How to Spot a Dog Eye Infection—and What to Do If Your Pup Has One

At some point, pet parents are likely to deal with an eye infection. While a dog eye infection doesn’t always indicate something serious is going on, it’s important to always take them seriously. Eye infections can spread to both eyes and potentially lead to blindness if left untreated. They can also be painful, so if your dog has one, there’s a good chance they’re uncomfortable.

However, spotting an eye infection is usually pretty straightforward. There are some common symptoms to watch for—and if you see them, check in with your vet.

Dog Eye Infection Symptoms

Eye infections are generally pretty bothersome for your dog. Because of this, they’ll give you some fairly obvious signs that something’s awry.

Some common symptoms of a dog eye infection include:

  • Squinting
  • Excessive blinking
  • Redness in or around the eye
  • Excess tear production/watery eyes
  • Swelling/inflammation
  • Closing one eye
  • Pawing at the eye
  • Eye discharge
  • Light sensitivity

Types of Eye Infections in Dogs

While the symptoms are initially similar across the board, there are different types of eye infections.

“Eye infections may involve different parts of the eye and are typically categorized according to what area they are making inflamed,” says Dr. Jamie Whittenburg, DVM, veterinarian director at Senior Tail Waggers and director and owner of Kingsgate Animal Hospital in Lubbock, Texas. 

Dr. Whittenburg says that conjunctivitis, uveitis and corneal infections are some of the most common types of eye infections.


Conjunctivitis, often called “pink eye,” is inflammation of the transparent membrane (the conjunctiva) that lines the eyelids and edge of the eye itself, Dr. Whittenburg says.

Conjunctivitis is commonly caused by a viral or bacterial infection; canine distemper virus, canine herpesvirus and/or Staphylococci bacteria are the usual suspects. But conjunctivitis in dogs can also develop as a result of allergies, immune-mediated disorders, eyelid abnormalities, trauma, irritation, tear duct and other eye issues like glaucoma and corneal ulcers.


Uveitis is an infection that results in inflammation of the inside of the eye, Dr. Whittenburg says.

“This is further broken down into anterior and posterior uveitis, depending on which chamber of the eye is affected,” she says.

The uvea includes the iris (the colored portion of the eye); the ciliary body (the part of the eye that makes fluid); and choroid (the middle layer of the eye).

Uveitis can affect one or two of these structures—or all three at the same time. Like with conjunctivitis, uveitis can be caused by a viral or bacterial infection, but it can also be a result of toxins or irritants, autoimmune disease, trauma to the eye, lens damage, eye tumors, and underlying health issues like high blood pressure or diabetes.


Keratitis is the medical term for inflammation of the cornea, or the surface on the front of the eye.

There are two primary categories: ulcerative and non-ulcerative.

  • Ulcerative keratitis involves some type of trauma to the This could be caused by a cut or scrape.
  • Non-ulcerative keratitis is an inflammatory process with several possible causes, including bacterial, fungal or viral infections, irritants or underlying autoimmune diseases.

Causes of Dog Eye Infections

Dog eye infections can develop for a number of reasons, the most common being:

  • Bacterial, viral and/or fungal infections
  • Foreign objects and irritation
  • Injury or trauma to the eye
  • Ulcers
  • Dry eye
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Structural abnormalities (some dogs have genetic or breed-based abnormalities that make them more likely to develop an eye infection)

Other disorders, such as keratoconjunctivitis sicca or KCS (a form of dry eye), allergies, trauma, blocked tear ducts, misplaced eyelashes, entropion (when the eyelid rolls inward) and foreign bodies can all affect the eye and mimic or cause an infection.

Dog Eye Infection Treatment

The appropriate treatment for your dog’s eye infection will depend both on the cause and the possibility of an underlying problem, Dr. Whittenburg says.

If the infection is localized—e.g., it’s caused by trauma or eye irritation—treatment typically involves eye drops or some type of ointment.

If it’s a systemic issue, like an underlying health problem or abnormalities with your dog’s immune system, treatment will also focus on optimizing your pet’s health.

For example, if your dog has a bacterial infection of their cornea after getting scratched in the eye by a cat, they will need antibiotics for the infection, as well as appropriate treatment if there was damage to the cornea caused by the scratch, Dr. Whittenburg says.

Eye Drops

Medicated eye drops are one of the first lines of defense against an eye infection. These eye drops may have antibiotics and/or other soothing agents in them.


If your vet determines that a bacterial infection is at play, they’ll likely prescribe antibiotics. These may be in the form of medicated eye drops, or oral antibiotics that work systemically to target a more widespread infection.

Anti-Inflammatory Agents

In addition to eye drops, your vet may also prescribe anti-inflammatory agents, like topical steroids, if there is a lot of redness or swelling. These don’t necessarily get rid of the infection, but they can bring swelling and make your dog more comfortable.


If your vet suspects allergens are the main cause of your dog’s eye infection, they may prescribe antihistamines. These medications block the effects of histamine, the compound that triggers allergic symptoms. Again, these don’t necessarily treat the infection, but they can help with symptom management to make your dog more comfortable.

How to Prevent Eye Infections in Your Dog

Dogs are like children: Despite your best efforts, it’s likely they’ll experience eye problems at some point. That being said, you can help lessen their chances of an infection.

Wipe Their Eyes After a Walk

Debris can build up on your dog’s face after a walk, especially if you’re walking down a dirt path or hiking in the woods. Use warm water and a towel to gently wipe your dog’s eyes when you return from your walk.

Protect Their Eyes in the Car

Your dog may like to hang their head out the window when you’re driving, but this can increase the risk of debris and foreign bodies getting into their eyes and causing irritation. Leave the window up when you’re driving or protect your dog’s eyes with a pair of dog goggles.

Trim Your Dog’s Fur

Trimming the fur around your dog’s eyes can also help minimize the risk of irritation and infection. Wipe your dog’s eyes, then use a pair of scissors to gently cut back fur that’s close to the eyes. Always make sure the scissors are pointing away from your dog’s eyeball and get someone to help if you have a squirmy pup.

Wash Them After a Day in the Water

Thoroughly rinse your dog with clean water after swimming in the pool, lake or ocean. Chlorine, sea salt and/or debris can contribute to eye irritation and infection; making sure the eyes are clean after swimming can help mitigate the risk.

Avoid Contact with Contagious Dogs

If you suspect another dog has an eye infection, keep your dog away until it’s cleared up.

To help avoid contagious causes of eye infections, dogs should limit their contact with other dogs.

“Many cases of viral conjunctivitis are acquired at dog parks and daycare facilities where many dogs congregate,” says Dr. Whittenburg.

FAQs About Dog Eye Infections

Because dog eye infections are not uncommon, it’s only natural that you’d have additional questions. Here are some frequently asked questions, with answers from Dr. Whittenburg.


Is it safe to treat a dog’s eye infection at home?


“No, it is never safe to treat an eye infection without veterinary oversight. An infection is caused by an infectious agent, such as a bacteria, virus, fungus or parasite, and these must be treated with appropriate medications. It is also important to address the underlying cause of the infection, as left untreated, these eye issues can lead to severe pain, loss of vision and the loss of the dog’s eye.”

As for Benadryl? It’s an antihistamine, and while it will not directly treat an eye infection, if allergies are the culprit, it can help manage symptoms.


Can a dog’s eye infection heal on its own?

A:“It is possible a dog may be able to fight an eye infection themselves, however, if left untreated, there is a risk of serious complications, as well as unnecessary pain. A dog with a suspected eye infection should be taken to a veterinarian right away. Eye disorders are extremely painful and a dog with a visible eye issue is suffering. Additionally, it is essential to get a proper diagnosis, as there are many conditions that can affect the eye that may appear like an infection and be something else entirely.”


How long does it take for an eye infection to go away?

A:“How long a dog’s eye infection will take to resolve depends on many factors, such as the dog’s age and immune status; the causative agent of the infection; the severity of the infection; and the treatment.”

Most simple eye infections will resolve within about a week with proper treatment, Dr. Whittenburg adds.

Dog eye infections can be a sign of a serious eye condition or develop from something as simple as irritation. Because it’s almost impossible to identify the causes of eye infections without diagnostic tests—and because a canine eye infection can turn serious quickly—visit your vet as soon as you see concerning symptoms.

Because eye symptoms don’t always indicate an infection, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with some of the most common eye problems in dogs so you know the proper next steps.

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