Cloudy eyes in dogs often seem nothing more than a natural part of aging. However, this is not always the case, as cloudiness, murkiness, and blue, white, and gray color in the eye can happen at any age and often needs immediate veterinary treatment.
Keeping up with our dog’s eye care and hygiene with daily eye-cleaning wipes and inspections is vital for our dog’s long-term vision. We must also know what’s normal and what isn’t, particularly in breeds prone to eye problems.
To deal with the issues of cloudiness in canine eyes, we’ve consulted the expert dog ophthalmology literature to give better clarity over the various causes. By understanding what cloudy eyes could mean, we have a better chance of making the best medical decisions for our dogs.
What causes cloudy eyes in dogs?
Dogs most often get cloudy eyes due to problems in their cornea. All dogs will eventually get blue, cloudy eyes from nuclear sclerosis. But cataracts, glaucoma, and other corneal issues like edema, dystrophy, or ulcers may cause murky eyes.
In many cases, this symptom is both treatable and a sign of a severe health problem. So it’s vital to take murkiness in the eyes seriously and see a veterinarian when you notice it.
Understanding cloudiness in a dog’s eye: canine eye anatomy
To understand what happens when a dog’s eye becomes cloudy, we need to quickly go over the structures in the dog’s eye and what they do.
- Orbit: This is the round cavity in the skull where the eyeball sits. In the orbit are muscles that control movement, tear ducts, blood vessels, and nerves.
- Sclera: this is the white of the eye, a tough, protective outer layer.
- Conjunctiva: a thin membrane covering the eyelids’ sclera and the inside.
- Cornea: this is the transparent part of the eye where the light comes in. It focuses light to the back of the eye where the retina is and protects it.
- Iris: This is the colored circle in the eye, usually either brown or blue. It can contract or dilate to control how much light goes through the pupil.
- Pupil: this is the black circle in the middle of the iris where light enters the eye through cornea. It has a sphincter of light that makes it bigger to let in more light when it’s dark or smaller when it is bright outside.
- Lens: this works like a camera lens. It sits behind the iris and uses tiny muscles to become thicker when the dog is focusing on something close by. It grows thinner when the dog is looking into the distance.
- Retina: This is the layer of photoreceptors (light-sensitive cells) at the back of the eye that picks up light. Each of these tiny cells is connected to a nerve fiber, and all the nerve fibers connect to make the optic nerve. This is the nerve that goes to the brain to give the information the photoreceptors pick up.
- Eyelids: a dog has three eyelids. You will only see the visible upper and lower eyelids and the nictitating membrane if there is a medical problem.
- Lacrimal & Meibomian glands: These tiny glands produce the watery and oily part of tears to keep the eye moist. The conjunctiva produces mucus. A dog needs this mixture of oil, water, and mucus to keep the eye from drying out.
- Nasolacrimal ducts: these are the ducts that drain away excess tears. If the dog has an issue in the shape of their eye, these ducts won’t properly drain tears away. This will cause the tears to run down the face and make tear stains.
10 reasons and possible cures for cloudy eyes in dogs
Not all cloudiness or eye problems in dogs can be remedied, but sometimes much can be done to slow down a degenerative condition and keep a dog from losing their eyesight too quickly. So let’s look at the most common reason for murkiness in a dog’s eyes and what can be done about it.
1. Nuclear sclerosis
The most common reason for cloudy eyes in dogs is nuclear sclerosis, also called lenticular sclerosis. You usually see it in older or middle-aged dogs. While cataracts tend to be whitish, lenticular sclerosis gives the eye a murky, bluish appearance.
This is perfectly normal in old dogs, and it does not mean that the dog is going blind. Many dogs can see perfectly fine with nuclear sclerosis. Over the age of 13, practically every dog will develop cloudy blue eyes. Why don’t know exactly why it happens, but it seems that the fibers in the lens become harder.
Some dogs will develop cataracts as they get older, but not always. Below we discuss a mix of anti-oxidants and nutrients you can feed your dog to preserve their vision as they age.
Cataracts are usually what we think of when we think of cloudy eyes in dogs. With cataracts, the eye lens stops being transparent and gives a milky, opaque look to the dog’s eye. This is usually because proteins “clump together” and give the eye a murky appearance.
Because the lens isn’t clean, the light can’t pass through to the retina, and the dog will gradually lose their vision the worse the problem gets.
Contrary to what we might think, cataracts don’t just happen to old dogs. They can be
- caused by metabolic issues like diabetes
- result from injury
- result from chronic inflammation in the uvea (the blood vessels in the back of the eye)
- Puppy nutritional deficiencies (such as the wrong milk replacer),
- A severe calcium deficiency or imbalance.
Cataracts can be extremely painful and can cause complications that may mean the whole eye has to be removed. Because of this, dog owners should opt for cataract surgery to treat the problem.
3. Corneal ulcers
Corneal ulcers usually happen because of injury to the eye, such as when a dog rubs their face against the carpet because of itchy eye allergies. Essentially, it means the cornea has a scratch or abrasion. If it is deep enough, the fluid in the eye may leak out, and a vet may need to remove the eye.
In some breeds, like Boxers, the cornea may be weak due to birth defects and prone to ulcers. In dogs with “dry eye,” the cornea may also be more prone to damage. Short-nosed (brachycephalic) breeds often have bulging eyes prone to trauma.
According to Canine Conditions and Epidemiology, Pugs are 19 times more likely to have ulcers on their corneas than mixed-breed dogs, while boxers are 12 times more likely.
Endocrine issues like Cushing’s disease or hypothyroidism can also cause predispose dogs to corneal ulcers. So if you’re googling “cloudy eyes in dogs diabetes,” be aware that diabetes absolutely affects a dog’s vision.
Corneal ulcers usually create red, swollen eyes where the dog may blink a lot or squint. There may also be discharge. They do not cause cloudiness necessarily, but they can cause cataracts, glaucoma, and other conditions that create murky eyes and affect vision.
The vet will usually prescribe antibiotic eye drops for this condition.
4. Cloudy eyes in puppies (undeveloped eyes)
While most puppies open their eyes around two weeks, their eyes are still developing and will usually stay cloudy and bluish. In general, the cornea only becomes fully transparent around eight weeks, when their eyes are fully developed.
You may need to see a vet if the cloudiness stays past this point. Malnutrition in early life can cause cataracts in puppies. If you are googling “puppy cloudy in one eye,” there could be cause for concern, such as an injury or infection.
5. Corneal dystrophy
There are three kinds of dystrophy of the cornea that cause cloudiness or opaque eyes. These are inherited conditions, so certain breeds are more vulnerable than others.
Epithelial corneal dystrophy
Here cloudiness only affects the top layer of the cornea. You will likely see whitish or grayish patches on the surface of the eye. These are the lesions. You see this most often in Shetland Sheepdogs, and it does not seem to affect their vision.
Stomal cornea dystrophy
This affects the middle layer of the cornea. Dogs can usually see, but if it progresses, they may lose some eyesight. There should be gray, white, or silver cloudy circles or ovals in the center of the eye.
This condition affects many breeds, including:
- Afghan Hounds
- Malamutes and Huskies (or spitz breeds like Samoyeds)
- Bichons Frises
- German Shepherds
- Airdale Terriers
- Lhasa Apsos
- Miniature pinschers
- American Cocker Spaniels
- Airedale terriers.
Endothelial corneal dystrophy
Corneal endothelial dystrophy is the most serious of the three, causing swelling and blisters in the cornea. Dogs may eventually go blind. You will see it most often in Boston Terriers, Dachshunds, and Chihuahuas.
For this condition, treatment ranges from antibiotic eye drops to surgery on the conjunctiva in severe cases.
6. Corneal edema
Sometimes old dogs get a condition called senile endothelial degeneration. In this situation, the cornea becomes filly water, like a blister, creating a blue cloudy, and swollen look. Or rather, something like a steamed-up window.
These blisters can eventually burst, causing severe ulcers. Veterinary treatment ranges from antibiotic ointments to surgery in severe cases. Breeds that are at high risk for glaucoma need to go for check-ups often to catch these issues before it progresses.
Glaucoma in dogs happens when the fluid inside the eye does not drain away properly and causes a build-up of pressure in the eye. It’s more common in purebred dogs and can either be open-angle or close-angle. The latter causes a lot of pain, inflammation, and possible blindness.
Dogs with glaucoma will have cloudy eyes, as well as:
- inflamed redness,
- swelling or bulging of the eye,
- a blue or red tint,
- eye discharge,
- dilated pupils, blinking
- and squinting.
8. Anterior uveitis
In this condition, the iris and back of the eye become inflamed. There can be discharge, eye sensitivity and pain, and squinting. The eye may also be red. This condition can be caused by lymphoma or cataracts, so cloudiness is a common symptom.
9. Pannus or Uberreiter disease
Pannus is an immune disease that also affects the cornea of some dog’s eyes. It causes cloudiness, inflammation, and swelling in the cornea. This condition mostly affects:
- Belgian Tervurens,
- German Shepherds,
- Australian Shepherds
- Border Collies,
- And Huskies.
Since this is an immune disorder, dogs may need lifelong treatment.
10. Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS or Dry eye)
KCS is a problem where the eye does not get enough tear fluid to keep it moist. It’s common in many breeds, specifically those with bulging, round eyes and short noses like pugs.
KCS causes red, irritated eyes with thick yellow mucus. Because it irritates the cornea, it often causes ulcers and other issues that result in cloudy eyes. There may also be corneal scarring where a black film seems to cover the eye. In severe cases, the dog may lose their eyesight.
Other hereditary diseases can also damage the cornea and eventually lead to opaque eyes. For instance, dogs born with eyelashes that face inward (entropion) can scratch the cornea and cause damage.
Other conditions in the eye that may also cause bluish, gray, and cloudy eyes in dogs include:
- Interstitial Keratitis
- Lens displacement
Cloudy eyes in dogs treatment: How to fix cloudy eyes in dogs
In the case of dogs with lenticular sclerosis, it is not possible to reverse the cloudiness, as this is a natural part of aging. However, for most other conditions, such as cataracts, glaucoma, and cornea issues, a vet can help.
The vet will need to diagnose the problems and look for underlying healthy issues like diabetes or immune disorders. Depending on the condition, your dog may need nothing more than some antibiotic eye drops or other ointments. In other cases, they may need corrective surgery.
Cloudy eyes in dogs suddenly or overnight
A dog’s eye that turns cloudy overnight is a cause for concern, and they should see a veterinarian. Damage to the cornea is the most likely a problem with lens metabolism. Discharge, squinting, keeping the eye closed, redness, or inflammation are indicators that your dog needs to see a vet.
Old dog eyes cloudy? Vitamins and supplements for a aging dog’s cloudy eyes
When it comes to cloudy eyes in older dogs, like humans, senior dogs simply begin to lose lens and retina function as they age. This is largely due to oxidative or free radical damage over time to the eye’s structures. So one major home remedy for a dog’s cloudy eyes is just to feed a diet rich in antioxidants.
One study had great success with the following blend of antioxidants that you can give as dog cloudy eye home remedy:
- lutein: 20 mg,
- zeaxanthin: 5 mg,
- β-carotene: 20 mg,
- Astaxanthin: 5 mg,
- vitamin C: 180 mg.
However, keep in mind that there is such as thing as too much of a good thing when it comes to nutrients.
Do cloudy eyes in dogs mean blindness?
Dogs who have cloudy eyes are not necessarily blind. Certain condition like superficial cornea degeneration or sclerosis does not seem to impact a dog’s vision much. Other conditions, like cataracts, can stop light from entering the eye and will cause blindness.
Can conjunctivitis cause cloudy eyes in dogs?
Conjunctivitis or pink eye in dogs does not cause cloudy eyes in dogs. It causes redness, blinking, squinting, and discharge. However, conjunctivitis can be present with another eye condition, like an infection that may cause cloudiness. So it is possible for a dog with conjunctivitis also to have cloudy eyes.
Dogs naturally get cloudy eyes as they age, but it can also happen at any age since their are many conditions that can affect a dog’s cornea and result in an opaque or murky look. Always take your dog for a check-up, as many of these conditions need immediate medical attention.
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.
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