Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He works mostly with dogs and exotic animals.
Why Does My Dog Have Red Eyes?
There are some common reasons for red eyes in a dog. Many eye issues are mild and can be treated easily, but others can and will become serious if left untreated.
Below is a list of the most common causes of bloodshot eyes in dogs. If you choose to ignore some of these symptoms and issues, your dog may end up losing its vision. The good news is that a lot of these problems are easy to deal with if you act fast. The bad news is that some of these conditions are impossible to help if you wait too long. Get help now.
Common Causes of a Red Eye in Dogs
- Allergies (seasonal)
- Trauma (scratches, etc.)
- Foreign body
- Keratoconjunctivitis sicca or KCS (dry eye)
- A serious eye problem like glaucoma
Classifications of Eye Conditions
Thankfully, a lot of causes of a red eye in dogs are treatable, but early identification and treatment are critical.
If the exam and all of the testing are normal, your dog might be diagnosed with allergic conjunctivitis and sent home with an antibiotic/steroid cream. If he responds, you and the vet will need to find the source of his allergy, but it is very easy to treat if it becomes a problem. Don’t consider this a wasted trip—this is really the “best problem” your dog can have!
Sometimes a dog's lashes will roll in and touch the eye. If this is the case, your dog can be treated with a cream to prevent infection, but eventually will need surgery to remove the eyelash and keep the eye from being constantly irritated. If the surgery is successful the eye will be fine and will no longer need any treatment.
Scratches or Trauma
As long as the retina (the nerves at the back of the eye) is not damaged, the scratch can be treated with an antibiotic cream. Some scratches are severe and the eye will need to be sutured closed while it heals, but some of them get better with treatment.
This is sometimes easy to deal with. The eye can be flushed with saline and the object is removed. Antibiotics are usually sent home to prevent a secondary infection, but after treatment, there are no problems.
Infections (Bacterial or Fungal)
If it is a bacterial infection, the treatment has to be intense (sometimes every hour, at least every four or six hours) but it gets better in a few days. If it is a viral infection, like distemper, there are other more serious problems. For a fungal infection, the red eye will get better after the whole dog is treated.
If your dog is not producing enough tears to keep his eyes moist, a red eye is one of the signs. He will be sent home with a cream to increase tear production, but this is just a means to make him feel better. There is a surgery available to divert a salivary duct to his eyes, but most dogs will need to be treated for the rest of their lives.
There are several types of cancer of the eye that can cause a red eye. The most common are lymphosarcoma and a mast cell tumor. The tumor can be identified in an exam if you take your dog in early, or if it becomes large you will be able to see it. The tumor will need to be biopsied to determine the type, and your vet will let you know the best treatment options.
Some eye problems can be diagnosed with the ophthalmoscope, some will require a culture and microscopic exam, and others will need blood work. If your vet suspects that your dog might have increased pressure, he will check the pressure inside the eye.
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Will My Dog Get Better?
Since many of these diseases will respond to treatment early, you should do your best to get your dog to the vet as soon as possible. If you wait and see, the problem might go away. Or, your dog may end up blind. Think about it.
The eye is not something that you can diagnose at home. You can buy some physiologic saline and flush the eyes, just like you would your own, but your dog cannot tell you how much pain he is in, nor can he tell you whether flushing the eye is doing any good at all. Remember, these diseases are also painful. Think about your dog and do the right thing.
What Should I Do?
There are a lot of causes of a red eye or eyes. If your dog has been playing with the cat or is one of the breeds with protruding eyes, his eye may have been scratched and he needs medical treatment as soon as possible. (If his eye has been scratched, he will be squinting in one eye and will be in a lot of pain. I consider this an emergency and you should take your dog to your vet as soon as possible.)
If you are unable to take your dog to the vet, for instance in an area where no vet is available, the best thing you can do is wash your dogs eyes out with simple physiolgic saline. If you do not take them in for the appropriate treatment, however, your dog may lose vision in the eyes or may even lose the eye itself.
Be a Responsible Owner
If both eyes are affected it is probably not a scratch or other trauma. Is it an emergency? You are your dog's caretaker, so you really need to decide that for yourself. Being responsible for a dog is like taking care of a small child. The child cannot tell you how much pain she is in, nor can the dog.
When you take the dog in for an exam, the vet will examine the eye with an ophthalmoscope, a special tool that will allow him to examine both the surface and the inside of the eye. He might put some dye in the eye to check for trauma, and might also check the dog´s tear production.
Depending on what he suspects, he might need to take a swab from the eye and examine the sample under the microscope. If something more serious is suspected, your dog might need some blood tests.
Ofri, Ron, Clinical Approach to the Dog with Red Eyes, Proceedings on the 31st World Congress of the the Small Animal Veterinary Association, 2006.
Aroch, I., Ofri, R., & Sutton, G. A. (2008). Ocular Manifestations of Systemic Diseases. Slatter's Fundamentals of Veterinary Ophthalmology, 374–418. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7150115/
Sandmeyer, L. S., Bauer, B. S., Leis, M. L., & Grahn, B. H. (2017). Diagnostic Ophthalmology. The Canadian veterinary journal = La revue veterinaire canadienne, 58(1), 91–93. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5157748/
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: It looks like my dog has a broken blood vessel in the brown of the eye what could it be?
Answer: Do you mean the iris that is brown in many dog breeds? If your dog is bleeding into the eye, either into the front or back chambers, it needs to be examined.
Question: My puppys eye looks like it rolls up and turns completely pinkish red, then the black circle comes back down and his eye looks normal again. What is this due to?
Answer: If your dog has a prolapsed nictitating membrane, he is more likely to develop secondary eye infections. I can not tell you for sure without looking at it so you should take your puppy in for an examination by his regular vet.
© 2014 Dr Mark
Bob Bamberg on June 13, 2014:
I haven't written for a few weeks on the other site, mainly because of time. I'm working full time now, so time is limited. Plus mornings, when I'm more likely to have time, have been horrible on that site. It runs agonizingly slow...30-60 seconds to "like" something, then it will come up with a "site is off-line" message. They're promising startling improvements in July, so we'll see. I'm missing the writing though.
I got an email about this hub a few days ago and just got around to reading and commenting. After working all day, I usually just look forward to some relaxation. I'm sorry I got old...I don't recommend it to anyone.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on June 13, 2014:
Hi Bob, thanks for that comment.
Are you still writing over at the B? I check out your posts there but have not seen anything new lately.
"This is my spot", but I still get over there a few times a week.
Bob Bamberg on June 13, 2014:
Good info and an important message, Doc. It would seem t me that the eye is one of those things you don't mess around with, and that you should have it checked out at the first sign of anything out of the ordinary. Voted up, useful and interesting.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on June 11, 2014:
Thanks, Elizabeth. I wrote this thinking of all those dogs I have seen brought in too late. Hopefully, not many will need this, but, if they do, the message is there--take your dog in now instead of later.
Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on June 11, 2014:
Your hubs always provide such great advice and information. Thanks for sharing this. It is definitely helpful for those whose dog has red eyes!
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on June 11, 2014:
Sorry about your little Schnauzer´s vision loss. I had not realized she has gone blind.
I agree with you on taking your dog right in for an exam. This is not something to mess with. One of the popular home veterinary care books for dogs recommends doing an exam and trying to treat the eyes at home first, but it is really not a good idea. Some of these problems, like trauma, need to be taken care of right away. A delay can really hurt the dog.
Thanks for reading and sharing.
Jaye Denman from Deep South, USA on June 10, 2014:
Dr. Mark - I want to urge anyone reading your hub whose dog has red, irritated-looking eyes to HURRY to the vet's without delay. Dogs are able to hide a certain amount of pain even when they have serious health issues.
I personally know the threat of KCS. It's been nearly two years since my Puppy Girl was diagnosed with KCS, treated in an attempt to 'rejuvenate' her tear glands (which was unsuccessful), and I've lubricated her eyes every couple of hours day and night with ophthalmalgic ointment since her diagnosis. Even so, she went blind.
Protect your canine pal's precious eyes.
Voted Up++ and shared