Dog Eye Care: Symptoms to Look For

Medical articles

I learned the value of checking my dogs’ eyes on a regular basis last year. On July 12, 2018, I saw a small black spot on the iris of my youngest dog’s left eye. It was different enough that I took a photo of it. I was actually questioning myself, “Had it always been there? Had I missed it previously?” But I continued to watch it and, unfortunately, it grew larger. Just a few weeks later, I took Hero to our regular veterinarian who recommended we see an eye specialist. On September 21, 2018, the melanoma on his iris was removed.

Now, a year later, he’s doing well with full vision in his eye. By paying attention and taking that photo, the veterinarians involved in his care saw what I saw and could build a timeline. That helped in both the diagnosis and treatment.

We look into our dogs’ eyes every day. But at least once a day, don’t just look adoringly into their eyes, instead, be observant and really check them out. The spot on Hero’s eye was very small, originally smaller than the tip of a lead pencil! Thankfully I saw it. Paying attention is important.

Healthy Eyes

Healthy eyes should be clear and bright with a wet look to them. The iris can be all one color, streaked with a second color, or marbled (multi-color). Pay attention if you see changes in the iris, especially dark or black spots, a distortion in the pupil, or a change in the iris’ shape.

The whites of the eyes are not nearly as visible as with our own eyes and vary from dog to dog and in different breeds. It’s important to know what’s normal for your dog and to pay attention to any changes. Look at the color that you can see. Ideally, it’s white.

Healthy eyes look alive, move to track motion, and are, as literature shares with us, windows to the soul. Pay attention to any changes in your dog’s eyes.


Eye Discharge

Healthy eyes may have a tiny bit of discharge, especially when the dog wakes up from a nap or comes inside after exercise. Some dog breeds are prone to producing more tears than others. Pugs, Bulldogs, Shih Tzus, Poodles, and Boxers tend to produce more tears and, as a result, have more eye discharge.

Tears help keep the eyes clean, so a bit of discharge is normal. However, a heavier or different discharge can be a symptom of a problem.

Watery eyes, thick mucus discharge, or even yellow or green pus-type discharge is usually a sign of conjunctivitis; an inflammation of the lining of the eye. This can be caused by many things, from an injury to allergies or tear duct problems.

Excess tears can also be caused by eyelashes rubbing on the eye, a dog rubbing their eye, an injury, a foreign substance, or several different eye illnesses.

Red, Swollen Eyes

If your dog’s eyes are pink, red, or swollen, with or without discharge, there is definitely a problem. If their eyes are both pink and irritated, he may be suffering from an allergy; especially if the discharge is clear.

If your dog’s eyes are red, swollen, and there is an abnormal discharge, there could be many causes, from eyelashes rubbing against the surface of the eyes, conjunctivitis, bacterial infections, viral infections (think of pink eye), and other causes.

If only one eye is red and swollen, the cause could be disease or it might be from an injury. The eye could have been scratched during play or while running through grass or brush.

Cloudy Eyes

In a healthy eye, the lens covering the center of the eye is crystal clear. However, the lens can become cloudy or even opaque. As the lens becomes cloudy, less light makes it through and the dog’s vision will be impacted. An opaque lens will prevent the dog from seeing much of anything.

The cloudy area of the lens is called a cataract and these can be caused by a number of things. Some breeds are more prone to cataracts, sometimes developing them early in life (juvenile cataracts). However, cataracts are more often seen in elderly dogs. An injury to the eye can also cause a cloudy spot on the eye.

Work with Your Veterinarian

When you see any changes in your dog’s eyes, no matter what the changes are, take your dog in to the veterinarian. The eyes are extremely sensitive, and a problem could cause your dog discomfort in addition to their sight being affected.

Thankfully, I got Hero in to see an eye specialist quickly. By having the melanoma removed early, Hero’s vision was saved. Had I waited, he could have lost his vision, and even his eye entirely.