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Why Does My Dog Have Eye Discharge?
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Why Does My Dog Have Eye Discharge?

Critter Culture Staff
Updated May 16, 2022

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Eye problems are common in dogs, and one of the most frequent symptoms is discharge from a dog's eyes. Sometimes, eye discharge is strictly cosmetic or a sign of a mild issue you can treat at home. But it can also signal a serious condition that needs veterinary care right away to preserve your pet’s vision.

1

Allergies

dog with teary eyes kyoobit / Getty Images

A dog with watery eyes could be dealing with an allergic reaction to a bug bite or something in its food. When allergies are the culprit, the discharge is often accompanied by swollen, fluid-filled eyelids, and the dog rubs its eyes and face, letting you know it feels itchy. Once the allergen is identified and removed, your dog should make a fast recovery. A veterinarian might recommend treatment with corticosteroids applied via eye drops or ointments.

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2

Foreign material

dog wiping out his eye from flower pollen alexei_tm / Getty Images

Foreign material like grass seeds and specks of dirt can get into your pup's eye and stuck behind the eyelid. This happens most often when fido sticks its head out of a car window. In addition to seeing clear discharge from your dog’s eyes, you might notice your pooch pawing at its eyes, blinking excessively, and squinting. The third eyelid might protrude, covering part of the eye in a protective reaction. You can flush the affected eye with cool water, but if the foreign material is behind the third eyelid, you need a vet’s help to resolve the issue.

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3

Conjunctivitis

dog with infected crusty eyes Hugo1313 / Getty Images

Also called red eye or pink eye, conjunctivitis is one of the most common canine eye problems. It’s caused by an inflammation of a membrane that lines the inside of eyelids and covers the eye’s surface. This condition isn’t usually painful, so your pup might have discharge and a red eye but not show signs of discomfort. Their eye discharge can be clear, mucous-like, or pus-like. If the material looks like pus, your doggie might have a serious infection and should receive veterinary care.

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4

Corneal abrasions and ulcers

American bully dog breed with entropion and corneal ulcer

A corneal abrasion is a scrape or scratch on the eye's outermost layer. A corneal ulcer is like an abrasion, but it affects the deeper layers of the eye. Most corneal ulcers are caused by a physical injury, but some are associated with diseases like diabetes and hyperthyroidism. A corneal ulcer is painful, and an affected dog will show severe watering, squinting, and pawing at its eye. If you suspect a corneal ulcer, take your buddy to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Blindness or loss of the eye could result without speedy care.

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5

Dry eye

West Highland terrier with medical condition dry eye PABimages / Getty Images

It might seem contradictory that having dry eyes can cause eye discharge, but it happens. When a pooch has a disorder called keratoconjunctivitis sicca, aka dry eye, the tear glands in one or both eyes don’t produce enough watery tears. Eyes will look lackluster and dull, and there’s a thick, stringy, mucous-like discharge. This condition is sometimes mistaken for conjunctivitis because the symptoms can look similar. Dry eye has several causes, but it’s a serious condition that needs attention because it can lead to blindness.

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6

Congenital watery eyes

dog with watery eyes

Some breeds are prone to epiphora, also known as watery eyes. In fact, this condition is sometimes called “poodle eye” because it’s common in breeds like toy poodles, Pekingese, and Maltese. In those cases, it’s typically just a cosmetic issue, although it’s worth ruling out eye irritation caused by extra eyelashes or facial hairs rubbing on the eye. Dog tears have chemicals that turn reddish-brown when exposed to light. Some veterinarians recommend treatment with low doses of an antibiotic and, in some cases, surgery that removes a portion of a tear gland.

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7

Glaucoma

dog with glaucoma

Glaucoma is the result of a buildup of fluid in the eye that creates high-pressure conditions responsible for damage to the optic nerve and retina that can ultimately lead to blindness. Glaucoma appears in two forms: acute and chronic. Excessive tearing, squinting, and pain are associated with acute glaucoma. The affected eye feels hard to the touch. Acute glaucoma occurs suddenly and is a veterinary emergency. Relieving eye pressure with medication can save the dog’s sight.

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8

Respiratory disease

dog with mouth open Kohei Hara / Getty Images

While your dog can’t catch a cold from humans, they are affected by several respiratory illnesses with symptoms like our common cold. Your pooch might have eye discharge and a runny nose accompanied by coughing and sneezing. If your buddy is coughing and has yellowish discharge and fever, they might have canine influenza, a.k.a. dog flu. Most healthy pups recover within two to three weeks, but veterinary care is recommended to make sure the illness doesn’t progress to life-threatening pneumonia.

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9

When to see a vet

Female veterinarian examining dogs eyes in clinic Sigrid Gombert / Getty Images

If your dog is showing signs of pain in one or both eyes, you should take them to a veterinarian as soon as possible for treatment. A dog can sustain permanent damage to its eyes in just a few hours. Some signs of pain are excessive eye-watering, squinting, and light sensitivity. Your pup might be lethargic, not eating, and whining or crying. If you treat your dog at home for what appears to be a minor eye problem, but it doesn’t get better within 24 hours, seek professional care.

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10

Treatment

owner putting eye drops to dog fotografixx / Getty Images

Treatment for eye discharge depends on the cause of that symptom. In some cases, flushing the eye with water and eliminating allergens is all that’s needed. In other cases, your dog might need antibiotic drops or ointments. Surgery is needed in some situations. Some vision-related issues are short-term, whereas others are lifelong, as in some cases of epiphora (poodle eye) and dry eye. Your best bet is to take your pooch to the veterinarian for a diagnosis and treatment plan.

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