During cold and flu season, people may get the sniffles and “pink eye” also circulates through schools and offices alike.
But do dogs suffer from “pink eye”? Have you noticed that your dog has redness to his eyes? What is that all about? Could dogs get “pink eye” too?
Help! Why Are My Dog’s Eyes Red?
“Pink eye” is medically known as conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis means inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the outermost eye tissue and involves the inner eyelid. Conjunctivitis in dogs can be caused by viruses, bacteria, allergies and even auto-immune disorders.
Conjunctivitis is recognized by the reddening or “pink” color of the white part of the eye and adjoining tissues. Some dog owners notice that their pup may have a very slight pink tint to the sclera all the time, and this can be perfectly normal – as long as both eyes are equal in color and no symptoms are present.
Common Causes of Conjunctivitis:
- Abnormal eyelid shape (ectropion and entropion)
- Nasolacrimal duct blockage
- Skin infections of the head, neck and ears
- Environmental irritants
- Smoking in the home
- Viral Infections
- Canine Distemper virus in unvaccinated puppies and older dogs
- Bacterial infection often follows a viral infection
- Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (“dry eye”)
- Auto-immune disorders
Many dogs with other types of medical problems can also experience conjunctivitis. For example, dogs with food or environmental allergies (such as to pollen or mold) may also constantly have red, itchy eyes. Others may only experience red, itchy eyes during “allergy season” in the spring or fall.
Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (“dry eye”) can look like a viral conjunctivitis at first but will continue to worsen. Those affected do not produce enough tears to keep the outer eye tissues healthy. The result is dry eyes that are more prone to environmental irritation and infection.
Certain breeds, such as brachycephalics (ie. pugs, Shih Tzus, Pekingese, etc.) are more prone to dry eye and should be monitored closely.
Did I Get “Pink Eye” From My Dog?
Good news! No, you did not get “pink eye” from your dog. The viruses that cause “pink eye” in humans are species-specific and only move from person to person. However, if you are in close contact with cattle, there is a bacteria that can move from cow to human that causes “pink eye”: Moraxella bovis.
Cats, especially kittens, can have Chlamydial conjunctivitis, which can be transmitted to humans. If your veterinarian suspects that Chlamydia is responsible for your cat’s eye problem – take proper hygiene precautions while handling and treating your cat. If you begin to have an eye problem at the same time or after your cat does – see your physician ASAP.
If you notice that your dog’s eyes are red and this is a sudden change from normal – conjunctivitis could be to blame. Common signs of conjunctivitis include:
- Redness of the eyes
- Swelling (called chemosis)
- Excessive tearing
- Sudden reduction in tearing
- Rubbing the eyes
- Mild to severe discharge (from a few “eye boogers” in the morning to constant)
- Discharge can be white, green or yellow in color
If your dog’s eyes suddenly become blood-shot or blood-red, this may be a sign of a serious blood disorder, auto-immune disease or trauma.
Dogs that experience temporary strangulation (pulling too hard on a leash, struggling on the groomer’s table while tied up, etc.) can have hemorrhaging in the eye that resembles bright red blood. This type of condition is not to be confused with conjunctivitis.
Fun Fact! Why Is My Dog’s Nose Wet?
Did you know that your dog’s tears help your dog’s nose to stay wet? There is a small duct, called the nasolacrimal duct, which runs from the inner portion of the eye to the nose. Healthy dogs produce a tear film all the time to help lubricate and protect the eye.
These “used tears” are drained down to the nose, which keeps your pup’s nose moist and may help his sense of smell.
Many people believe the old wives’ tale that if the dog’s nose is dry – they are sick. This may or may not necessarily be true for all dogs, but tear production does decrease when he is dehydrated, has a fever or an eye problem.
Brachycephalic breeds, such as pugs, Shih Tzus and even Maltese dogs have unique facial anatomy which may prevent their nasolacrimal duct from functioning properly. Many of these dogs have excessive tearing from the eyes (and that ugly brown stain) as a result. Some veterinarians believe that this unique anatomy may predispose these breeds to “dry eye”.
The “Eyes” Have It: Diagnosis
If your dog suddenly experiences any of these symptoms, contact your veterinarian. If you own a breed that is prone to “dry eye” or if you have an unvaccinated puppy, taking action sooner rather than later is best.
Diagnosis is typically made by physical exam. Your veterinarian will examine the eyes, both inside and out, and try to determine the cause. A newly adopted dog from a shelter is more likely to experience a viral conjunctivitis while an older Pekingese dog may be diagnosed with “dry eye”.
Let your veterinarian know if your dog suffers from itchy skin, as an allergy may be the culprit.
Your veterinarian may recommend further testing such as:
- Schirmer Tear Test
This will test the amount of tears your dog makes. It is considerd diagnostic for “dry eye.”
- Fluorescein stain
This test will make your dog’s eyes glow in the dark! A fluorescent stain is applied to your dog’s eye. It tests for scratches or ulcers on the cornea. Also, if your dog’s nasolacrimal duct is blocked, the tear flow will show up as abnormal with this test.
It is important to allow your veterinarian to do a fluorescein test for every case of conjunctivitis. Certain medications may harm the eye if the cornea is not healthy, and this test will help your vet determine what treatment is best and safest. Always better safe than sorry!
Treatment and Prevention
Your veterinarian will decide if topical eye drops or ointments are best for your dog’s particular issue. Most cases of “pink eye” will be complicated with a bacterial infection, so most eye medications contain antibiotics.
If your pet suffers from allergic conjunctivitis, a steroid ointment may be in order to help reduce the itching and swelling.
Many eye medications are given 2-3 times daily for up to 14 days. Be sure to follow your veterinarian’s instructions carefully. If you think that your dog’s eyes are not improving or have gotten worse, a follow-up examination is recommended.
Chronic cases of conjunctivitis may have an underlying cause such as an auto-immune disorder. Allergies also can cause chronic problems with the eyes. Environmental irritants, such as dust and cigarette smoke, should be eliminated from the home or kept to a minimum.