If you’ve ever had an eye infection or conjunctivitis, you know how uncomfortable it can be. There’s usually a sensitivity to light, it may feel like there’s something stuck in your eye even after you’ve flushed it, and it could be emitting a seriously gross discharge. It turns out, when your dog has an eye infection, the symptoms aren’t that much different, only it’ll be up to you to pay attention to your dog’s behavior to notice if something’s off or just doesn’t seem right with your pup.
However, the causes of your dog’s eye infection might be much more complex. Things like getting hit too hard on the puppy playground, rubbing their nose into carpet, or even just an allergic reaction to the environment can all cause eye infections. Here are some symptoms to look out for, potential causes, and how to treat a suspected eye infection in your furry friend.
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Playing detective is one of the most important jobs of being a pet owner. Paying attention to your dog’s routine behavior is key to being able to recognize that something is off. If your dog is “holding their eyes partially or fully closed,” that’s a huge telltale sign that something’s wrong with their eyes, says Dr. Katja Lang, a veterinarian at Heart of Chelsea Veterinary Hospital in Manhattan.
If your dog has conjunctivitis, “the symptoms are typically thick ocular discharge that is cloudy or yellow/green. The conjunctiva and sclera (the white part of the eye) are often red and inflamed,” says Dr. Lang.
The most common type of eye infection Dr. Lang sees in the office is conjunctivitis. However, “it is impossible to differentiate conjunctivitis from a corneal scratch,” she says. That’s why it’s important to take your dog to the vet as soon as possible when you notice discharge or irritation. “A veterinarian can perform a fluorescein stain test to detect damage to the cornea and determine if there is a corneal scratch or ulcer,” says Dr. Lang.
Whereas conjunctivitis is typically caused by a viral infection or as a reaction to allergies, corneal scratches and corneal ulcers are caused most often by trauma to the eye. If your dog has a scratch or ulcer, it will exhibit signs that it’s in pain, vs. just discomfort. Keeping the eye closed or rubbing it against something to relieve the pain is common, says Dr. Lang.
Trauma to the eye can occur on the puppy playground, from debris that comes in contact with the eye outside, or just an accident that happens at home. For this reason, some people may choose to put puppy goggles on their dog if they’re going to spend a lot of time outdoors, like on a hike or during camping. They’re not only extremely cute, but may help protect your dog from corneal scratches.
It’s impossible to tell by looking at your dog if they are experiencing a viral, allergic reaction, or bacterial eye infection. Conjunctivitis related to allergies is less severe than viral conjunctivitis, but still requires a trip to the vet to cure. Though once you see a vet your pet’s symptoms should begin to clear up immediately. Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are very contagious and typically take up to three weeks to heal completely.
It’s important to take your dog to the vet at the first sign of eye discomfort. Although conjunctivitis is less of a risk to your pet’s health, seeing a vet will relieve your dog’s discomfort immediately.
If a corneal ulcer or scratch is left untreated, it could pose serious health risks for your dog. “If an ulcer is left untreated, it can become deep and infected which can eventually lead to perforation of the cornea,” says Dr. Lang. This could lead to permanent damage of your dog’s eyes, which could lead to partial blindness.
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If you can’t get to a vet right away or have to wait a few days for an appointment, Dr. Lang suggests flushing your dog’s eye with an eye wash that is made up of 99% water. This may go without saying, but make sure you do not use an eye wash made for humans.
If your dog’s eye appears to get better, it’s still a good idea to keep your appointment to make sure there aren’t any underlying issues or the beginning stages of an ulcer.