Pink Eye in Dogs & Cats: Conjunctivitis Causes & Symptoms in Pets

You're cuddling with your furry companion when you notice their eyes look a bit red and swollen. Before you leap to dramatic conclusions (we've all been there!), take a deep breath. While red, irritated eyes can be a cause for concern, conjunctivitis (better known as pink eye) in dogs is often treatable and easily managed. While conjunctivitis can indeed affect our four-legged friends, the causes and treatments may differ from what we typically experience as humans.  

Conjunctivitis, or "pink eye," is an umbrella term for inflammation of the conjunctiva, the delicate membrane that lines the eyelids and covers the white part of the eye. So, basically, it's a long way of saying your dog's eye got a little irritated, kind of like when you get a speck of dust in your eye, and it’s uncomfortable and turns red. 

In dogs, pink eye is often the result of dry eyes or allergies. Cats, on the other hand, usually develop conjunctivitis initially from a viral infection. Bacterial infections may follow later, but they are typically not the primary cause of pink eye in felines. To better understand how to keep your pet's eyes healthy and bright, let's delve more into how dogs and cats get pink eye. 

How Do Dogs Get Pink Eye? 

Pink eye in dogs can be caused by various factors, ranging from bacterial and viral infections to environmental irritants. By familiarizing yourself with these causes, you'll be better equipped to keep your furry friend's eyes healthy and comfortable. Let's explore the three main ways dogs can get pink eye.  

Bacterial Infections 

While less frequent than other causes, bacteria can also irritate your pet's eyes and lead to pink eye. This often happens alongside other conditions like dry eye or a viral infection. Dry eye, also known as Keratoconjunctivitis sicca, is when your pet's eyes don't produce enough tears. This dryness can be uncomfortable and make their eyes more susceptible to bacterial infections. It's important to note that bacterial pink eye can spread between pets, and in very rare cases, even jump to humans.  

Viral Infections 

Viruses are another culprit behind pink eye, especially in cats. Feline herpesvirus (FHV-1) and feline calicivirus (FCV) are common culprits, and they don't just cause pink eye - they can also give your kitty a runny nose and sneezing, just like a cold. While viruses are more likely to be the initial cause of pink eye in cats, dogs can also get pink eye from viruses like canine distemper, canine herpesvirus, and canine influenza. No matter the furry friend, viral conjunctivitis is contagious, so watch out for outbreaks among pets. 

Environmental Irritants  

Allergic conjunctivitis is a common cause of pink eye in both dogs and cats, but unlike other causes, allergies aren't contagious. Just like us, our furry friends can get itchy, watery eyes from things like pollen, dust, or even pet dander. For dogs specifically, injuries can also lead to pink eye. If your pup gets a speck of dust or debris in their eye, it can irritate the conjunctiva (that thin layer we mentioned earlier) and make their eye red and inflamed. 

If you suspect your dog has conjunctivitis, it's important to consult with your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Early intervention can help prevent the spread of infection and ensure your dog's eyes remain healthy and comfortable.  

Can Dogs Get Pink Eye? Signs and Symptoms to Watch Out For 

As a loving pet parent, you always want the best for your furry companion. That's why it's important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of conjunctivitis, or pink eye, in dogs and cats. They may exhibit one or more of the following symptoms but that isn’t usually enough to make an accurate diagnosis.  

Dogs and cats with conjunctivitis may show one or more of the following symptoms: 

  • Redness and swelling of the conjunctiva, which is the thin, clear tissue that covers the white part of the eye and lines the eyelids 

  • Excessive tearing or discharge from the eyes which may be clear, or contain pus 

  • Squinting or excessive blinking, indicating discomfort or pain 

  • Pawing or rubbing at the eyes, which may worsen the inflammation 

  • Cloudiness or haziness of the eye, particularly if the clear front part of the eye is affected 

While these symptoms can be concerning, you should also bear in mind that they alone may not be enough to make an accurate diagnosis. Your veterinarian may do one or more diagnostic tests to discover the source of your dog's pink eye and come up with a suitable treatment plan.  

Diagnosing Conjunctivitis 

Upon bringing your pet in for an examination, your veterinarian will perform a thorough eye exam and may conduct additional tests to get to the root of the problem. These tests may include: 

  • Schirmer Tear Test: For dry eye diagnosis, this simple test measures your pet's tear production, which is essential for maintaining eye health. Low tear production, or "dry eye," can lead to chronic inflammation and secondary infections. 

  • Fluorescein Staining: To check for corneal ulcers or other damage to the eye's surface, your veterinarian may apply a special dye called fluorescein. This test is particularly important, as certain medications used to treat conjunctivitis can worsen corneal injuries. 

  • Cytology of Conjunctival Scraping: In some cases, your veterinarian may gently scrape a small sample of cells from the conjunctiva to identify any infectious agents, such as bacteria or viruses, that may be causing the inflammation.  

 How to Treat Pink Eye in Dogs  

The best course of treatment for conjunctivitis in your furry friend will depend on the underlying cause. Your veterinarian will work closely with you to develop a tailored treatment plan that addresses your pet's specific needs. Options may include: 

Topical Antibiotics  

If your pet has bacterial conjunctivitis, your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointments to help clear the infection. These medications are applied directly to the eye and work by killing the bacteria causing the irritation. 

Antiviral Medications  

If a virus is the culprit, your veterinarian may recommend antiviral medications. These medications won't cure the virus itself, but they can help your pet's immune system fight it off more quickly and reduce the severity and duration of symptoms. 

Artificial Tears and Anti-inflammatory Drugs 

If allergies or dry eye are the root cause of your pet's conjunctivitis, your veterinarian may suggest using artificial tear solutions to lubricate the eyes and anti-inflammatory medications to reduce swelling and discomfort. 


In some less frequent cases, surgery might be necessary to address underlying anatomical problems that contribute to chronic pink eye. Conditions like entropion (where the eyelid folds inward) or ectropion (where the eyelid folds outward) can irritate the eye and make it more susceptible to infection. Surgical correction of these eyelid abnormalities can help prevent future flare-ups of pink eye. 

Identifying and treating the underlying condition is important for the long-term management of conjunctivitis. This may involve a combination of medication, environmental changes, and other therapies to keep your pet's eyes healthy and comfortable. 

Cost of Pink Eye 

We all know that you want to provide your furry friend with the best possible care, but the cost of veterinary treatment can sometimes be a concern. The good news is that the cost of diagnosing and treating conjunctivitis is generally considered manageable for most pet owners. However, addressing the underlying conditions that contribute to conjunctivitis may prove more costly, especially if surgical solutions are necessary.  

This is where having a reliable pet insurance plan is essential. How does pet insurance work? A comprehensive pet insurance policy can provide peace of mind, as it can help cover veterinary expenses and ensure your furry friend receives the care they need without putting a strain on your finances. 

The health of your pet's eyes is central to their overall well-being. That's why getting pet insurance can also play a role in preventing and managing conjunctivitis. Accident and illness coverage can help cover the costs of diagnosing and treating pink eye, while optional, non-insurance pet wellness plans can provide preventive care, to help keep your furry friend's eyes healthy and bright. 

By staying informed and proactive about your pet's eye health, you can help them enjoy a lifetime of clear, comfortable vision. Remember, your veterinarian is always your best resource for any concerns about your pet's health. 

Home Care and Prevention 

Once your pet has been diagnosed with conjunctivitis, it is crucial to follow your veterinarian's treatment plan closely. This may involve administering eye medications as prescribed, gently cleaning the area around the eyes with a soft, damp cloth, and using an Elizabethan collar to prevent your pet from rubbing or pawing at their eyes. If you're unsure about any part of the treatment process, don't hesitate to ask your vet for guidance. They are there to help you and your pet navigate this challenging time and ensure a smooth recovery.  

Reducing the Risk of Pink Eye 

While it's not always possible to prevent conjunctivitis entirely, you can take several steps to reduce your pet's risk: 

  • Maintain good hygiene in your pet's living area, bedding, and toys 

  • Schedule regular eye check-ups with your veterinarian 

  • Manage your pet's allergies with the help of your vet 

  • Minimize exposure to irritants like cigarette smoke and dust 

  • Keep your pet's vaccinations up to date to protect against infectious diseases 

  • If you're a breeder, consider genetic factors that may predispose pets to conjunctivitis 

  • Practice good personal hygiene, especially if you have pink eye yourself 

By following these preventive measures and working closely with your veterinarian, you can help keep your pet's eyes healthy and comfortable. Having dog insurance and cat insurance is also important, so that you can seek professional guidance whenever you have concerns about your pet's eye health or overall well-being. 

Can Dogs Get Pink Eye from Humans? 

It’s uncommon for dogs to contract conjunctivitis directly from humans, however, it’s not entirely impossible. If you have pink eye, there’s a slight chance you could transmit the infection to your dog. To minimize this risk, it's essential to practice good hygiene, such as washing your hands frequently and thoroughly and limiting close contact with your dog's face until your own infection has cleared up. 

Breeds Predisposed to Conjunctivitis  

Certain dog breeds may be more susceptible to developing conjunctivitis due to genetic factors or physical traits. Breeds that are prone to dry eyes, allergies, or recurrent viral infections have a higher risk of experiencing pink eye. In addition, dogs with hereditary conformational issues, such as entropion (inward-turning eyelids) or ectropion (outward-turning eyelids), are more likely to develop conjunctivitis due to chronic irritation. 

So, Can Dogs Get Pink Eye? 

Spotting pink eye in your pet can be a scary moment, but it's treatable.  This guide has equipped you to recognize the signs and understand the different causes of pink eye in dogs and cats. Armed with this knowledge, you can act quickly and ensure your pet continues to see the world with all its beauty and fun. After all, healthy eyes mean a happier pet, and a happier pet means more playtime, cuddles, and shared adventures. So, keep those peepers bright, and enjoy the many happy years to come with your furry companion by your side! 


Lourenco-Martins, A.M.; Delgado, E.; Neto, I.; Conceicao Peleteiro, M.; Morais-Almeida, M.; Duarte Correia, J.H. Allergic conjunctivitis and conjunctival provocation tests in atopic dogs. Veterinary Ophthalmology (July 2011), 14 (4), pg. 248-256 

Hsuing, G.D.; Eads, F.E., Stafseth, H.J. Penicillin ointment in the treatment of conjunctivitis in dogs. Journal Cornell Veterinarian 1950 Vol. 40 pp. 4-10