My Dog’s Eye is Swollen, What Do I Do?

It’s always hard to watch your dog appear to be in pain, and eye infections are some of the worst. Itchy, red, swollen eyes that are watering will just absolutely break your heart. Before getting into what could be wrong and how these issues are treated, you need to know that the first step when dealing with swollen, red eyes is to call your veterinarian and schedule to bring your dog in. Eye infections should be treated as an emergency because there are several reasons for the swelling, and some of these causes can lead to vision loss.

Dog eye is swollen at VEG

Infections that Cause Swollen and Red Eyes in Dogs

Infection is one of the most common reasons for a red or swollen eye and can occur in different locations of the eye. There are a variety of causes that lead to redness or swelling of your dog’s eye, so let’s talk through some of then. These conditions are diagnosed by a veterinarian.

Uveitis

Uveitis is inflammation in the interior portion of the eye and consists of the iris, ciliary body, and the choroid. This is a deeper eye infection and is typically due to a systemic cause (something outside of the eye itself) such as tick-borne diseases, viruses, cancer, etc.

Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis, which you probably know as pink eye in humans, occurs when the conjunctiva is inflamed. The conjunctiva is a thin mucous membrane covering the outside of the eye and is visualized along the eyelids when you look at your dog’s eye.

Additional Infections

There can also be infections caused by abnormalities in the eyelids, cornea (outer surface of the eye), or tear glands. As you can see, infection is not a straightforward cause and can be in a variety of locations within the eye. Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose and treat the majority of causes, however, sometimes a specialist is needed if it is more severe and causing vision impairment.

Reasons Why Dogs’ Eyes Become Swollen

The reasons for infections that cause swollen eyes in dogs are varied just like they are for us.

It can occur secondary to an irritant like soap or smoke or an invading foreign matter like dust, hair, and grass. Viruses like distemper, herpes, hepatitis, and canine influenza also could cause eye infections. Funguses and parasites have also been known to result in swollen eyes.

Examples of bacteria that lead to eye infections are tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease, leptospirosis, or canine brucellosis. Even just a cut or scrape on the eye could cause some swelling while it heals.

Still other reasons could be dry eye, vitamin deficiency, tumors, poisoning, tear duct problems, or eyelid abnormalities like entropion (rolling in of the eyelids). This is why it’s so important to consult with a veterinarian. The causes of eye swelling in dogs are almost endless, and you will likely have trouble figuring it out on your own.

How Does Blepharitis Relate to My Dog’s Swollen Eye?

There is a particular term that your vet may use to describe eye inflammation medically. It is blepharitis, and it means inflammation of the eyelid. Blepharitis can affect dogs of any age, but some breeds are prone to it based on their heritage and conformation.

The dog breeds that are more prone to blepharitis include:

  • Shih Tzu
  • Chow Chow
  • Chinese Shar-Pei
  • Poodle
  • Pug
  • English Bulldog, Pekingese
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Rottweiler
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Golden Retriever

If you have one of these breeds, make sure you are paying attention to their eyes regularly and looking for signs of swelling, redness, or watering.

Symptoms of Blepharitis

Blepharitis is known to affect either just one or both eyes and the eyelids will become red and swollen. Your dog may also start blinking uncontrollably, which is called blepharospasms. Other symptoms are flaky skin around your dog’s eyes, loss of pigment around your dog’s eyes, eye discharge, and redness of the white part of his eyes.

Causes of Blepharitis

Common causes of blepharitis in dogs include:

  • Staph or bacterial infections
  • Congenital abnormalities due to breed features
  • Allergies of any sort
  • Tumors
  • Traumatic injuries to the eye
  • Parasite infections
  • Other eye diseases

There are even some cases where vets can’t figure out the underlying cause. This is known as idiopathic blepharitis.

Treating a Dog with a Swollen Eye

In order to treat any sort of eye swelling in dogs, you need to take your dog into the vet. If your primary vet is closed and your pet needs medical attention immediately, contact an emergency vet right away. Upon arrival, your vet will ask for medical history along with anything you noticed that could have brought on the eye swelling. This could be that he ran into a bush and possibly scraped his eye or that he was jumping in a pile of leaves and maybe got some debris in it.

After gathering information, your vet will start a full examination. To evaluate the eye more closely, your vet may dim the lights and use an ophthalmoscope to assess the outer and inner structures of your pet’s eye. This will allow your vet to localize the exact area of concern within the eye and helps to judge the severity of the condition.

Common tests your vet may perform include a Schirmer tear test, fluorescein stain, and intraocular pressure. The Schirmer Tear Test measures the eye’s tear production. Fluorescein stain looks for an ulcer or scratch on the outer surface of the eyes. Intraocular pressure looks for internal pressure changes within the eye that may raise suspicion for glaucoma (increased pressure) or uveitis (lowered pressure).

Your vet might also collect cells or secretions from the eye to check for mites, fungi, or bacteria. Lastly, if there is concern for a systemic infection causing uveitis, additional tests that may be recommended are blood count, chemistry, and urinalysis. These tests are performed to assess the overall health of your pet.

Treatment for blepharitis is done by treating the underlying cause of the disease. If your vet thinks allergies might be the cause, they will administer further tests to isolate the allergen. For tumors, they’ll have a biopsy done and then the best treatment plan can be discussed.

Your dog’s treatment plan for blepharitis could be as simple as applying a warm compress and giving your pup some antibiotic eye drops and pain meds until the symptoms go away. It is very important to perform all treatments as directed and schedule a recheck visit so that your vet can be sure the eye is healthy again after treatment. Diseases of the eye can take time to resolve and recheck visits are important to that success. Sometimes your pet may need surgery or follow up with an ophthalmologist if signs do not resolve, get worse, or become recurrent.

Home Treatments

You should always call your veterinarian and talk through home treatments before applying them, but there are options to try, especially if you think it’s probably just some debris that got in the eye.

Lukewarm Water with Salt

If that’s the case and your vet approves, you can start by mixing lukewarm water with a half teaspoon of salt. Splash it gently onto your dog’s eyes and dab the excess away with a clean cotton pad. There are also sterile plain saline eye washes at the human pharmacy you can use.

Warm Compressing

You can use a warm washcloth to apply light pressure to your pet’s eye for 5-10 minutes to help with swelling. Make sure the washcloth is not too hot by applying it to the inside of your wrist first.

Benadryl

And lastly, if you think it’s allergy related, you can give a small dose of Benadryl to help relieve the swelling and itching. Just make sure to call your vet and discuss the breed and weight of your dog so that you don’t overdo the dosage.

See a Vet if Your Dog’s Eye is Swollen

Seeing your dog with watery, red, swollen eyes is never fun and it can be really stressful. Just remember to call your vet as soon as possible because the longer you wait the worse it can get. Your vet will work with you and your dog to determine the cause of the swelling and then create a treatment plan to get him back to his normal self.  

The emergency vets at all of our VEG locations are available every day, including weekends and holidays, to help if your dog has a swollen eye. We’ll find out the reason for your dog’s swelling and develop the best course of action to take in solving the problem.

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VEG is a network of Emergency Veterinarians located across the country. We are dedicated to helping people and their pets when they need it most. If your pet is ever in an emergency situation, use the link below to find our nearest location so we can get your pet the help they need.