Help, My Dog Has Eye Boogers!

“My dog has eye boogers! What should I do?” This is a common question from dog owners and the reason for many vet visits. It’s easy to assume the worst when you notice problems with your dog’s eyes. Don’t panic, though – there are many possible causes for eye boogers in dogs. The more you know about these causes, the better you’ll be able to take care of your dog and get him or her back to tip-top shape. In this article we’ll go over the basics of dog vision and the many causes of eye discharge.

How a Dog’s Eye Works

Dog eyes work much like human eyes. The lens directs light to the retina, located in the rear of the eye. Tiny muscles expand and contract the pupil to regulate how much light enters the eye. The clear cornea protects the eye, as do the eyelids. Dogs differ from humans in that they have three eyelids – the familiar upper and lower eyelids as well as a third eyelid at the lower inner eye. The third eyelid is typically hidden beneath the lower eyelid but may be visible in certain breeds or if the eye is irritated.

Dog eye diagram

Facts About Dogs’ Eyes

  • Dogs have 250 degrees of total vision. Humans only have 190 degrees, making a dog’s peripheral vision over 30% better than a human’s!
  • It’s a myth that dogs are color blind. They can’t see reds or greens well, but they can see a range of blues and yellows.
  • Dogs see better at night than in bright light. However, they don’t see very much detail. Moving objects are much more visible to dogs than stationary objects.
  • Though nearsightedness and farsightedness are very common in humans, dogs rarely suffer from these conditions.

Why Dogs Get Eye Boogers

Occasional eye boogers are normal and usually go away on their own. Before you call your vet saying “my dog always has eye boogers!” try waiting a few hours and see if the problem resolves itself. Dust or particles may have gotten into the eye, which gets rid of debris by producing discharge. This discharge comes out of the corner of the eye and thickens as it comes in contact with air. The result is blob-like eye boogers which can simply be wiped away. However, if eye boogers are a consistent problem, they may be a symptom of an underlying illness or injury.

Breeds More Prone to Eye Problems

Certain dog breeds get eye boogers more commonly than others. These include exophthalmic dogs – breeds with bulging eyes such as Boston terriers and pugs. The more exposed the eye is, the more likely it is to be injured or collect debris. Long-haired dog breeds such as collies and Shetland sheepdogs are also more prone to eye irritation as the hair is more likely to come in contact with the eye.

Common Eye Problems

Irritants

Dust and airborne particles are usually kept out of the eye by your dog’s eyelids, but every so often some will inevitably slip through the cracks. Dogs with bulging eyes may have problems with this, as there is more surface area for dust to collect in. Household sprays such as cleaning or beauty products may also remain airborne for some time after use, causing eye irritation if your dog enters the area. The eye’s self-cleaning mechanism will attempt to remove the irritants by producing eye boogers.

Injury

Sometimes the eye can’t get rid of debris. Sharp or large particles may prove too much for the optical self-cleaning mechanism. The longer these particles remain in the eye, the greater the risk of damage to the eye. Continuous discharge may indicate a foreign object as the eye keeps trying to expel it. If a foreign object is spotted or suspected, the eye should be flushed with a dog-safe eye wash to avoid more serious injury such as eye infections and corneal scratching.

Clogged Tear Duct

Continuously runny eyes may indicate a clogged tear duct. The eye produces tears to keep itself lubricated. The tear duct, when open, transports the tears away from the eyes when they are not needed anymore. When the tear duct is clogged, the tears have nowhere to drain, so they pour out of the corner of the eye. Inflammation and redness may also be present. Clogged tear ducts are a common problem that can sometimes be cured by cleaning the eye. If a cleaning does not resolve the problem, a vet may need to unclog the tear duct through other means.

Allergies

Just like humans, dogs get allergies too. Springtime pollen allergies are very common and are marked by itching, runny noses and eye discharge. Allergies can also be triggered by household products, new environments and even certain dog food ingredients. Finding out the exact cause of your dog’s allergies may require veterinary tests. Your dog may even be allergic to ticks or fleas. Allergies are typically treated with a prescription antihistamine if the cause of the reaction cannot be determined or is impractical to avoid.

Conjunctivitis

Also known as pinkeye, conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the eye’s lining. Conjunctivitis can be caused by many of the other things on this list, including allergies, injury and dry eyes. The eye boogers associated with conjunctivitis may be clear, yellow or green. The texture ranges from watery to mucous to pus-like. Conjunctivitis usually results in other symptoms as well, including red eyes, trouble keeping eyes open and an inflamed appearance around the eye. Treatment depends on the cause of the condition but may include antibiotics and pain medication.

Dry Eyes

Officially called “keratoconjunctivitis sicca” or “KCS”, this condition is most commonly known as dry eyes. Dogs with this condition do not produce enough tears, which causes the cornea (the clear outer layer of the eye) to become red and inflamed. Eye boogers caused by dry eyes are typically thick and yellow, and affected dogs may not want to open their eyes. Breeds with bulging eyes or long hair are much more likely to develop dry eyes. Left untreated, dry eyes can cause partial blindness due to corneal scarring. Typical treatment involves daily eye drops to moisten the eye.

Eyelid Abnormality

Some dogs have eyelid defects from birth. Breeds such as Shar Peis are prone to entropion, or rolled-in eyelids. The hair on the eyelids rubs against the eye, causing irritation and discharge. Left untreated it can cause ulcers, severe pain and eventual blindness. Dogs with eyelid abnormalities should not be bred to avoid passing this problem down to their offspring. A vet may perform surgery to remove the excess skin and tighten the eyelids.

Another eyelid abnormality is PTEG, or Prolapsed Third Eyelid Gland. The tear gland may pop out of place, appearing as a pink ball in the inner corner of the eye. Surgery must be performed to reposition and secure the gland. American cocker spaniels and English bulldogs are two breeds that are prone to PTEG.

Growths on the Eye

Eyelid tumors are common in older dogs. They are cancerous but do not usually spread to other parts of the body. They cause considerable discomfort and excessive discharge. Surgery to remove eyelid tumors is typically quick and simple, and 90% of tumors do not reoccur after removal.

Ulcers

Untreated eye injuries or infections can result in eye ulcers – the loss of the deeper corneal layers. These can be superficial or more serious depending on how long they have been developing. Superficial ulcers are usually treated with antibiotics and pain medication. Deep ulcers may require surgery. Alternatively, a vet may prescribe contact lenses to help protect the eyes if surgery is impractical for any reason.

Inflammation

Inflammation of the eye can cause excessive eye booger production. Though inflammation is a symptom, not a condition, sometimes the cause cannot be ascertained. If there is no underlying condition causing the inflammation, the dog is often prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to bring down the swelling.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is defined as high pressure in the eye, commonly seen in older dogs. It progresses quickly in canines, so early detection is vital. If left untreated it will result in permanent damage to the optic nerve and possibly blindness. Other than eye boogers, symptoms include excessive blinking and dull, cloudy eyes. Medication is given to lower eye pressure quickly, and in more advanced cases surgery may be needed.

Dog eye boogers

How to Clean a Dog’s Eye

If you notice eye boogers in your dog’s eyes, the first step should be to clean the eyes. Dampen a clean cloth with a sterile solution and gently wipe the eye boogers away. Be careful not to touch the eye directly. If the eye boogers are stuck to or have left stains on your dog’s hair, you can use a special tear stain remover product. These are non-toxic drops that help remove tough eye stains.

Vetericyn Eye Wash

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Petpost Tear Stain Remover

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How to Prevent Eye Problems

The best treatment for eye boogers is prevention. Keeping your dog away from areas where potential irritants (such as cleaning products) have been used will reduce the risk of eye problems. Monitor your dog during play with other animals as the eyes can be scratched by a swinging paw. If your dog has long fur, keep the eyelid hairs trimmed short at all times to avoid irritation. Feed high-quality foods to reduce the risk of allergic reaction, which can cause increased eye booger production.

When to See a Vet

If you’ve cleaned your dog’s eyes but the eye boogers keep coming back, it’s time to see the vet. Any visible foreign object in the eye needs to be removed by a vet – you should never touch your dog’s eye directly. A close look at the eye may reveal scarring or growths; if these are present a vet must examine the eyes to rule out any serious conditions. When accompanied by symptoms like red eyes and swelling, eye boogers may indicate an infection that requires antibiotics to eliminate. In general, if something seems off with your dog and does not resolve itself within 24 hours, a vet visit is in order.

Tell your vet if you suspect a certain condition to expedite treatment. “My dog has eye boogers” is less helpful to a vet than “I suspect that my dog may have pinkeye based on his eye discharge and redness.” The quicker you get your dog treated, the sooner he’ll be back to normal.

In Conclusion

Dog eye boogers have many causes, some more serious than others. Proper grooming and careful observation of the eyes can help prevent them. Many dog eye conditions are easily treated if caught early, so remain vigilant with vet checkups and don’t hesitate to go in if something’s not quite right. With proper eye care, your dog’s great vision will remain with him for life.

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