Conjuntivitis in dogs

Conjunctivitis in dogs

  • Conjunctivitis is a relatively common condition in dogs which is usually easily treated
  • Symptoms include eye discharge, redness, irritation and swelling
  • There are a number of causes including allergies, foreign bodies or bacterial infections
  • In rare cases, it can be caused by a more serious health condition

What is conjunctivitis?

A Blue Cross vet examines a dog's eyes
Get your dog to the vet as soon as possible if you suspect conjunctivitis.

Conjunctivitis has a number of causes and describes an infection of the ‘conjunctiva’ of the eye, which is a mucous membrane covering the eyeball and lines the eyelid, which normally acts as a barrier to infection and foreign objects. When it is infected and inflamed it is known as conjunctivitis, or ‘pink eye’.

What are the symptoms of conjunctivitis in dogs?

The symptoms of conjunctivitis may include discharge from the eye, which can be clear or green. The whites of the eyes are often red, and the surrounding eye area swollen. You may also notice your dog pawing at the affected eye due to the discomfort caused, as well as squinting and blinking more than normal.

Conjunctivitis often starts in one eye and can spread to the other through contamination, but if an allergy (a common cause) or virus is the cause of the infection both eyes can be affected from the outset.

If you suspect that your dog is suffering from conjunctivitis, even if symptoms are mild, consult your vet as soon as possible. If the condition is not treated quickly, it can cause permanent damage.

What causes conjunctivitis?

There are a number of things that can cause conjunctivitis and your vet will need to investigate to establish which is to blame. Potential causes can include:

  • Foreign bodies such as a grass seed or grit
  • Allergy
  • Injury
  • Bites in the eye area
  • Blocked or infected tear duct
  • Dry eye (caused by a lack of lubrication)
  • Eye diseases such as glaucoma
  • Bacterial infection (normally causes green or yellow discharge)
  • Viral infection such as canine herpes or canine distemper 
  • Parasites such as eye worm
Blue Cross vet examines dog's eye
The treatment your vet will give for conjunctivitis depends very much on the cause.

How is conjunctivitis in dogs treated?

The treatment your vet will give for conjunctivitis will very much depend on the cause.

During an initial examination, your vet will give your dog a full eye exam and try to establish whether or not a foreign body is to blame. If it is, and is not easily removed, your dog may need to have it taken out under sedation or anaesthetic. Surgery may also be needed for a blocked tear duct. A course of eye drops and/or antibiotics will normally follow any surgery.

If an allergy is likely to be to blame, antihistamines may be prescribed.

If your vet thinks a bacterial infection is the cause, eye drops and antibiotics will normally be given. If a more serious underlying cause is suspected, further tests may be done.

During the recovery period, a buster collar may be needed to prevent your dog from scratching at their eyes and causing any further irritation.

How do I give my dog eye drops?

A dog sits on a vets table
Make sure your dog is familiar with the smell of the eye drops before trying to administer them.

This can be tricky, especially if your dog isn’t keen on having eye drops or ointments. Getting the help of another person will help to keep your dog still. These tips should help:

  • First of all, it’s a good idea to familiarise your dog with the bottle. Let them sniff it, and reward with a treat, so that they associate the bottle with something positive. Often, it’s the smell that worries them, so getting them used to that first is a good idea.
  • Bathe any discharge from the eye. If you are right-handed, use the finger and thumb of your left hand to hold the eyelids open. Dogs have strong eyelid muscles so you will need to be firm. Hold the medication in your right hand, and bring it towards the eye from the side.
  • If you are putting in drops, then put one drop right into the eye, being careful not to touch the eye itself
  • With an ointment, squeeze a little out of the nozzle to start with, position over the eye, and squeeze again to lay a trail of ointment over the actual surface of the eye. Be careful not to touch the eye with the nozzle.

Can I do anything to prevent conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis often can’t be prevented, but keeping your dog’s vaccinations up to date will ensure it won’t be caused by parasites or diseases which these protect your pet from.

Will my dog fully recover from conjunctivitis?

Dogs normally make a full recovery, but in rare cases dogs can be left with sight problems or scars on the eye. Early intervention gives your dog the very best chance of avoiding these complications.

Can I catch conjunctivitis from my dog?

This is extremely unlikely, but if a parasitic infection such as roundworm is the cause this can be a possibility. That’s why it’s important to get your dog to the vet right away.

A dog sits on some grass
— Page last updated 15/06/2018

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