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Is Dog Conjunctivitis an Emergency? Vet Approved Facts & Signs

Written by: Kristin Hitchcock

Last Updated on April 11, 2024 by Dogster Team

Is Dog Conjunctivitis an Emergency? Vet Approved Facts & Signs

VET APPROVED

Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca Photo

REVIEWED & FACT-CHECKED BY

Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca

Veterinarian, BVSC GPCERT (OPHTHAL) MRCVS

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

Learn more »

Just like in humans, dog conjunctivitis isn’t generally considered an emergency. However, if you notice signs of conjunctivitis, you should contact your vet as soon as possible during regular business hours. If it’s going to be days before the vet re-opens, finding an emergency clinic may be called for.

Conjunctivitis (also called pink eye) refers to inflammation of the conjunctiva and can occur for different reasons. However, understanding what is behind your dog’s eye redness is vital since other serious eye conditions can mimic conjunctivitis. If left untreated, it can cause serious consequences. One of the issues with this eye problem is that the severity doesn’t always line up with what humans are seeing. In other words, just because it doesn’t look that bad doesn’t actually mean it isn’t bad.

Therefore, instead of trying to guess if your dog may end up with permanent damage, it’s just essential to seek out help to get the correct diagnosis and treatment.

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What Are the Signs of Conjunctivitis in Dogs?

First and foremost, conjunctivitis is uncomfortable. Of course, our dogs can’t tell us that their eyes hurt. Therefore, we have to rely on signs like squinting, rubbing, rapid blinking, or discharge. Your dog may act like there’s something in their eye, but you won’t notice anything other than redness upon closer inspection.

Furthermore, when a dog gets dust or debris in their eye, it may come out on its own or with some cleaning at home. Conjunctivitis is a condition that doesn’t disappear on its own. The length of the irritation can let us know that the problem needs addressing.

You may notice a clear or green discharge from the affected eye. When discharge begins, most pet owners assume something is wrong and seek vet attention. However, conjunctivitis can sometimes develop without any discharge, so don’t assume the case is minor just because there is no discharge.

Often, the condition starts in one eye and then quickly spreads to the other. However, if allergies or a systematic virus are to blame, both eyes may be affected at the same time.

Close up of redness and bump in the eye of a dog. conjunctivitis eyes of dog
Image Credit: Masarik, Shutterstock

Is Dog Conjunctivitis Contagious to Humans?

Dog conjunctivitis can be caused by a range of different things. Most of these do not also affect people. For instance, sometimes allergies can be an underlying cause of canine conjunctivitis—you’re not going to suddenly get allergy symptoms from your dog.

However, in very rare cases, the condition may be passed to people. For instance, bacterial infections or roundworms can cause conjunctivitis and affect both dogs and humans. It’s important to reiterate that this is extremely rare, though.

How Serious is Conjunctivitis in Dogs?

Luckily, conjunctivitis usually isn’t that serious. Generally speaking, dogs make a full recovery in a short period of time as long as they receive the right treatment. Usually, a round of anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, and/or lubricating eye drops is enough to clear up the problem. In rare circumstances, complications can occur, but these are generally linked to serious eye conditions.

However, some underlying causes can be harder to treat. Not seeking or following through with treatment can also be serious. For instance, if the dog needs surgery but surgery is not pursued, then conjunctivitis may occur chronically, increasing the chance of serious consequences such as deep corneal scratches (ulcers), chronic inflammation, or scarring.

Doctor examining Basset Hound dog at veterinary clinic
Image Credit: sirtravelalot, Shutterstock

What Will a Vet Do for Conjunctivitis?

It depends somewhat on why the dog has conjunctivitis, as this condition can be caused by several different things. Therefore, the vet’s first step will be to determine why the dog had conjunctivitis. Sometimes, the cause is very obvious. Other times, it isn’t.

To determine the underlying cause, the vet must perform an in-depth examination of the eye. They will use special equipment and sometimes, dye will be used to look for any injuries on the eye, which can cause infection. Sometimes, your vet may recommend blood or urine tests.

Once the cause is determined, the treatment will be decided. Usually, eye drops are used to treat conjunctivitis. However, the underlying cause may need additional treatment. Some dogs with severe infections may need steroids or other anti-inflammatory medications.

Sometimes, especially if they are young, dogs may need surgery to correct anatomical problems. Dogs with other underlying eye problems may also need other eye medications or more extensive follow-up.

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Should I Take My Dog to the Emergency Vet for Conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis can have different causes and can mimic serious eye conditions. If your dog’s eye looks red or pink and uncomfortable, it is impossible to know if the problem is caused by a minor inflammation or a potentially blinding problem such as glaucoma (increased eye pressure). Generally speaking, you can wait a few hours to seek veterinary attention, but the only person who can really decide the urgency of the visit is the vet. If your usual vet will be closed for several days (such as over a holiday weekend), you must contact an emergency vet for an appointment.

The condition needs to be addressed quickly to understand the underlying problem. A foreign body, a scratch, glaucoma, or uveitis can all look very similar and all need to be treated promptly. Of course, some situations may call for a run to the emergency vet. If your dog’s signs are very bad, they’re acting strange, or they have an underlying condition, an emergency vet may be called for. In unusual cases, waiting for your vet to open may not be the best decision.

When in doubt, call your vet’s emergency line or call an emergency vet for an opinion. Each dog is an individual, and some may need faster care than others.

veterinarian examining a boxer dog at the clinic
Image Credit: Robert Kneschke, Shutterstock

Conclusion

Conjunctivitis in dogs usually isn’t serious, but your dog’s eyes may look uncomfortable or red for multiple reasons such as a foreign object, a scratch, increased pressure, or internal inflammation. Without an eye exam, it is not possible to differentiate between these conditions. If you notice signs at night and your dog seems otherwise fine, you might be fine waiting until business hours the next day to contact your vet. If your vet will be closed for several days, a visit to an emergency vet may be in order.

While conjunctivitis is usually easily treated with eye drops, it can have serious consequences if not treated. Furthermore, conjunctivitis can have different causes, and other, usually more dangerous, eye problems can mimic it. Therefore, it’s important to get your dog seen by the vet to determine the cause of the redness.

Just because treatment can wait a few hours doesn’t mean you want to skip treatment at all.


Featured Image Credit: Alexandr Jitarev, Shutterstock

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