If you’ve ever gotten something lodged in your eye, you know how it has the ability to turn your whole day upside down—especially if you can’t seem to find the source of your irritation right away. As annoying as it is for you, you can double that for your pet going through the same issue.
Just think about it: They don’t have the ability to tell you something’s wrong or dunk their head in water when they need to. That means it’s up to you to look out for the signs that you need to flush your pet’s eyes.
“Common signs to watch out for are redness of the eyes, conjunctivitis, squinting, increased tears, or eye mucus production,” explains Yui Shapard, BVM&S, MRCVS, and medical director at Pawp. “They may also be pawing at the eyes or rubbing their face against the ground or floor.”
If you ever notice any of these behaviors in your pet, it might be a sign that you need to help them flush their eyes. Here’s exactly how to do so if you ever find yourself in the situation.
When you need to flush your pet’s eyes
Dr. Shapard breaks down a few situations in which your pet might encounter some sort of eye irritation:
Dirt or sand in the eye
Outdoor factors: In the countryside or in large city parks, wild animals like skunks pose a threat. Your pet will get severe eye irritation if sprayed by a skunk.
Environmental allergies: Just like humans, pets can be sensitive to pollen or dust. This may manifest in your pet as red and watery eyes.
Upper respiratory infection: Cats from shelters, large breeding facilities, or multi-cat households often develop upper respiratory infections that cause eye irritation as the main symptom. If left untreated, the cat might injure their eyes in an attempt to scratch them.
How to flush your pet’s eyes
If you notice any of the above symptoms, it might be time to flush your pet’s eyes. You can do this from home by picking up a pet-safe eye wash that is typically available over the counter.
“They're usually made of saline which is the most gentle to the eyes,” says Dr. Shapard. “Never use water or any other products especially if not made specifically for the eyes or specifically recommended by your veterinarian.”
Position your pet for the eye wash. Tilt their head slightly up in your hands, with your thumb resting under their chin and your index finger over the upper eyelid, and gently pull it up to expose the sclera. From there, you can squirt the eyewash directly into the eye, just make sure not to touch the tip of the bottle to your pet’s eye.
“This can take some practice, so if this is challenging, then another option is to simply use a clean cotton ball or gauze, soak it with the eyewash product, and wipe the eyes gently, making sure the gauze does not touch the eye itself,” suggests Dr. Shapard.
Repeat as necessary a few times a day for one to three days.
When to seek medical attention
If you’re trying the eye wash at home and not seeing an improvement in your pet’s relief, it may be time to take them to the vet.
“They will be able to take a closer look at the eye using a medical tool called an ophthalmoscope to investigate signs of structural abnormality, may do some tests to check for tear production (dry eye often looks like a bad eye irritation), and check for any signs of corneal ulceration,” says Dr. Shapard.
Your vet can also check the pressure of the eyes to see if a more serious issue, like uveitis (inflammation inside the eye), or if glaucoma is present.
“It's also possible that your pet may have entropion (inverted eyelash) that is either congenital or secondary to previous inflammation that may require medical or surgical treatment to correct,” says Dr. Shapard. “It is discouraged to take a wait and see approach if the eyes are clearly not improving within a few days of home care, since there's a risk of your pet losing vision if the issue is not treated properly.”
Reviewed and fact-checked by
Yui Shapard, BVM&S, MRCVS and Medical Director at Pawp