Conjunctivitis In Dogs

Key takeaway

Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, can cause considerable discomfort, including symptoms such as red eyes, inflammation, discharge, and swelling. While pink eye isn’t life-threatening, treatment should begin immediately to treat the underlying cause and prevent symptoms from worsening.

Conjunctivitis in dogs is an uncomfortable eye condition that may cause squinting, blinking, or excessive facial pawing. Your dog may also have discharge and swelling. Conjunctivitis is also known as pink eye, and it's a common condition that can affect humans, dogs, and cats.

Conjunctivitis can cause dogs discomfort, so it's always best to visit your vet if you suspect something is wrong with your dog's eye. Treatment for your dog's conjunctivitis may depend on the cause, but the earlier you treat their pink eye, the less severe the symptoms will be.

Read on to learn more about this condition as we highlight its symptoms, causes, and treatment.

What Is Conjunctivitis in Dogs?

Conjunctivitis occurs when the conjunctiva, the tissue that lines the dog's eyelids, becomes irritated.1 Different types of conjunctivitis have different causes. For example, viral conjunctivitis is caused by viral infections.

Symptoms of Dog Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is similar to pink eye in humans; the eye becomes red, inflamed, and uncomfortable.1 Depending on your dog's infection, they may also have discharge and excessive blinking in one eye or both. Pink eye typically affects both eyes in dogs, but it can be present in only one.

Symptoms of dog conjunctivitis

Your dog may also display other symptoms. including:

  • Eye discharge that’s watery, cloudy, yellow, or green
  • Swelling around the cornea
  • Redness
  • Rubbing or pawing at the eyes
  • Mild discomfort and irritation2

Pink eye shares many of the same symptoms as other eye conditions, including glaucoma3 and cataracts in dogs. It's important to take your dog to the vet as soon as possible to ensure they don't have a more serious eye condition. Not treating your dog for an eye infection can lead to vision loss, so treatment is necessary for pink eye.

Causes of Conjunctivitis in Dogs

There are many causes of canine conjunctivitis, ranging from bacterial and viral infections to environmental irritants and allergies.2 For example, if your dog has pink eye in only one eye, it can indicate that they have inflammation due to dryness or a possible scratch on the eye. However, if the infection occurs in both eyes, it can signify a viral or bacterial infection.2

Causes of conjunctivitis in dogs

Common causes of pink eye in dogs include:

  • Bacterial infections: Bacterial infections that result in pink eye may indicate an underlying health issue, such as Lyme disease.4 If your dog has pink eye, it's best to take them to the vet as soon as possible.
  • Viral infections: Viral infections are one of the most common causes of pink eye in dogs. Any infection that can cause inflammation of the eye can result in an infection. Common viruses that may cause pink eye in dogs include distemper, herpes, and canine influenza.4
  • Foreign bodies: Anything from dust or dirt to a blade of grass can get stuck in your dog's eyelid and cause pink eye.
  • Parasites: Some parasites may cause pink eye in dogs.1
  • Inflammation: Your dog's tear duct may become inflamed for another reason, ultimately causing pink eye.
  • Abnormal eyelids: Eyelid or eyelid deformities can cause dry eye or eye irritation that leads to inflammation and pink eye.
  • Dry eye: Dry eye, which may look like cloudy eyes, can irritate the eye, resulting in inflammation and increasing the likelihood of eye trauma.
  • Tumors: Tumors can result in dry eye, inflammation, and pink eye.
  • Trauma: Eye trauma from dust or other foreign objects can irritate the eye, causing inflammation.
  • Allergies: Allergies are one of the most common causes of eye infections in dogs.3 Dogs with environmental allergies may be more likely to get eye infections as a result.

Pink eye can be an independent infection or a symptom of a larger health problem.1 The most common causes of dog pink eye are viral infections. Still, allergens, including dust, pollen, and smoke, can also cause eye infections, especially in dogs that suffer from environmental and seasonal allergies.

Diagnosing Canine Conjunctivitis

Typically, vets can’t diagnose canine conjunctivitis based on a physical exam alone.2 Vets will need to determine the underlying cause by looking at your dog's medical history and running tests. Depending on your dog's exam, your vet may choose to do a conjunctival scraping, Schirmer tear test, biopsy, or other types of tests to rule out the root cause of the infection. Some types of diagnostic tests include:

  • Schirmer tear test: The tear test measures tear production.
  • Eye exam: Your vet will look at your dog's eyes, including their eyelids.
  • Glaucoma test: Also called Intraocular pressure (IOP), a vet will use this test to diagnose glaucoma, which can cause eye inflammation in dogs.1
  • Dilation: Dilation helps vets see the back of the dog's eye to look for inflammation.
  • Bacterial culture: A bacterial culture will help your vet narrow down the causes of your dog's pink eye by ruling out bacterial infections.
  • Allergy tests: If your vet suspects your dog has allergies, they may run allergy tests to confirm their diagnosis and start treating your dog's allergies while taking care of their pink eye symptoms.

Other diagnostic tests may be required to help your vet understand why your dog has pink eye to help treat the underlying cause and prevent it from returning.1 Your vet will ask you a series of questions about your dog to help them form a hypothesis about the cause of the eye infection and narrow down the types of tests they need to run.

If your vet can’t identify the cause of your dog's infection, they may start treatment and see how your dog reacts. For example, they’ll send you home with eye drops and follow up in a few days to see if your dog’s symptoms are improving. If your dog’s symptoms don’t get better or their pink eye returns after a few weeks or months, your vet will continue working to form a diagnosis.

How to Treat Conjunctivitis in Dogs

Dog conjunctivitis treatment typically depends on the cause, but your vet will aim to treat their symptoms. For example, if your dog has eye discharge, they may prescribe antibiotic eye drops.2 In many cases, topical treatments may not be enough, especially if there's an underlying medical condition causing the infection. Depending on the cause of your dog's conjunctivitis, your vet may provide multiple treatments to help make your dog more comfortable while treating the root cause.2

Treatment for canine conjunctivitis depends on what’s causing the disease

However, eye drops are typically one of the most important tools to help treat the uncomfortable symptoms of conjunctivitis. Giving any dog eye drops can be difficult, so your vet will teach you how to administer them easily to make it a better experience for you and your dog.1

If your dog's conjunctivitis is caused by an underlying problem, such as an eyelash deformity, they may require surgery to prevent pink eye from returning.1 Meanwhile, if your vet determines allergies the cause of their conjunctivitis, they may prescribe an antihistamine. Additionally, if your dog has a viral infection, your vet will treat it while reducing inflammation in your dog's eyes.

Ultimately, dog conjunctivitis treatment depends on their diagnosis. Unfortunately, you won't know how your vet will treat your dog until they have found the underlying cause of the infection. Luckily, even if they’re unable to come up with a diagnosis, your vet will still send you home with eye drops so that you can begin making your dog more comfortable.

Conjunctivitis in Dogs: FAQs

Should I take my dog to the vet for conjunctivitis?

Pink eye does not clear up on its own, especially if it's caused by an infection. If your dog is showing symptoms of conjunctivitis, take them to the vet as soon as possible to prevent further discomfort and start treating the root cause. Left untreated or not treated quickly enough, your dog can develop eye damage or dog blindness.

How long does dog conjunctivitis last?

Conjunctivitis doesn’t go away on its own and can become a more serious health problem if not treated. Luckily, most dogs get treatment and live healthy lives. However, how long conjunctivitis lasts depends on the treatment method and the root cause. If the cause of the pink eye isn’t treated correctly, it can come back.

Is dog conjunctivitis preventable?

Unfortunately, you can't protect your dog from all the causes of pink eye. However, you can ensure they're healthy and take them to the vet if you notice any signs of discomfort. Doing so can prevent your dog’s symptoms from worsening.

That said, the following tips can help minimize your dog’s risk of conjunctivitis :

  • Staying up to date on vaccines and preventatives to prevent parasites and viral infections.
  • Supervising dogs to hinder eye trauma
  • Keeping their face clean
  • Managing allergies when possible

Again, you can't always prevent pink eye in dogs, but talking to your vet can help you understand the different causes of this condition. With this knowledge, you can make informed decisions that can keep your pet safe.

HUman hands wiping and cleaning dog’s eyes

Final Notes

Dog pink eye is a common yet treatable eye infection in dogs. However, even though it's non-life-threatening, you should seek treatment immediately if your dog has red eyes, irritation, inflammation, or is pawing at their face. There are many causes of pink eye in dogs, so your vet must diagnose the problem and start treating the root cause while tending to the uncomfortable symptoms of conjunctivitis. In most cases, dogs require eye drops to help treat their inflammation and irritation. Pink eye isn’t preventable, but there are many steps pet parents can take to reduce the likelihood of an infection.

If you notice any signs of pink eye or illness in your dog, visiting your vet immediately can prevent symptoms from worsening. Dutch's telemedicine for pets can help you treat pink eye caused by allergies, infections, and more. Whether your dog has environmental allergies or dry eyes, we can help. Schedule your first appointment with a Dutch-affiliated vet today to discuss your pet’s symptoms.

References

  1. Lotz, Kristina. “Can Dogs Get Pink Eye?” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 2 Apr. 2019, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/can-dogs-get-pink-eye/.

  2. Gelatt, Kirk N. “Disorders of the Conjunctiva in Dogs - Dog Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 21 June 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/eye-disorders-of-dogs/disorders-of-the-conjunctiva-in-dogs.

  3. “How to Identify Conjunctivitis in Dogs.” HumanePro, https://humanepro.org/magazine/articles/how-identify-conjunctivitis-dogs.

  4. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/dog-eye-infections/.

  5. “Dog Eye Infections: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment.” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 23 Jan. 2018, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/dog-eye-infections/.