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Canine Eyes: What Dog Parents Need To Know

This article originally appeared on as Canine Eyes: What Dog Parents Need To Know. by Dr. Patrick Mahaney 

Some say the eyes are the window into a pet or person’s soul. It is our responsibility as dog parents to clean around their eyes daily to keep them beautiful and healthy.

As our companion animals share the same environment we do, they are equally prone to the negative effects of environmental irritants that can land on the surface of the eyeball (globe).  Additionally, our pets more frequently and thoroughly explore their surroundings with their nose, which invariable leads to inhalation of particulate matter which also can affect the eyes.

Pet owners should keep their canine companion’s eyelids and periorbital region (area round the eye) clean on a regular bases. One great option is to use Dog Fashion Spa Gentle Eye Pads.  Besides cleaning, these non-irritating pads also permit dog owners to get a strong visual sense of their pet’s eye discharge.  Such information is valuable to the veterinarian overseeing the dog’s care and permits more accurate diagnosis and treatment of eye ailments.

After the pad has been used to wipe around the eyes, it can be used to then wipe the seat or paw pads free from substances picked up on the street, in the yard, or any other location your dog may go.

When striving to look into your dog’s soul through his eyes, make sure you take note of the appearance of any irregularities and immediately bring them up with your veterinarian.

Get familiar with the below information about abnormalities and medical conditions to be aware of while cleaning around your dog’s eyes.

Clinical signs of canine eye abnormalities

When something is bothering your pet’s eyes, the behaviors a dog will exhibit can vary from mild to sever and include:


Bletharospasm is squinting, which may appear like your pet is forcibly closing one or both eyes.


Blindness can be partial or complete and won’t permit a dog to navigate familiar indoor or outdoor environments without bumping into objects or stumbling down inclines and stairs.

Buphthalmia and microophthalmia

Enlarged appearance of the eye is buphthalmia while microophthalmia occurs when the eye appears smaller than normal.


Conjunctivitis is inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the tissue lining the inner aspect of the eyelid.


Eye discharge can be ear, white, green, brown, red, or other color having thin to thick consistently.


Keratitis involves changes in the appearance of the cornea (clear outer surface of the eye) or sclera, most commonly seen as deposition of brown pigment.


Pruritis is itching which causes a dog to paw at the eyes or rub the face on environmental surfaces in attempt to provide relief to eye irritation.


Scleritis (or scleral injection) is engorgement of the blood vessels of the sclera (white of the eye) which causes a bloodshot appearance.

Medical conditions causing clinical signs relating to the eyes

There are a many reasons why dogs can have eye discharge, visual changes, squinting, and other clinical signs, including:


Cataract is an opacity in the lens of the eye that completely obstructs light from contacting the image-producing inner surface (retina).  Cataracts can be congenital (and even breed-related, such as in Cocker Spaniel), be an age-related process, or occur secondary to diseases (diabetes, etc.).  Cataracts can be surgically removed, which essentially restores vision.

Congenital Malformity

Some pets are born with one or both eyes having not developed properly. Herding breeds, like the Collie and Australian Shepherd, are well-known for a congenital condition called microophthalmia (unusually small eyeball).


Bacterial, fungal, viral, or even parasitic organisms can infect the eyes and damage the eye structures or lids.  Infectious organisms typically respond to topical or oral medications.


Environmental allergens, smoke, heat, or chemicals (including harsh shampoos and sprays commonly used by groomers) can lead to ulceration of the cornea (outer surface of the eyeball).  Inflammation can also be caused by the scraping action of eyelashes associated with inward rolling of the eyelids (entropion) and abnormally positioned hairs (ectopic cilia and distichiasis).


Elevated pressure within the eyeball can cause the appearance of being swollen (buphthamlia) and bulging out of the socket.  If glaucoma cannot be managed with medication, then the affected eye may need to be surgically removed.

Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KCS)

Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KCS), also known as dry eye, occurs due to lack of normal tear production.  Insufficient eye lubrication leads to mild to moderate corneal irritation, infection, scarring, and eventual blindness.

Neoplasia (cancer)

Although not overly common, lymphoma, melanoma, and nerve tissue cancer are some examples of eye diseases caused by overgrowth of cells having abnormal DNA.

Prolapsed Nictitating Membrane (Cherry Eye)

The third eyelid (nictitating membrane) is a protective measure that helps to prevent the eyeball from being traumatized. Displacement of the nictitating membrane is caused by inflammation, infection, and inversion in the T-shaped piece of cartilage that supports the membrane.  Swelling of the membrane’s internal gland lends to the appearance of a cherry sitting at the inner margins of the upper and lower lids.


Trauma comes in many forms and is one of the most common reason why pets suffer eye damage. A blunt object coming into contact with the eye, a scratch from a claw, penetrating injury from a tooth or plant awn, and others are potential culprits. Additionally, head trauma (hit-by-car, horse kick, etc.) can cause a dog’s eyeball to pop out of the socket (proptosis), which then requires the eye to be surgically repaired or removed.

Most general practice veterinarians are equipped to handle routine evaluation and treatment of common eye problems.  Diagnostics such as fluoroscein staining (to look for corneal ulceration), tonometry (to test intraocular pressure), and Schirmer Tear Test (STT, which evaluates tear production) are used to achieve an accurate diagnosis.

Occasionally, eye issues are more severe and require the expert perspective of an experienced specialist. Veterinary ophthalmologists are considered Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmology (DACVO) and can offer advanced diagnostics and medical and surgical treatment. Besides your veterinarian’s referral, a veterinary ophthalmologist in your area can be found via the DACVO website.

Be proactive in promoting your pet’s eye health by scheduling a physical examination with your veterinarian at least every 12 months. Additionally, take note of the appearance of your pet’s eyes on a daily basis while using Dog Fashion Spa Gentle Eye Pads and immediately address any problems with your veterinarian.

Dr. Patrick Mahaney is a Los Angeles-based holistic veterinarian, writer, and media personality,  as well as the founder of California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness, Inc. Dr. Mahaney and his Welsh Terrier Cardiff are big fans of Dog Fashion Spa’s shampooconditioner and paw + nose moisturizer. Cardiff enjoys lending his modeling skills to exclusive DFspa photo shoots! Learn more about Dr. Mahaney and Cardiff via

 Thank you for reading this article.  Your questions and comments are completely welcome (I’ll respond).Please feel free to communicate with me through Twitter (@PatrickMahaney) and follow my adventures in veterinary medicine by liking Patrick Mahaney: Veterinarian Acupuncture Pain Management for Your Pets on Facebook. Copyright of this article (2013) is owned by Dr Patrick Mahaney, Veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist. Republishing any portion of this article must first be authorized by Dr Patrick Mahaney. Requests for republishing must be approved by Dr Patrick Mahaney and received in written format.
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