Can Dogs Get Pink Eye?
Plus how to keep his eyes protected 🥽
If you’ve ever had pink eye before, you know it can be super uncomfortable and even a bit painful.
So finding out your dog has pink eye can totally send you into protective-pet-parent mode.
Luckily, pink eye (aka conjunctivitis) in dogs can be easily treated. It’s just super important that you take your dog to the vet as soon as you notice any signs that he might have the condition to prevent it from getting worse.
The Dodo reached out to several veterinarians to find out what pink eye looks like in dogs, what causes it and how to treat conjunctivitis in dogs.
Can dogs get pink eye?
Just like humans, your dog can get pink eye — which is also known as conjunctivitis in dogs.
“Conjunctivitis in dogs is an eye infection that affects the mucous membrane (conjunctiva) that covers dogs’ eyes and eyelids,” Dr. Sabrina Kong, a veterinary writer at WeLoveDoodles, told The Dodo.
“Pink eye is the common name of conjunctivitis because the conjunctiva gets more swollen and pink or red when it is inflamed,” Dr. Sarah Wooten, a veterinarian with Pumpkin Pet Insurance, told The Dodo.
The purpose of the conjunctiva membrane in a dog’s eye is to act as a barrier against infections and foreign objects. The conjunctiva can also lubricate and clean the eye by secreting mucus, Dr. Chyrle Bonk, a veterinarian working with Doggie Designer, told The Dodo.
Symptoms of dog pink eye
If your dog has conjunctivitis, it’ll be pretty obvious since his eyes will likely be red and swollen with some discharge.
“Most of the symptoms of eye infection are very easy to see,” Dr. Sara Ochoa, a veterinary consultant with Dog Lab, told The Dodo.
And since pink eye can be pretty uncomfortable, you might notice your dog pawing at his eyes or trying not to open them as much.
Some common signs that might indicate your dog has pink eye include the following:
- Redness of the eyes (especially the white parts)
- Swollen eyelids
- Green or yellow eye discharge
- Squinting eyes (especially in bright lights)
- Crusty eyes
- Tear stains
- Pawing at the eyes
- Keeping his eyes closed
“Normally the conjunctiva is pale pink and not seen, but in dogs with conjunctivitis, it turns a bright red and becomes swollen to the point it can puff out from around the edges of the eyelids,” Dr. Bonk said.
“If you notice any of these issues, it would be best to see your vet,” Dr. Ochoa said.
Your vet can help diagnose your dog to help you find out if pink eye is causing these issues — or if it’s something else.
“Other conditions not related to the eyes can cause increased redness in the conjunctiva, including heatstroke, high blood pressure, severe anxiety or exertion and Bell’s palsy,” Dr. Wooten said.
Whatever the case, it’s important you take your dog to a veterinarian ASAP since pink eye can easily get worse.
“Mild eye issues can turn into something more severe very quickly if left untreated,” Dr. Ochoa said.
How do dogs get pink eye?
“Conjunctivitis can appear due to a wide array of reasons,” Dr. Kong said.
Some common causes of pink eye in dogs include the following:
- Bacterial or viral infections
- Dry eye (aka keratoconjunctivitis sicca or KCS)
- Cherry eye (prolapsed gland of the third eyelid)
- Eyelid disorders, including entropion (eyelid rolls in) and ectropion (eyelid rolls out)
- Eyelash disorders, like distichiasis (where an eyelash is growing on the inside of a lid)
- Trauma to the conjunctiva
- Ulcerative keratitis (a painful eye disorder)
- Irritation from smoke or chemicals
- Pannus in German shepherds (an eye condition that affects the cornea)
- A foreign body (such as a piece of grass stuck inside the eye)
The most common causes from this list are allergies, viral infection and bacterial infection. “Other less common causes, such as keratoconjunctivitis sicca (dry eye), can lead to secondary conjunctivitis,” Dr Corinne Wigfall, a veterinarian with SpiritDog Dog Training, told The Dodo.
Is conjunctivitis contagious in dogs?
Some types of conjunctivitis in dogs are contagious to other dogs, but transmission to humans is unlikely.
“There’s a difference between non-infectious conjunctivitis and infectious conjunctivitis,” Dr. Kong said. “The latter one has the potential to be transmitted from dog to dog.”
“If the conjunctivitis is due to an infection, other dogs can get it by coming in close contact with the discharge,” Dr. Bonk added. “It is rarely contagious to humans.”
To be safe, you should always wash your hands before and after treating your dog’s conjunctivitis or petting him. “Hand washing is key in preventing the spread of the disease,” Dr. Wigfall said.
“Also, avoid touching your eyes or other pet's eyes without first washing your hands,” Dr. Ochoa added.
And if one of your dogs has pink eye, try to keep him separated as much as possible from any other animals in your home to prevent the conjunctivitis from spreading to other pets.
How to diagnose conjunctivitis in dogs
“Vets diagnose conjunctivitis with a thorough exam,” Dr. Bonk said. “This usually includes applying a local anesthetic to the eye so that they can look under the eyelids for foreign bodies or tumors.”
Your veterinarian might also check tear production to see if dry eyes are causing the pink eye in addition to other tests.
“She may test the pressure inside your dog’s eye, tear production, and stain your dog’s eye to look for corneal ulcers,” Dr. Wooten said. “She may also ask you questions about your dog’s history, if this problem has happened before and how long it has been going on for.”
Dog conjunctivitis treatment
“Conjunctivitis treatment will depend on its cause,” Dr. Kong said. “Primarily, a vet will treat the underlying condition that led to the [pink] eye.”
No matter what’s causing your dog’s pink eye, though, you should try to keep your dog from touching his eye while it’s healing.
“For all of the causes of conjunctivitis, preventing self-trauma is key to healing,” Dr. Wigfall said. “E-collars are a good way to prevent your dog from rubbing at their face and making the swelling worse.”
Here are some ways your vet might treat your dog’s conjunctivitis based on the cause:
Allergic conjunctivitis treatment
If your dog’s pink eye is caused by allergies, the conjunctivitis can usually be treated with “topical steroid drops and daily cleaning of any discharge with a small amount of water then drying,” Dr Wigfall said. If the allergic conjunctivitis is severe enough, oral anti-inflammatory medications may be given to help reduce the swelling.
Your vet might also prescribe broader treatments for your dog’s allergies. “Dogs with allergic conjunctivitis may be prescribed oral corticosteroids or antihistamines to control systemic response,” Dr. Michelle Burch, a veterinarian from Safe Hounds Pet Insurance, told The Dodo.
If your dog has allergic reactions often, your vet might even suggest an allergy treatment plan known as immunotherapy. “If recurrent allergic conjunctivitis occurs, in addition to skin reactions, your dog will need to undergo allergic skin testing to determine the underlying allergy. Diagnosing the airborne irritants which cause symptoms will allow your veterinarian to produce immunotherapy injections to minimize signs.”
Bacterial conjunctivitis treatment
If bacteria is causing conjunctivitis, it can be “treated with either a topical antibiotic or a combination of a topical antibiotic and steroid medication,” Dr. Wigfall said. “Daily cleaning of any discharge and drying the area afterwards is an important part of treatment.”
Viral conjunctivitis treatment
For a viral infection that’s causing pink eye, it can be “treated with topical anti-inflammatory medication, either steroidal or non-steroidal,” Dr. Wigfall said. “It’s important to regularly check viral conjunctivitis as there is a chance bacterial conjunctivitis can develop, so [if there are] any signs of a purulent (yellow or green) discharge, veterinary attention should be sought.”
Dry eyes treatment
Dry eyes can also cause conjunctivitis, and that can be “treated with topical eye lubricants multiple times a day,” Dr. Wigfalll said. “Stimulants to create tear production may also be prescribed in association with the eye lubricants.”
Untreated conjunctivitis in dogs
If your dog’s conjunctivitis isn’t properly treated by a veterinarian, it can lead to serious consequences. So you should never ignore your dog’s pink eye symptoms or try a home remedy in an attempt to treat your dog’s pink eye yourself.
“Eye infections are not something that you should attempt to treat at home,” Dr. Ochoa said. “If left untreated, your dog could potentially lose vision in their eye or damage the eye even more and lose their eye.”
“Eye injuries and conditions have the potential to worsen quickly and risk your dog's vision or even their eyes themselves,” Dr. Conrad added. “Contact your vet as soon as you notice any abnormal symptoms in and around your dog's eyes so treatment can be started promptly.”
How to prevent conjunctivitis in dogs
“You cannot prevent pink eye completely, but you can take preventive measures,” Dr. Kong said.
If your dog has had pink eye before, you might be able to prevent it depending on what caused the pink eye in the first place. “If the cause is allergic, then giving your dog antihistamines before the allergies flare may prevent pink eye,” Dr. Wooten said. “You can [also] prevent some infectious causes of pink eye, including distemper and adenovirus, with vaccination.”
Here’s a list of ways you can prevent pink eye in your dog:
- Groom him regularly to keep long hair away from his face.
- Keep shampoo, smoke and other irritants away from the eyes.
- Regularly check your dog’s eye area to catch any issues early.
- Supervise your dog while playing.
- Remove any spiny and bristly plants from your yard.
- Keep vaccines up to date (as canine distemper can cause viral conjunctivitis).
Keep in mind that certain breeds of dogs are more prone to eye issues than others. “Dogs with short noses or brachycephalic breeds can develop eye issues more commonly than other dogs,” Dr. Ochoa said. “If you have one of these breeds of dogs, monitor their eyes for any signs of trauma or infection. As soon as you notice anything, take them to your vet for an exam.”
Dog goggles can also help to prevent debris from getting into your dog’s eyes. They’re great to use if your dog likes to stick his head out of the window during a car ride or for basically any other outdoor activity.
The bottom line is that dogs can totally get pink eye, and it can actually be pretty painful, so consider using some of the conjunctivitis prevention methods suggested above. And if your dog already has pink eye, make sure you get him to the vet ASAP and follow their treatment plan exactly so you can get your pup back to good health.
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