dog eyes

Your Dog’s Eyes

Your Dog’s Eyes

The eye, in dogs, as in all animals, is the most specialized of the sensory organs. As such, it is highly sensitive to trauma, infection and disease, both acquired and hereditary.

Because dogs can’t tell their owners when they are suffering irritation or pain in their eyes, the eye is an often overlooked area of trouble. Many a devoted dog owner has failed to notice his pet’s eye trouble until it is so advanced that blindness results or the removal of an eye is necessary.

From the tiny Pekingese, whose slightly bulging eyes can become diseased because of inadequate protection, to the huge St. Bernard, whose drooping eyelids can catch and harbor bacteria which cause eye infection, many special breeds are particularly susceptible to certain types of eye disease.

Dog owners should be aware of some of the most common eye problems, which breeds are most likely to develop them, how they are treated, and, most important, how they can spot potential trouble while there is still time to safely treat or cure the disease.

Many a serious problem starts with an irritation or trauma to the eye, which causes inflammation. If a dog’s eye becomes inflamed, the problem should be attended to immediately, as the problem can usually be treated if diagnosed in time. If inflammation is allowed to continue for too long, much more complicated problems can result.

What Can Happen To The Inflamed Eye?

For one thing, one of the most important protections the eye possesses –  the ability to produce tears – can be interfered with or stopped completely. If the dog’s eye no longer produces tears because the tear glands and ducks are inflamed, the dog can develop ulcers in the eye.

Your dog can also develop a condition known as keratitis, or inflammation of the cornea – a clear protective disc over the colored part of the dog’s eye – gets inflamed, the white part of the eye often responds by growing blood vessels down over the injured cornea.

Of course, the dog will be temporarily or permanently blinded if the blood vessels are allowed to block light from entering the pupil, the small hole behind the cornea which lets light into the eye.

Infection, bumps or scratches on the eye, foreign bodies such as foxtails in the eye, and ingrown eyelashes are all common ways in which a dog’s eye becomes inflamed. If a dog’s eye become swollen, red, runs a lot, or if the dog rubs his eyes excessively, the owner should see a veterinarian before the condition becomes serious.

Your Dog’s Eyes (2)

Most dog owners, if not all of them, never consider looking into their pet’s eyes for signs of illness, especially dogs with hair over their eyes.

There is a myth that cutting the hair away from a dog’s eyes will cause blindness, but, in fact, a dog’s eyes are much less likely to become diseased if the area is free of air. Dogs with hair growing over their eyes should either have it trimmed or pinned back.


The most serious problem that can result from an inflamed eye is a condition called glaucoma. Glaucoma occurs when the fluid pressure within the eye gets too high. It is caused when the passage which drains the fluid out of the pupil becomes too narrow to allow fluid to pass. Glaucoma can and does cause blindness if not treated immediately.  Inflammation of the eye is one thing which can cause the drainage passage to become swollen shut.

Glaucoma can also be caused by a tumor in the eye, or by an inherited condition peculiar to certain breeds, in which the angle of fluid drainage in the eye is too narrow at birth. Wire-haired Terriers, Basset Hounds, Cocker Spaniels, and Malamutes are more apt to be born with this abnormally narrow angle of drainage than most dogs.

If glaucoma is not treated immediately by alleviating the extremely high pressure of the eye fluid, a great deal of pain and eventual blindness will result. Owners, especially of the breeds mentioned, should watch for redness in the white part of their dog’s eyes, dilated or large pupils, and rubbing of the eyes by the dog. If the symptoms are treated early, blindness can be prevented.

Check The Eyelids

Many eye problems require medical tensions caused by eyelid abnormalities. These are problems the dog is born with, and again, certain breeds are especially prone to certain abnormalities.  The two most common types of eyelid abnormalities are ectropian, in which the eyelid turns out, and entropian, in which the lid turns inward toward the eye.

Bloodhounds, Basset Hounds, Cocker and Springer Spaniels, St. Bernards and Akitas  are some of the breeds most likely to suffer from ectropian. Entropian is often seen in Chows, Bulldogs, Doberman Pinschers, Setters, Golden Retrievers, Poodles, and St. Bernards.

Both conditions can cause infection and inflammation of the eye. They are most commonly corrected surgically. The surgery is a cosmetic one, for the purpose of correcting the confirmation of the dog’s eyelid. The part of the eyelid which droops or turns inward is removed, making the eye normal. It is not a complicated procedure, and one which in nearly every case solves the dog’s eye problems. 

Your Dog’s Eyes (3)

Many eye diseases in dogs can be successfully cured surgically if non-surgical treatments do not help. In the condition in which the tear glands and ducks are not producing tears, for example, a medication is put into the dog’s food in the form of drops.

If there is any function at all left, the medication will stimulate the glands to again produce tears normally. If the medication does not work, an unusual and creative operation is sometimes performed, whereby a duct of one of the dog’s salivary glands is moved so that it empties out of the eye instead of the mouth.

The saliva moistens and protects the eye just as the tears are supposed to. Logically enough, Pavlov’s  theory works with slight alteration – a dog who has had such an operation cries when his appetite is stimulated!

If an ulcer has resulted from the dryness and inflammation of the eyes, or from some other irritation or trauma, medication is again tried initially. Especially if the ulcer is a superficial one, antibiotics usually heal it. 

If the ulcer is a deep one or has punctured through the cornea into the eye itself, another innovative type of surgery is performed. The ulcer is covered with a truly organic “bandage” – the dog’s own third eyelid, or a flap from the white part of his eye. The bandage is left on for several weeks while antibiotics are used to heal the ulcer. It can then be removed with a snip or two of the stitches holding the bandage in place.


Owners of old dogs often notice a condition commonly referred to as cataracts – a bluish white film over the eyes. Actually, the condition is a thickening of the lenses, which is a function of age. It usually begins to be noticeable in dogs about 10 years of age, and progresses slowly. It does not usually affect the dog’s vision until the dog becomes quite old.

True cataracts are a total thickening of the lenses, so that light cannot come through the pupil and sight is lost. Certain injuries and infections can cause cataracts, and the condition is sometimes a sign of diabetes.

There is a disease, juvenile cataracts, in which cataracts appear at a very young age (as early as 1 year old), first in one eye and then in the other.

This is an inherited disease, seen most commonly in Irish Setters, Afghans and Old English Sheepdogs. The only way to prevent blindness is to surgically remove the lenses. Dogs are nearsighted anyway – they can’t adapt their vision to distances – so the removal of the lens is something they can live with quite comfortably without much noticeable difference in eyesight.


The information shared on this site is for information only. It does not take the place of professional advice from your pet’s healthcare provider.

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