Eye infections in dogs

28 June 2024 - 6 min read

The information in this article has been reviewed by Dr. Jennifer Coates on . Although it may provide helpful guidance, it should not be substituted for professional veterinary advice.

A woman putting eye drops in a beagle's eye

If you’ve noticed your dog squinting, tearing up, or rubbing their (probably red) eyes frequently, they might be dealing with an eye infection. 

Eye health is crucial for dogs, as their vision plays a significant role in their overall quality of life, and eye diseases tend to be very uncomfortable.

Recognizing the early signs of an eye infection not only makes treatment more straightforward but also prevents more serious complications.

Read on to learn what you can do to treat canine eye infections or even prevent them in the first place.  

Whats a dog eye infection?

Dalmatian relaxing on a carpet. He has some conjunctivitis causing black run marks under his eyes. He is also looking soulfully out of shot.

A dog eye infection is a condition that involves microorganisms (bacteria, for example) affecting one or both eyes. Eye infections can affect different parts of the eye, including the conjunctiva, the cornea, deeper structures within the eye, or the eyelids.

Eye infections are relatively common in dogs and can affect any breed, though some breeds with prominent eyes, like Pugs, or those with underlying health problems affecting the eye, are more susceptible.

While some eye infections can be mild and easily treatable, others may develop into serious conditions that could threaten a dog’s vision.

How do dogs get eye infections?

Infections can be caused by a variety of pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, or fungi. Sometimes an infection will develop on its own, but more commonly, another condition will set the stage and make it easier for a pathogen to cause an infection.


Bacterial infections are the most common. These pathogens can easily infect an eye that has been compromised by another condition or even introduce themselves into a healthy eye through direct contact with a contaminated object or an infected animal. 

Foreign bodies

A frequent underlying problem is the presence of foreign bodies. Sand, dust, and other small particles can get trapped on the surface of your dog's eyes. This not only causes irritation but can also lead to infection if not promptly cleaned out.

Eye trauma

Trauma to the eye—such as scratches from branches during a walk in the woods, misgrown hairs, or rough play with other animals—can damage the surface of the eye and make it more susceptible to infections. Dogs with prominent eyes are also prone to eye ulcers that can become infected.


Allergies may also play a role in eye health. Allergens in the environment can cause eye irritation, leading to redness and swelling. As dogs attempt to soothe their irritated eyes by rubbing, they can inadvertently cause damage and introduce bacteria, which may lead to secondary infections.

Other health issues

Lastly, many other health problems can cause secondary eye infections. For example, abnormalities in tear drainage can create moist environments around the eyes, fostering bacterial growth.

Conversely, a lack of tear production (keratoconjunctivitis sicca or KCS) leads to dry eyes that are prone to infection. Autoimmune disorders, glaucoma (high eye pressure), and tumors in or around the eye may also be to blame.

Dog eye infection symptoms

yellow medium size dog pawing face and left eye while squinting and laying on ground

Common signs that may indicate an eye infection include:

  • Redness: The eyes may appear redder than usual, indicating inflammation.

  • Discharge: You might notice an unusual amount of discharge, which can be clear, white, yellow, or even greenish, depending on the infection.

  • Swelling: The area around the eyes can become swollen and may feel warmer to the touch.

  • Squinting or blinking excessively: If your dog is squinting or blinking more than usual, it could be a sign of discomfort or pain in the eye.

  • Rubbing or pawing at the eyes: Dogs often try to relieve discomfort by rubbing their eyes, which can further irritate the area.

  • Cloudiness or a change in eye color: Any change in the clarity or color of your dog’s eyes should be promptly evaluated by a vet.

  • Light sensitivity: An infected eye may be more sensitive to light, causing your dog to seek darker areas or avoid bright light.

Recognising the symptoms of an eye infection in your dog is the first step towards getting them the right treatment. 

Are dog eye infections contagious?

Certain infections can indeed be contagious, but it depends on the underlying cause. Some bacterial and viral infections can be spread to other dogs, but if a dog’s eye infection develops as a result of another condition, it’s probably not contagious. 

Still, you should always practice good hygiene, like washing your hands after handling a dog with an eye infection. If you have other pets, it’s wise to monitor them for similar symptoms and consult your vet if you suspect they might also be infected. 

Types of dog eye infections

Here are some common types of eye infections found in dogs:

Type of eye infection Impact/cause Symptoms/outcome
Conjunctivitis (aka "pink eye") Involves inflammation of the conjunctiva, the mucous membrane that covers the sides of the eye and lines the inside of the eyelids. Redness, swelling, and discharge
Keratitis Inflammation or infection of the cornea, the clear outer layer at the front of the eye. It can be caused by injury, disease, or infection. May lead to cloudiness or ulceration of the cornea
Blepharitis Inflammation of the eyelids themselves. It can be caused by allergies, infections, or other skin disorders. Swelling, redness, and crusty eyelids
Uveitis Deeper inflammation that involves the middle layer of the eye, including the iris. Can be caused by autoimmune disorders, infections, or trauma. Pain, light sensitivity, and reduced vision

Each type of infection may require a different approach to treatment, ranging from simple topical medications to more complex surgical interventions. 

Dog eye infection diagnosis

When you bring your dog to a vet with symptoms of an eye infection, the vet will conduct a comprehensive examination to determine the cause and severity of the condition.

This evaluation typically begins with a visual inspection of the eyes and surrounding areas to check for any signs of infection, injury, or abnormalities. Your vet will use an ophthalmoscope to evaluate the health of structures inside your dog’s eyes.

Depending on the initial findings, your vet may perform a variety of tests to further assess the eye's health. These tests can include:

  • taking samples of any discharge

  • applying special dyes to reveal damage to the cornea

  • measuring tear production to check for dry eye

  • assessing the pressure inside the eye (which helps in diagnosing conditions like glaucoma)

Your vet may also conduct allergy testing if they suspect that environmental allergens are contributing to the eye issues. Each of these diagnostic steps helps your vet create a tailored treatment plan.

Vet dog eye exam

When to see a vet with a dog eye infection

While minor eye irritations can sometimes be managed at home, any sign of infection, such as persistent or worsening redness, discharge, or swelling, should prompt a visit to the vet—even if symptoms have only been present for a short period of time. Other worrisome signs to look out for include pain, behavioral changes, impaired vision, or more general symptoms like fever and lethargy.

Remember, eye infections can sometimes lead to more serious conditions, including blindness, if not treated properly and quickly. If you are worried about your dog’s eyes, call your veterinarian to determine whether you are dealing with a potential emergency, and your dog should be seen if immediately.

How to treat a dog eye infection

First, your vet will need to accurately identify the type and severity of the infection. Common treatments for mild bacterial infections often start with antibiotic eye drops or ointments. 

For inflammation and pain, anti-inflammatory medications might be needed. These are available either orally or as eye drops, depending on what your veterinarian feels will be most effective. If the infection is fungal, your vet will prescribe antifungal medications, which can be either topical or oral.

In cases involving viral infections, such as those caused by canine distemper or herpesvirus, treatment usually focuses on supporting the patient and managing their symptoms as their body fights the virus.

Tears and eye lubricants are often recommended to manage symptoms of dry eye. These treatments help maintain moisture in the eye, alleviate discomfort, and prevent future infections.

More severe conditions—like those involving significant damage to the eye or the presence of foreign bodies—might necessitate surgery.

Can I treat a dog's eye infection without a vet?

It’s always best to consult a vet if you suspect an eye infection. Early professional intervention can prevent complications and more severe health issues. 

However, there are some initial steps you can take at home to alleviate discomfort and prevent further irritation in the meantime.

These include cleaning your dog’s eyes with a saline solution meant for the eyes, applying warm compresses, or using a cone to prevent scratching.

How to prevent a dog eye infection

Image of a Rottweiler puppy sitting in the grass

With regular care and vigilance, you can reduce the risk of irritants and pathogens. Here are several steps you can take to keep your dog’s eyes healthy:

  • Regular cleaning: Gently wipe around your dog’s eyes with a soft, damp cloth to remove any dirt or discharge. Use a separate area of the cloth for each eye to prevent cross-contamination.

  • Keep hair trimmed: For dog breeds with long hair around the eyes, regular trimming can help prevent eye irritation and reduce the risk of infections.

  • Avoid irritants: Try to avoid environments that could irritate your dog’s eyes, such as smoky rooms, dusty roads, or heavy pollen areas. After outdoor activities, it’s a good idea to wipe your dog’s eyes.

  • Proper hydration and nutrition: A healthy diet with appropriate levels of vitamins and minerals supports overall health, including eye health. Ensure your dog has access to fresh water at all times.

  • Use protective gear: In windy or sandy environments, consider using protective eyewear for dogs, especially if your dog is highly active outdoors and tends to run through tall grass or brushy areas.

  • Vaccinations and checkups: Keep up with your dog’s vaccinations and routine checkups. Some systemic diseases can predispose dogs to eye issues, so maintaining overall health is crucial. And routine exams can help catch and address eye issues before they turn into infections. 

By following these preventive measures, you can help your dog maintain good eye health throughout their life.

How pet insurance can help

Eye infections in dogs are not uncommon, but with the right knowledge and care, you can manage them effectively.

Dog insurance can help you manage these and other health insurance, helping you pursue the best possible treatment without letting costs hold you back. This can be especially vital for conditions like eye infections, where timely intervention can prevent more serious complications.


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David Teich
Lead Content Editor

David Teich is Lead Content Editor at ManyPets. He loves pets, Scrabble, Oxford commas, and typing loudly.