What Causes a Dog Eye Infection?

Potential reasons for dog eye infection range from minor trauma to excessive hair to complications from pink eye.


I lost my glasses months ago, and still haven’t taken the time to go and get a new pair. It’s no surprise, then, that with all that goes on in our lives, the ocular health of our dogs is something we probably don’t think enough about. Like our own eye issues, dog eye problems can come out of nowhere and subject our dogs to rapid and serious complications. Regular, vigilant attention to dog eyes can alert us to the onset of dog eye infection.

Spending just a few moments each day gazing into our dog’s eyes is not only a pleasant bonding exercise, but also allows dog owners to spot potential dog eye problems, including a variety of dog eye infections. Even baby puppies, whose eyes have yet to open, are at risk of developing dog eye infections. When in doubt, it’s always best to consult with your veterinarian. Let’s look at the causes, symptoms, and methods of treating dog eye infection.

Causes of dog eye infection

Dog eye infections often arise as complications of simpler dog eye problems, such as conjunctivitis in dogs, also known as pink eye. Whether it’s caused by insufficient tear production or by an irritant lodging itself under a dog’s eyelid, a simple case of pink eye, left untreated, can put a dog at risk of eye infection. If a dog with pink eye comes into contact with an infectious bacteria like staph or strep, the reddened eyes and watery discharge associated with conjunctivitis turns into pus and crust around the eyes. These are signs of dog eye infection.

Bacteria can also cause dog eye infection in newborn puppies whose eyes are not yet open. If you are expecting or have recently had a litter of puppies, make sure to keep the whelping box clean for their first few weeks of life. Should baby puppy eyes meet bacteria, the resulting infection can lead to blindness. Mom will do her best to care for and clean her puppies after they are born, but she can always use some help.

Cherry eye in dogs, which occurs when a dog’s third eyelid protrudes from the corner of its eye, can also lead to dog eye infection. Treated at home by warm- or saline-water massaging, or by veterinary surgery, cherry eye can be resolved effectively. Left untreated, the prolapsed gland risks injury, abrasion, and infection. Owners of certain breeds — Hounds (Bassets, Beagles, and Bloodhounds), Bulldogs (English, French, and mixes), and short-muzzled breeds (Pekingese, Pugs, and Shih Tzus), among others — should pay special attention to their dog’s eyes to prevent dog eye infections.

Dog eye infections can also have completely innocuous beginnings. Dogs experience a great deal of the world by way of their noses. Getting close enough to smell things means putting dog eyes into bushes, roots, or even home furnishings that can scratch or scrape against them. A minor wound or other type of trauma to one or both eyes in the normal course of dog curiosity can lead to an eye infection.

Even poor or irregular grooming can cause a dog eye infection. Just as eye wounds can be caused by a brush with a twig, root, or piece of furniture, so too can a dog’s excessive facial hair accidentally be abrasive to dog eyes. Too much hair covering the eyes can become matted, tangled, and trap moisture, all of which are circumstances that are conducive to fostering viral and bacterial infections.

Dog eye infection symptoms

How can you tell if your dog has an eye infection? As I often lament, dogs lack the power of proper speech, so unfortunately, symptoms of dog eye infection can be indistinct and easily confused with other issues. Familiarize yourself with the normal appearance of your dog’s eyes so that you’ll more readily notice when potential dog eye problems surface. Symptoms of eye trouble that you can observe include excessive blinking and squinting. Look closer — are the whites of your dog’s eyes red or otherwise irritated? Are the dog’s pupils small and constricted, even in lower light? Small pupils may denote eye pain.

Dogs may also physically signal a possible dog eye infection through strange or unusual repetitive actions. Is your dog pawing at her face repeatedly? Is she rubbing her head against the floor, her bedding, or a particular piece of furniture? Look closer — are the eyes cloudy or swollen? Does the dog have any discharge from, or crust forming around her eyes? Is it watery, green or yellow in color, or even bloody? Even without those dramatic signs, excessive tear production may also indicate a dog eye infection.

Keep an eye on your dog’s eyes!

In his poem, “Auguries of Innocence” (ca. 1807), William Blake wrote that, “A dog starv’d at his master’s gate / Predicts the ruin of the state.” For our purposes, this means that we live, play, and interact with our dogs every day, and should be as attentive to their well-being as we are to our own. Potential causes of dog eye infection range from minor trauma to excessive hair to complications from pink eye. Left untreated — or, worse yet, unnoticed — even the simplest causes can deteriorate quickly and result in blindness or worse.

Keep your dog’s eyes clean and clear of debris. Should you notice any of the early signs or symptoms listed above, you may try to treat the eyes at home with a soft cloth steeped in warm water or a saline solution. If the symptoms persist for more than a couple of days, give your vet a call and determine an appropriate course of action together. Have you ever dealt with a dog eye infection? Share your experiences in the comments!

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