Eye Injuries in Dogs: Common Symptoms and How to Treat It

Eye injuries in dogs
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With their love of play and innate curiosity, even the most well-behaved dog can end up with scrapes and other injuries from time to time. Whether from rough play, chasing a small animal through the underbrush or just digging in the garden, eye injuries are relatively common in dogs.

Most often the result of some kind of trauma, eye injuries usually require immediate veterinary care. Eye injuries are sometimes even emergencies.

As a dog owner, it's best to become familiar with the different types of eye injuries that can occur and how you should respond to them.

Signs of Eye Injuries in Dogs

Some ocular signs mean there is simply a problem with the eye, but not necessarily an injury. There are many different eye diseases that can affect dogs. If your dog has an eye injury or other eye problem, there are several different signs you may see. Signs may be present in one or both eyes. The most common signs of eye injuries in dogs include the following:

  • Squinting or twitching of eyelid
  • Inability to open eye
  • Pawing or rubbing at eye
  • Excessive tearing
  • Rapid blinking
  • Yellow or greenish discharge
  • Bloodshot or red appearance to the white part of eye 
  • Redness of the mucous membranes around the eye
  • Cloudiness or color changes to eye
  • Light sensitivity
  • Prolonged pupil dilation, constriction or other abnormal pupil appearance
  • Asymmetrical appearance of eyes
  • Swelling of the eye
  • Sunken-in appearance of eye
  • Bleeding from eye area

If you notice any of the above signs in your dog, it is important that you seek veterinary attention as soon as possible. If you are not sure whether or not it is an emergency, call a veterinary office first for advice. Do not attempt home care for eye problems unless advised to do so by a veterinary professional.

Eye problems can sometimes be much worse than they look. They can also progress very rapidly and are often quite painful. Don't risk your dog's vision or allow your dog to stay in pain.

Types of Eye Injuries in Dogs

Eye injuries in dogs occur when something comes into contact with a dog's eye and causes damage. An eye injury may occur after a dog fight or an altercation with another animal. An animal bite, cat claw, or kick from a horse can all easily injure a dog's eye. Many things in nature can cause eye injuries as well. Tree branches, insect bites, and dirt are just a few things that can injure a dog's eye. Dogs that hang their heads out of the car window are at risk for debris blowing into their eyes, causing irritation and possibly more. Chemicals, if sprayed or spilled near your dog, can cause irritation to the eyes as well. Your dog could also run into or past a sharp object (furniture corners, fence parts, fishhooks, tools, etc.) that injure the eye area. There are many other hazards in the world that can injure the eyes, like fireworks, gunshot pellets, and more.

Your dog may cause an eye injury by pawing at the eyes or rubbing the face on something. Your dog may simply have itchy eye due to allergies or mild irritation. If pawing at or rubbing the eyes is allowed to continue, it can lead to ulcers or scratches on the eyes.

Eye injuries may be mild to severe. They can affect one or both eyes. You may not be able to tell how bad the injury is just by looking at your dog's eye. The following are some of the most common eye injuries seen in dogs:

  • Corneal laceration (cut or scratch to the eye surface)
  • Corneal ulcers (may be from chemicals or debris, but could be secondary to a dog rubbing at eyes)
  • Puncture (often from a tooth, claw, or foreign object)
  • Eyelid tear (often from eye getting caught on something)
  • Proptosis (eye popped out of socket; more common in bulgy-eyed dogs like Pugs and Shih Tzus)

Treatment for Dog Eye Injuries

If you think your dog might have an eye injury, it's important to contact a veterinarian as soon as possible. Do not attempt to treat your dog's eye at home unless you are instructed to do so by a veterinary professional. If you need to administer first aid to your dog, it will probably be to flush out the eye or apply a cool compress to the eye. Only do this if the vet advises it. Because your dog's eye is likely painful, it is very important to be gentle when doing anything around the eyes. Ideally, you will have another person in the home to help you.

Use sterile saline eyewash solution flush out a dog's eye. Do not use contact lens solution or anything medicated. Get to an area where you have easy access to the dog and don't mind liquid getting around (like a bathroom, kitchen, patio, etc.). You may have an easier time if you put your dog up on a table or counter (if it's not a very large dog). Wrap a towel around the dog. One person should hold the dog in a bear hug with one arm around the body and another around the head). Take care not to put pressure on the neck area. Hold the dog's eye open with one hand and apply a stream of eye wash with the second. Use a small towel or cloth to catch the saline streaming out of the eye.

Chances are you will need to get your dog to the veterinarian to look at the eye injury. The vet's staff will begin by getting a brief history about your dog and how the injury occurred. This will be followed by an examination of your dog by the vet. Several eye tests may be performed. This may include a test to assess tear production, staining of the eyes to look for ulcers or lacerations, and measurement of intraocular pressure. The vet will recommend the next steps based on the findings. There may be a simple solution, such as eye medications and follow-up exams. In some cases, surgical treatment may be necessary. If your dog's eye injury is advanced, your vet may recommend referral to a veterinary ophthalmologist. Some major eye injuries are so severe that the eye must be surgically removed (enucleation). In some cases, the eyes can be saved but your dog will be blind.

If your dog is sent home with eye medication, give exactly as prescribed. If you are putting multiple medications into the eye, be sure to wait at least five minutes before applying each one. If you have drops and ointment, it's best to do the drops first and the ointment last. It is important that you comply with the vet's treatment recommendations. Do not skip or postpone rechecks. Eye problems require close monitoring and can get much worse without you realizing it. If you feel your dog's eye is worse and it's not yet time for a recheck, it's better to go back to the vet earlier rather than waiting.

Most dogs with eye injuries will need to wear an e-collar (the infamous cone) while they eye heals. This is an important part of treatment and should not be ignored. The e-collar will keep your dog from pawing at or rubbing the eye. It can also help protect your dog's eye from hazards around the home. The e-collar should be worn at all times unless your vet gives you exceptions. No matter how much your dog hates the cone, it's still better than losing an eye!

How to Prevent Eye Injuries in Dogs

Accidents happen, but there are some things you can do to keep your dog safe and prevent eye injuries. Here are some ways you can protect your dog from eye injuries:

Be sure to take your dog to the vet at the first sign of injury or irritation. Remember that your dog can make a minor eye condition become very serious by pawing at the eyes or rubbing the face.