Does your dog have swollen, red, weepy eyes? Have they been squinting or scratching them more than usual? If so, they could be suffering from conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis affects most dogs at some point during their lifetime, but fortunately, it’s usually quick and simple to treat. However, in some cases, conjunctivitis can be an indication of a more serious underlying condition, so it’s best to have your dog examined by your vet as soon as you notice a problem. 

What is conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis is inflammation (swelling) of the conjunctiva, (which is the thin layer of tissue that covers the front of the eye, and the pink part underneath the eyelids). 

What causes conjunctivitis in dogs?

Contrary to popular belief, conjunctivitis isn’t always just a bacterial infection. Although bacteria are often part of the problem, more often than not, another underlying condition causes the conjunctivitis to develop in the first place. Possible causes include:

  • Dry eye (reduced tear production in the eye) – this is a very common cause of conjunctivitis in dogs. 
  • Allergies – skin allergies are a common problem in dogs, often causing itchy skin, ears and eyes. Common allergens include dust, pollen and grass. 
  • Something that has irritated or scratched the eye – such as smoke, strong wind, dust, sand, or even a lump in/around the eye.
  • A foreign body – such as a grass seed, or piece of dirt stuck underneath the third eyelid.
  • Corneal ulcer (a wound on the front of the eye) – these are often caused by cat scratches, foreign bodies, or by bumping into something.
  • Eyelid disorders such an entropion and ectropion. 
  • Eyelash disorders such an ectopic cilia, trichiasis and distichia.
  • Glaucoma (increased pressure inside the eyeball).
  • Uveitis (inflammation inside the eyeball).

Symptoms of conjunctivitis in dogs

Conjunctivitis is a very irritating condition that causes the eyes to become itchy, red, and swollen. It often causes a discharge that weeps from the eyes in the daytime, and dries overnight to form a crust around the eyelids. If your dog develops conjunctivitis it’s likely that they will squint, rub their face, and in severe cases, they may even start to feel unwell in themselves. 

How to treat conjunctivitis in dogs

Before prescribing treatment, your vet will check for any underlying conditions that could be causing your dog’s conjunctivitis. They will look into their eyes using an ophthalmoscope, check their eyesight, tear production, stain the eye(s) to check for any scratches, and if necessary, check the pressure inside each eyeball and take swabs of any discharge.

If your dog has an underlying condition (such as dry eye), this will need to be treated alongside their conjunctivitis symptoms to allow their eyes to fully heal and stay healthy. If your dog has a simple case of conjunctivitis, caused by a bacterial infection, your vet will prescribe them some antibiotic eye drops. And, depending on their symptoms, possibly some anti-inflammatory/pain relief. Your vet will usually also want to recheck your dog after a few days to make sure their eyes are healing.

Caring for a dog with conjunctivitis

There are a few things you can do to help your dog recover and keep them comfortable while they are being treated for conjunctivitis:  

  • Keep them away from strong wind, dusty areas and bright light. 
  • Keep their eyes clean as possible by wiping any dried discharge away. Do this as many times a day as necessary, using cotton wool pads soaked in cool boiled water. Never pull the discharge off because this is likely to be painful. 
  • Contact your vet if your dog’s symptoms don’t improve within 2-3 days, or immediately if they get any worse. 

How to apply eye drops

If your dog develops conjunctivitis, it’s more than likely that your vet will ask you to give them eye drops. The best way to apply them is to:

  • Have someone gently hold your dog for you, or straddle them between your legs if you don’t have anyone available. 
  • Gentle pull their lower eyelid down so you can see the pink tissue (the conjunctiva!) underneath it.
  • Drop the medication into the pocket between the eye and eyelid being careful not to touch the front of the eye with the dropper. 
  • Hold the eye shut for 1-2 seconds. 

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