Can My Dog Cry?

It's a little complicated 😢

dog crying with tissue box

You’re curled up on the couch with your pup, watching a sad movie, when you start to cry. When you look over, it looks like your dog’s eyes are filled with tears too.

While you might see your dog tear up from time to time, those tears might not mean what you think.

Of course dogs have lots of feelings, but do they cry when they’re feeling sad, hurt or scared like humans do? And can they cry tears of joy?

To find out, The Dodo spoke to Dr. Stephanie Austin, a veterinarian at Bond Vet, to get the scoop on whether or not dogs can really cry.

Do dogs cry?

While dogs do feel sadness and pain, it doesn’t make them cry emotional tears like we do.

“Dogs can produce tears, but they don’t cry in response to strong emotions,” Dr. Austin told The Dodo. “Emotional tearing, with a very large production of tears in a short time, is just something their eyes aren’t equipped to do.”

Of course dogs do “cry,” or produce some tears, but their tears aren’t because of their emotions. So what’s the purpose of their tears?

“Like humans, a dog’s tears help their eyes function properly and provide some degree of protection,” Dr. Austin said. “A dog’s tears are functional in nature, including basal tears (the fluid that keeps the eyes lubricated) and reflex tears (extra tear production that flushes the eye in the case of irritation or a piece of dirt stuck in the eye).”

Dogs’ eyes produce tears to help take care of their eyes just like people’s eyes do, but you won’t see a dog crying because she’s hurt or sad.

Why does it look like my dog’s crying?

So if it does look like your dog has been crying, she’s probably not sad — but there are some other reasons why you might see tears.

Watery eyes in dogs often indicate some sort of eye irritation or problem,” Dr. Austin said.

There are a bunch of reasons why your pup might have watery eyes, such as:

  • Allergies — Just like people, dogs can have allergies to lots of things, like pollen, dust and food, and those allergies can make their eyes water.
  • Irritants, like dust, dirt or eyelashes — If your dog has something in her eye, the tears should stop as soon as the irritation is gone.
  • Blocked tear duct — Tears from a blocked tear duct are called epiphora and can lead to skin irritation and stained fur (a brown or reddish color) caused by damp fur around your dog’s eyes.
  • Scratched cornea — Dogs can get a scratched cornea from being too rough when playing. You might notice blinking or an inflamed eye in addition to tears.
  • Infection — Tears from an eye infection will be yellow and mucusy or bloody. Your dog’s eyes might also be swollen.

But depending on the type of dog you have, watery eyes might not always be a symptom of a medical issue.

“Some breeds, especially those with short noses, might naturally have more watery eye discharge than other breeds due to their conformation [or body structure],” Dr. Austin said. “This may be normal so long as no other symptoms occur, and usually it’s only a cosmetic issue that doesn’t require treatment. But ask your vet if you’re not sure.”

The best rule of thumb is if you’re ever unsure about symptoms your dog’s displaying, just ask your vet (better safe than sorry!).

What to do if your dog’s eyes are tearing

Because tearing up is usually a sign of an eye problem, you should get your pup checked out by a vet.

“If tearing persists or is accompanied by other symptoms, like redness or squinting, it’s best to see a veterinarian as soon as possible to check for any medical issues that could require treatment,” Dr. Austin said.

Treatment will depend on the cause of your dog’s tears:

  • Allergies — Your vet will run tests to find out what your dog is allergic to, and then you can remove any allergens from your house. You can also give your dog over-the-counter antihistamines — just be sure to double-check with your vet before giving any medicines to your pup.
  • Irritants — If the object irritating your dog’s eye doesn’t come out on its own, your vet will remove it and might give you pain medication if your dog’s eye is still hurting.
  • Blocked tear duct — If your dog’s tear duct is blocked, your vet will flush out the duct and might prescribe antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medicines. If flushing doesn’t work, surgery might be needed to open and drain the duct.
  • Scratched cornea — Treatment for a scratched cornea will usually be antibiotics, and in more severe cases (for deep scratches that aren’t healing), your dog might need surgery.
  • Infection — Your vet will prescribe an antibiotic and might use a saline wash to flush your dog’s eye for an infection.

Basically, if you’re worried your dog is crying because she’s emotionally upset, you can relax — dogs don’t cry like people do. But you should get her checked out by your vet to make sure her tears aren’t a sign of an eye problem. The good news is that most eye problems in dogs are easily treatable with medication, or sometimes just a little patience and TLC.