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Why is my dog’s eye swollen?

French bulldog with swollen eyes

Your dog’s eye may be swollen for one of several reasons, from indoor and outdoor allergies, to glaucoma or  tumors — both benign and cancerous. Although the cause of swollen eyes in dogs may be mild or severe, it should always be taken seriously to avoid any further complications.

Contact your veterinarian as soon as possible if your dog’s eye (or eyes) is swollen.

Potential causes of a dog’s swollen eye

A number of factors can contribute to swollen eyes in dogs. These can range from irritation brought on by allergies to more serious conditions such as glaucoma or eye tumors.

  • Canine conjunctivitis and other eye infections are often recognized by symptoms including redness and swelling around the affected eye. Eye infections in dogs can occur as a result of an injury, bites, parasites and more. 

  • Injury or trauma may cause the eye to swell as a natural response, no matter how intense or slight. This includes everything from getting dirt or dust in the eye, to insect stings, to being pawed or scratched in the eye by another animal. 

  • Allergies can cause a flare-up in your dog’s eye(s) if they are exposed to an irritating allergen. This can be a seasonal allergy to pollen, an indoor or outdoor allergy to mold, dust or smoke, or an allergic reaction to certain medications, or even insect stings.

  • Corneal abrasion (scratched eye) is an erosion of the first few layers of the cornea, or the outer layer of the eye. This can be caused by an injury or getting foreign objects in the eye. 

  • Corneal ulcers are painful open sores on the cornea that can develop due to an injury or infection in the dog’s eye. Corneal ulcers erode deeper than corneal abrasions and can cause swelling, redness and tearing.

  • Eyelash and eyelid disorders (such as entropion) that cause the lids and/or lashes to rub against the eyes can result in irritation, redness and swelling.

  • Uveitis is an inflammation of the tissue in the middle layer of the eye. This condition can cause swelling and redness as well as eye pain.

  • Glaucoma is a disease that involves increased pressure in the eye. The condition may be identified by cloudy eyes, lethargy and major swelling or bulging of the eyeball (among other symptoms).  

  • Tumors, both benign and malignant, can cause a mass to form. The mass can be on the lid, the conjunctiva or even on or inside the eye. Eye tumors in dogs can also cause inflammation of the cornea. Symptoms may vary depending on the type and location of the tumor.

Some underlying causes of a dog’s swollen eye are mild and easily treated, while some can be a sign of a severe problem in your dog’s eyes. Don’t hesitate to see a veterinarian for an exam to pinpoint the cause, additional symptoms and appropriate treatment for the condition.

Symptoms

If your dog’s eye is swollen, it is cause for concern and should be examined by a veterinarian. If a more serious condition is present, your dog may also experience symptoms such as:

The specific symptoms present depend on the underlying condition, and can be mild or severe. Take note of when other symptoms begin as well as your dog’s mood and behavior. These can help your veterinarian provide a proper diagnosis and the best treatment plan.

Treatment

Treating a swollen eye in your dog may be simple or complex and all depends on what caused the swelling. Remedies may include antibiotics, special medications or surgery, as well as some home or over-the-counter solutions.

Antibiotics

Topical and oral antibiotics may be used to treat certain conditions that caused a swollen eye in your dog. 

SEE RELATED: What eye drops are used for dogs?

Special medications

More serious conditions may require specific medications tailored to the specific symptoms and features of the condition in question. For example:

  • Glaucoma may be treated with special anti-glaucoma eye drops, and analgesics are often prescribed to help soothe the pain that occurs with the condition.

  • Uveitis and other eye conditions that cause swelling due to inflammation are often treated with a prescribed topical or oral anti-inflammatory medication.

Surgery

  • Tumors that cause swelling 

  • Corneal ulcers may require surgery to protect and heal the injury fully (this is sometimes done instead of having your dog wear an eye patch, as most dogs don’t do well with patching).

  • Advanced cases of glaucoma may require surgery to reduce pressure in the eye or to remove the eye.

  • Extreme trauma that resulted in eye swelling and other side effects could require surgery in order to heal properly. 

Additional remedies

Swollen eyes brought on by mild causes may be able to be treated at home or with over-the-counter medications.

  • Eye allergies can often be treated with an over-the-counter saline solution. Artificial tears can also help to flush the eyes of dirt and debris to prevent further irritation. Talk to your vet about other potential remedies for allergies, like oral antihistamines (Benadryl or Zyrtec), before giving any to your dog.

  • Mild injuries that lead to swelling may be soothed with a cool or warm compress.

In any case, it is best to speak with your veterinarian before treating your dog’s eye condition, even with seemingly harmless treatments like OTC eye drops. The appropriate treatment may be different based on the root cause of the swelling, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Swollen eyes vs. blepharitis

“Swollen eye” is a broad term, as a swollen eye may be caused by various disorders and conditions in dogs. This may occur in or around the eye, and the location varies based on what triggered it. 

Blepharitis, on the other hand, is inflammation of the dog’s eyelid specifically. It is not a condition on its own, but a symptom of a more serious eye problems. Blepharitis in dogs can be caused by infections, allergies, tumors and other eye conditions, and is often treated with a warm compress to relieve inflammation. Discharge should also be removed during the treatment process. 

A swollen eye can be difficult to differentiate from blepharitis, but both should be looked at and treated professionally. Either condition could indicate a more serious problem that requires treatment tailored specifically to your dog’s case.

SEE RELATED: How good is a dog’s vision?

Prevention

Inspect your dog’s eyes daily for abnormalities and to ensure that they are functioning well. Wipe away any discharge with clean hands and a clean cloth or paper towel to keep the area clear and dry. This helps with comfort and prevents buildup that could cause irritation or other problems that may lead to swollen eyes.

If your dog is prone to eye problems, caring for their eyes is even more vital. Some dogs may need extra attention on the state of their eyes, such as administering artificial tears to help prevent dryness or routinely keeping their eyes clean and clear.

Finally, be sure to see your veterinarian regularly for routine checkups. This is the best way to keep your dog’s eyes in good condition, and ensure their overall health is in top shape.

When to see a veterinarian

Contact your veterinarian as soon as you notice a problem with your dog’s eyes. Sometimes, what starts out as mild swelling can lead to major issues that would have been more easily treated if caught early on. 

It’s important to keep an eye on your dog’s condition to make sure they are healing properly. If an infection develops, or if symptoms worsen or last for an extended period of time, follow up with your vet immediately. 

Never hesitate to seek professional help for your pet if you have concerns about their health or wellbeing.

READ NEXT: Eye discharge in cats 

Red, swollen/inflamed eyes in dogs. PDSA. Accessed June 2021.

Conjunctivitis in dogs. Blue Cross for Pets. Accessed June 2021.

Corneal ulcers in dogs. VCA Hospitals. Accessed June 2021.

Uveitis in dogs. VCA Hospitals. Accessed June 2021.

Glaucoma in dogs. VCA Hospitals. Accessed June 2021.

Eye tumors — Melanoma in dogs. VCA Hospitals. Accessed June 2021.

Blepharitis in dogs. VCA Hospitals. Accessed June 2021.

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