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Are your dog’s eyes unusually irritated and puffy? It could be conjunctivitis (pink eye), a common dog eye infection. In fact, in a 2009 survey of the top dog medical conditions, eye infections ranked No. 10 on the list.
Conjunctivitis occurs when the conjunctival membrane, which covers the inside of your dog’s eyelid and the surface of his eyeball, becomes inflamed.
“When a dog produces a lot of tears, the moisture can stay in the fur around the eyes for a longer period of time,” writes vetinfo.com. “This moisture attracts bacteria that can lead to an infection of the eye.”
Fortunately, conjunctivitis is not usually life threatening and it’s fairly easy to treat.
What are the Symptoms of Conjunctivitis?
The most common symptom of conjunctivitis, or any eye problem, is discharge from the eye, writes pets.webmd.com.
Race Foster, DVM, notes on peteducation.com, “The consistency of the discharge often helps determine its cause. Usually infections caused by bacteria, fungi, etc., create a thick yellow or greenish eye discharge … Allergies, on the other hand, generally cause a clear or watery discharge.”
Another common symptom is minor-to-moderate redness of the white of your dog’s eye, which is why conjunctivitis is also called pink eye.
“Typically, both allergies and infections cause a severe redness or ‘meaty’ appearance of the conjunctiva,” writes Foster. The conjunctiva is the thin membrane that lines the inside of a dog’s eyelids. “This is caused by edema or fluid build-up and an increase in the size and number of blood vessels within the tissue.”
If your dog is showing any indication of pain in his eye – such as excessive tearing and squinting, sensitivity to light or pawing at his eye – it could indicate a serious eye condition. In this case, you should take your dog to the vet immediately. Pets.webmd.com warns, “Irreversible damage can occur in a matter of hours.”
What Causes Conjunctivitis?
The most common cause of conjunctivitis in dogs is inadequate tear volume (keratoconjunctivitis sicca), according to pets.webmd.com. In this case the discharge is stringy and mucuslike.
Vetinfo.com notes that conjunctivitis is usually caused by bacteria or a virus. “Conjunctivitis can be a chronic condition due to irritations entering the eye or the malfunction of the eyelids or eyelashes. On rare occasions, conjunctivitis is caused by an allergic reaction or a parasite,” according to the website.
There are four types of conjunctivitis, according to pets.webmd.com:
Serous– This mild form is caused by irritants such as wind, dust and other allergens. Your dog’s eye will be pink and slightly swollen, and the discharge is clear.
Follicular – Also called mucoid, this type of conjunctivitis is also caused by irritants or allergens. The follicles under your dog’s third eyelid (nictitating membrane), which is normally not seen, form a rough surface that irritates your dog’s eye. Unfortunately, even after the infection is treated, the rough surface does not go away and can become a chronic eye irritant.
Purulent – If serous conjunctivitis becomes infected by bacteria such as Streptococcus or Staphylococcus, purulent conjunctivitis can occur. The discharge, which will contain mucus and pus, may be thick and coat your dog’s eye.
Neonatal – Newborn puppies can develop this infection behind their eyelids before or after their eyes open (usually when they’re 10-14 days old). It’s caused by bacteria gathering behind their eyelids. If the puppy’s eyelids are swollen and/or bulging, see a vet immediately. If left untreated, neonatal conjunctivitis can cause damage to the cornea and, ultimately, blindness.
How is Conjunctivitis Diagnosed?
Your vet will perform an eye exam, according to vetinfo.com, and a full physical exam to check for any underlying problems. A blood sample may be taken.
A culture may be taken to determine if the cause is bacteria and the proper medication to prescribe, Foster writes. Your vet may also take a scraping of your dog’s conjunctiva to test for a viral infection.
How is Conjunctivitis Treated?
You can treat mild cases of serous conjunctivitis at home by flushing your dog’s eye three to four times a day with saline solution or artificial tears. If your dog’s eye infection doesn’t respond to this treatment or gets worse in two days, see your vet.
If your dog has a follicular infection, your vet will prescribe an antibiotic and corticosteroid eye ointments, writes pets.webmd.com. In severe cases, your dog’s follicles may need to be removed using chemical cauterization.
For purulent conjunctivitis, your vet will prescribe a topical antibiotic but not corticosteroids, since they “impair the local inflammatory response that fights infection,” notes pets.webmd.com.
It’s important that you remove the mucus from your dog’s eye to prevent a crusty build-up. Pets.webmd.com recommends that you moisten a cotton ball or soft cloth with a sterile eyewash and gently clean your dog’s eye.
You can also apply a warm, moist compress to your dog’s eye to help loosen the mucus. “Applying such a compress for 5 minutes and rinsing thoroughly afterwards will sooth the sensation of pain,” writes vetinfo.com.
If your dog has long hair, be sure to keep the hair around his eyes cut short to prevent irritation.
Can I Prevent My Dog From Getting Conjunctivitis?
“The best way to protect your dog against eye problems is to keep his eyes clean,” writes vetinfo.com. “Check your dog’s eyes every few days for signs of infection or irritation, particularly if he rubs or scratches at them. Clean your dog’s eyes out carefully with canine eye drops at regular intervals to help wash out debris or potential irritants.”
Most importantly, vetinfo.com notes, be aware of the symptoms of dog eye problems and promptly take your dog to the vet if you notice something is wrong.
For information about more serious dog eye conditions, refer to these HOW TO topics:
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Find A Vet HOW TO articles are intended for informational purposes only. You should always consult with your veterinarian about any health issues affecting your dog.