger 🙂

      1. 1 mg per lb was our vets instruction (2 x per day). Our bulldogge is 85 lbs so he gets 6 a day. Vet says it’s perfectly fine!

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