Conjunctivitis in dogs: how to spot the signs and treat it

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Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye or red eye, is an uncomfortable condition that if left untreated can cause damage to your dog’s eyes. This infection is as common in dogs as it is in humans, but luckily it is treatable in most circumstances. 

Sean McCormack, Head vet at tails.com, explains some of the causes in dogs, common symptoms and treatments for this eye condition.

What is conjunctivitis in dogs? 

Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the mucous membrane called the ‘conjunctiva’, which is the tissue that coats the eye and the lining of the eyelids, that acts as a protective barrier for infection and objects entering the eyeball. When this area becomes infected and inflamed it is known as conjunctivitis, however, the condition is most commonly known as ‘pink eye’. 

What are the symptoms of conjunctivitis in dogs?

Being able to recognise the common conjunctivitis symptoms means that you may catch a case of the infection early, making treatment easier and potentially preventing long term health issues for your dog. These symptoms are very similar to the symptoms we associate with conjunctivitis in humans, including;

how to protect your dog from conjunctivitis

  • Eye infection – cloudy, greenish or yellow discharge from the eye 
  • Rubbing or pawing at their eyes 
  • Squinting or blinking more than usual 
  • Swelling around the eye 
  • Inflammation of the eye 
  • The whites of the eyes are red or pink 

These symptoms often start in one eye and spread to the other through contamination. If the eye infection is caused by an allergy or virus, both eyes can be affected from the start. It can sometimes be accompanied by other clinical signs, such as nasal discharge, coughing or sneezing. These symptoms are present in other eye conditions, so it’s important to visit your vet to identify the cause of the issue, so the treatment is correct. 

How do dogs get conjunctivitis? 

There are a number of things that cause conjunctivitis in your pet and your vet will help to determine which is to blame. The three main types of conjunctivitis include; 

  • Allergic Conjunctivitis: This form of infection is caused by an allergic reaction, this is seasonal and should not be contagious to other dogs. 
  • Viral Conjunctivitis: Infection is caused by a virus that spreads quickly, for example, canine herpes or canine distemper. This normally causes green or yellow discharge from the eye.
  • Bacterial Conjunctivitis: Infections caused by bacteria can spread to other dogs easily. If your dog suffers regularly from bacterial infections in its eyes, it’s likely there will be an underlying reason such as ‘dry eye’ or an in-growing eyelash. 
Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye or red eye, is an uncomfortable condition that if left untreated can cause damage to your dog’s eyes.
Image by Nikki Luijpers on Pixabay

Other potential causes include grass seed, grit or other items dislodged in the eye, an injury to the eye, bites in the eye area, eye diseases such as glaucoma, parasites such as eye worms, dust mites, pollen, mould, drugs or cosmetics and perfumes.

Is conjunctivitis contagious in dogs? 

Conjunctivitis is contagious amongst humans, but fortunately, in most cases in dogs, it is unlikely that it will pass to people or other dogs. However, is it important to contact your vet about your dog’s symptoms and how careful you should be until their infection clears up. 

Precautions to take to protect yourself and other pets, including washing your hands after treating your dog’s eye and keeping your dog’s bedding and living area as clean as possible. 

How do you treat conjunctivitis in dogs? 

Eye conditions can be treated, but they can also worsen if left untreated. It’s important to seek advice from your vet as they will provide medication to help treat its symptoms. Eye drops are the most common treatment for conjunctivitis, but the drops will depend on your dog’s case. They will often prescribe antibiotics, steroids, anti-inflammatories or antihistamines. 

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While you want to do everything to stop the irritation in your dog’s eyes, it’s important to avoid trying home remedies and speak to your veterinarian for a diagnosis first.​​

Some infections are unavoidable, but there are certain things you can do to reduce the chance of your pup getting conjunctivitis. Keeping the fur around their eyes trimmed if you have a long-haired dog, is one of the most effective ways. Regular grooming will help to prevent irritation around the eyes and stop things from getting stuck in their coat and ending up in their eyes. 

Another way to reduce the chance of your dog developing an infection is to not let them hang their heads out of a moving car’s window. The wind and flying objects including pollen, dust and bugs can irritate your pet’s eyes. 

Ensuring your dog is up to date with all its routine vaccinations will help to protect them from viral infections that can spread from other dogs when contact is made.

When it comes to putting anything in your pet’s eyes it can be an unpleasant experience for both of you if you are unprepared. You’ve got a wriggly pup and a very small target, and they can be very sensitive, especially as their eyes can be extremely painful. 

If you have a small dog, position them on the countertop, with their rear pressed against you, this will help make the process easier for you and your dog. For larger dogs, back them into a tight corner so they can’t escape and place their head between your thighs. Then place your hand on the bottom of their chin and angle their head up. Use your right hand to apply the drops to your dog’s eye. You can use your thumb to pull the eyebrow to make the application easier. 

It’s common for your dog to struggle, as they are being restrained, so you can offer them food with one hand and administer the medicine with the other. You can even smear peanut butter on the wall in front of you to keep them occupied.

This is a guest essay by Sean McCormack. Want to write for us? Visit www.dogstodaymagazine.co.uk/essay-submission or email editorial@dogstodaymagazine.co.uk

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