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How To Recognize Conjunctivitis In Dogs



The symptoms of conjunctivitis in dogs may indicate an easily treated minor condition, but they can also be signs of more serious dog eye problems.




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What is Conjunctivitis In Dogs?

Canine conjunctivitis is a very common eye problem in dogs. Basically it is irritation or inflammation affecting the mucus membrane that lines the inner surface of the eyelid and white part of the eyeball - extending to the cornea.

This membrane is important in protecting the eye from microbes as well as providing a portion of the moisture needed for eye health. Conjunctivitis is a sign that something is interfering with the functioning of this membrane. Sometimes the interference may extend to the white of the eye, producing a condition termed "pink eye".



Symptoms of Conjunctivitis In Dogs

One of the first symptoms an owner will notice is that his dog is rubbing his paw against the affected eye or eyes - an indication that the dog is experiencing some irritation. If this symptom escalates, the condition affecting the eyes is more significant, making them either itchy, dry, and/or painful.

Other signs to look for:
  • The eyes appear red and swollen, to a lesser or greater degree.
  • A discharge may be present around the eyes.
  • The discharge has the appearance of mucous, is pus-like, or is just watery.
  • Eyes may stick together when closed.
  • Eyes may appear weepy
  • The dog may be squinting of shutting his eyes, especially around bright light
  • The dog may seem tired?


Causes of Conjunctivitis In Dogs

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  • Allergies are a common cause of conjunctivitis. The allergen may be of the type carried through the air such as dust and pollen. It could be a food related allergy or another culprit could be an insect bite.
  • Foreign objects: Is your dog the type that likes to run through the brush when out on a walk, or has been known to hang his head out the car window on a ride? - (not recommended by the way). If so, he may have paid a high price for his fun by getting some debris or plant matter such as thorns or seeds embedded in his eye. Even the wind itself can have a damaging effect!
  • Infection based - either viral or bacterial conjunctivitis. This type is often the result of a mild condition that becomes infected through the build-up of bacteria. It can also be the result of a "dog-to-dog" contagious viral infection.
  • Do you have a scrappy dog that doesn't walk away from a confrontation? Could he have received a scratch to the eye during such an encounter. Eye damage involving the cornea can be a trigger for conjunctivitis.
  • In the presence of an irritant, the conjunctiva, may swell and form a rough surface. Even after the irritating condition is resolved, the roughness on the membrane may remain, resulting in a continuous irritation and associated mucus discharge. This condition is termed follicular conjunctivitis.
Although eye problems, such as conjunctivitis in dogs, can and does affect many breeds, those with prominent eyes are more at risk for eye diseases and damage. Among them, to name just a few, are Shih Tzus, Cocker Spaniels, Lhasa Apsos, Schnauzers and Bulldogs.

Treatment of Conjunctivitis In Dogs

Finding the underlying cause of conjunctivitis is the first step in determining the appropriate treatment. Some aspects of this condition can be handled at home, but beware....

There are some serious eye problems that have symptoms similar to those seen in conjunctivitis. One is Keratitis, or inflammation of the cornea. If a dog's eyes are red and teary with accompanying blinking or squinting and he favors keeping his eye shut, he could have this condition which can very quickly lead to ulceration of the cornea - and even loss of sight. Scratches or embedded objects involving the cornea can also lead to this condition, as can untreated dry eye.

What's important to remember is there's no time to waste. Immediate attention of a veterinarian is needed if these signs are present. Two eye conditions that may be similarly indicated, are glaucoma and uveitis.

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Hopefully, if your dog is affected by conjunctivitis, it turns out to be one of the milder types such as those caused by environmental allergies where the eye tissue looks a bit red and has a clear watery discharge. If your dog is frequently rubbing at his eye, attaching an e-collar is a good idea for the sake of eye protection. It's also helpful during treatment.

The first line of defense in this case, is frequent flushing of the eye throughout the day with a eye heal for dogsnatural eye wash. Also, if any discharge has crusted around the rim of the eye, take a cloth soaked in warm water and gently compress it to the area to for a few minutes to loosen the material so that you can wipe it away. If the eyes continue to discharge, it may be an infection requiring a vet's diagnosis.

When you can see that a foreign object is embedded in the cornea, do not try to remove it. While eye flushings may be able to release the object, since the cornea is critical to vision, the wisest course of action is to take your dog to the vet for expert removal.

When treating follicular conjunctivitis, your vet may recommend antibiotic ointments if an infection has been identified as the root cause.

The same is true for other types of conjunctivitis that have escalated into bacterial conditions.

Prevention of Conjunctivitis In Dogs

Usually the best form of prevention has its roots in hygeine and sound nutrition - (much the same advice given by your dentist to protect your teeth!).

That being said, the preventative steps include:

  • Providing a high quality diet for your dog that includes supplemental anti-oxidants such as eyebright and using an eye cleaning solution as needed, such as this one Vetericyn Canine Eye Wash
  • Conducting an inspection of his eyes every week and keeping them clean and well-groomed. Trimming any hair follicles that may pose a threat to the eyeball.
  • Scheduling regular eye exams by a professional.


The advantage of having a preventative plan in place is that eye problems will be identified and treated promptly, ensuring the best chance of a successful outcome.


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