Most of us have had an aggravating and unsightly bout of pink eye, but can dogs get pink eye too? Increasingly, pet parents are becoming aware of the need to take care of their dog’s fragile eyes, such as daily cleaning with eye wipes for dogs.
Still, even so, we may not always be aware of how severe eye infection, irritation, or any kind of inflammation can be. Surely, a slight redness will pass on its own? The truth is that eye issues often cause permanent damage and even blindness. So let’s take a closer look at pink eye in dogs.
Can Dogs Get Pink Eye?
Dogs can absolutely get pink eye or conjunctivitis. This is inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva, a thin, transparent membrane that covers the inside of the dog’s two main eyelids— they have more. It also covers the white part of the eye, called the sclera.
The conjunctiva has many vital roles in the eye. It:
- Helps with movement
- It keeps the eye lubricated by producing tears
- Is antimicrobial
- Works with the immune system with white blood cells, lymphoid, and other immune-mediated responses to protect the eye.
If the conjunctiva becomes irritated, infected, and inflamed, it leads to conjunctivitis or pink eye. In dogs, the nictitating membrane, or third eyelid may also become inflamed.
How Do I Know If My Dog Has Pink Eye?
If you peel the bottom eyelid back, the inner lining of the lid is usually an angry red color if your dog has pink eye. But other signs include:
- Excessive, running tears, mucus, or discharge that is white, yellow, or green,
- Pawing at their eyes or rubbing their head against furniture,
- Struggling to open one or both eyes, or lots of blinking and squinting,
- Swelling around the eye.
Even if the signs seem obvious, you mustn’t try to diagnose pink eye in your dog yourself. The problem is that there are simply too many possible causes. Your vet immediately needs to run several tests, including:
- Testing for bacterial eye infections
- Running a Schirmer’s test to check if your dog is producing enough tears
- A fluorescein eye stain test to check for lesions on the cornea
- Testing for glaucoma
- And a possible biopsy
How Do Dogs Get Pink Eye?
The major problem with pink eye in dogs is the sheer number of potential causes. Sometimes a clue is whether it is in one eye or both. In both eyes, pink eye is more likely due to viruses or allergies. If it’s only in one eye, it may be an injury or foreign object lodged in the eye.
But there is a multitude of causes that underlines the seriousness of the problem. Canine ophthalmologist Marta Leiva, DVM, describes the many causes of pink eye in dogs. These include:
- Dog breeds are prone to congenital eye issues that frequently lead to pink eye. For instance, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel may get Curly Coat Dry Eye Syndrome, and Collie dogs may get nodular episcleritis. Brachycephalic or short-nosed breeds like Pugs often have severe skull abnormalities that promote several eye issues, including pink eye.
- Viral Infections such as canine distemper, herpes, or adenovirus
- Bacterial infections
- Injuries or trauma to the eye or foreign objects such as grass awns aggravating the conjunctiva
- Allergic responses to environmental allergens such as pollen or dust mites or if dogs eat something they are allergic to are common causes. Other immune responses may result from medication, an autoimmune disease such as pemphigus, or plasma cell conjunctivitis, mostly in German Shepherds.
- Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), also called dry eye.
- Tumors or tear duct impactions.
- Eyelid and eyelash defects. The most common of these is entropion, where the eyelid turns inward and irritates the eyeball. Another common eyelash abnormality is distichiasis, where the lashes grow inward themselves.
- Eye injuries, foreign objects in the eyes, or irritants such as unsafe shampoo in the eye.
- Other eye conditions such as glaucoma, uveitis, or ulcers.
- Rarely, parasites such as roundworms or rare European “eyeworms” may cause pink eye.
How Do You Treat Pink Eye In Dogs?
The causes of canine pink eye can be multifactorial, so vets may choose to combine different strategies for treating conjunctivitis. Let’s look at the common methods.
Your vet may prescribe
- Oral or topical antibiotics
- Steroidal eye drops
- Artificial tears
- Antiinflammatory or NSAIDs ointments
Conjunctivitis that needs surgery
In the cases of tumors, tear duct impactions, or eyelid and eyelash deformities, your dog may need surgery. Your vet may give you pain medication and ointments to apply after surgery.
The key with allergies is to identify the allergen and remove it. Your vet may choose ELISA testing. After that, you may get antihistamine drops or anti-inflammatory eye drops.
Usually, viruses need intensive secondary care. For example, if your dog has distemper, they may need constant fluids to prevent dehydration and keep up their electrolytes. Your vet will also try to manage problems like vomiting and diarrhea. Pink eye may take a backseat in these cases until your dog is out of danger, when your vet may give you ointments and eye drops.
Can I Treat My Dog’s Pink Eye At Home?
There is no effective dog pink eye home remedy, and you cannot treat pink eye without seeing a vet. A vet must run tests to diagnose the exact cause and treat any underlying issues. The best you can do from home is provide a saline eye wash or some artificial tears that could ease aggravation from dry eye. Another option is a cold compress to make your dog more comfortable.
One dog pink eye treatment over the counter that you can get is the antibiotic ointment Terramycin. But this is only helpful if your dog definitely has a bacterial infection, and bacterial eye infections aren’t that common in dogs.
Ultimately, the best cure is prevention. And that you need to take good care of your dog’s eyes.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is canine conjunctivitis contagious to humans
Only some kinds of dog conjunctivitis are contagious to humans, specifically bacterial infections. The usual bacterial causes of pink eye in dogs are Streptococcus and Staphylococcus. While you can’t catch pink eye from your dog if they have allergies or an injury, these bacteria are infectious and can cause human conjunctivitis.
However, this is very rare. You need to touch the discharge from your dog’s bacterial infection and get it into your eye for this to happen. Reasonable hygiene practices like washing your hands after treating your dog’s eye should prevent you from catching any pathogens. One other possibly contagious cause is if your dog has roundworms.
Can dogs get pink eye from humans?
It’s slightly more common for dogs to get conjunctivitis from people than the other way around. The reason is that bacterial infections rarely cause conjunctivitis in dogs, but in humans, they are the most common cause.
These bacteria are highly infectious, and if you rub your eyes and then pet your dog’s head, you may accidentally transfer some bacteria to their eye area and give them pink eye.
Does pink eye in dogs go away on its own?
Don’t wait for your dog’s pink eye to go away on its own. Always go to a vet. Most of the causes of canine conjunctivitis can cause massive damage to the dog eye and even blindness. When it’s a virus, it can be deadly. There is very little you can do from home to effectively help your dog, and your vet needs to run tests to determine the cause.
Dogs do get pink eye for a variety of causes, many of which may have severe health complications. For this reason, don’t try to treat conjunctivitis on your own. Rather, go straight to a vet. A simple case won’t be costly, and the medication for dog pink eye may only be about $60 to $100.
However, the bill could be exorbitant if your dog needs treatment for a much more serious disorder, such as surgery for entropion or treatment for distemper. Therefore, invest in good pet insurance for your dog. Also, make good eye care part of your dog’s daily routine to help avoid infections.
Tamsin De La HarpeAuthor
Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.
Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.