Caring for Dogs With Conjunctivitis

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If your dog's eye is swollen and runny, he may have a condition called conjunctivitis. If that sounds alarming, don't panic. The chances that your pooch has caught dog this condition, also called "pink eye" are actually quite slim. To get the lowdown on conjunctivitis in dogs, including what causes it and what you should do to help your pet, keep reading.

What Is Conjunctivitis (aka Pink Eye)?

Close-up of dog eye with conjunctivitis. Infected dog eyeConjunctivitis refers to a condition in which the pink tissue inside the eyelid, which is called the conjunctiva, becomes inflamed. There are two types of conjunctivitis in dogs. Infectious conjunctivitis, often referred to as pink eye, is caused by a viral or bacterial infection and is rare, says the veterinary science magazine dvm360.

More commonly seen in dogs is non-infectious conjunctivitis, which can have a number of possible causes. Typically, these fall along the lines of allergies, an irritating substance getting in the eye, injury or trauma to the eye or a congenital abnormality. Tufts University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine adds that conjunctivitis may be a sign of a more serious underlying condition, such as canine distemper.

Is It Contagious?

Non-infectious conjunctivitis in dogs is not contagious. If a case of dog pink eye is caused by a rare bacterial infection or a virus, however, the ASPCA warns that the condition can be transmitted by your dog to other dogs. If you suspect your dog might have pink eye, it's a good idea to keep your pup separated from other dogs and to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling him to prevent the infection from spreading to other animals.

If your pooch normally shares food and water dishes or bedding with other pets, he should have his own dishes and bedding until his conjunctivitis clears up, and they should be washed thoroughly. You should let any additional caregivers, such as dog walkers, dog daycare attendants or pet sitters, know about your dog's condition and the precautions that you're taking to contain it.

Breed Predisposition

While conjunctivitis can occur in any breed of dog or mutt, certain breeds are prone to conditions that can place them at a higher risk of conjunctivitis, says Tufts. Cocker spaniels, bulldogs and miniature schnauzers, for example, are prone to dry eye, which is a condition that commonly leads to non-infectious conjunctivitis.

A condition called entropion, which is when the edge of the eyelid rolls inward, may also cause the conjunctiva to become inflamed. This condition is common to shar-peis and chow chows, among other breeds.

Signs of a Problem

As a vigilant pet parent, these are the signs you'll want to keep an eye out for to recognize conjunctivitis in dogs:

  • Red or puffy eyes
  • Eye discharge
  • Eyelids sticking together or squinting
  • Swelling of the eyelid lining (the conjunctiva)
  • Rubbing or pawing at the eye due to itchiness or discomfort

Should Your Pup See a Vet?

If you notice any of these signs, you should have your pup checked out by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Your vet will determine whether your dog actually has dog pink eye or a non-infectious case of conjunctivitis.

While non-infectious conjunctivitis is not a serious condition in and of itself, it won't clear up on its own without treatment, and it may point to a more serious health problem that needs to be addressed. Additionally, if left untreated, your dog could sustain a permanent eye injury or even vision loss.

Diagnosing Conjunctivitis in Dogs

In addition to performing a thorough examination of your dog's eye and eyelids, your vet will want to perform a general physical to determine his overall condition, says Tufts. Diagnostic tests your vet might run include bacterial cultures, a fluorescein eye stain test to check for corneal ulcers or abrasions, a Schirmer's tear test to check your pup's tear production, and a test for glaucoma. They may also perform several blood tests to screen for underlying illnesses.

Treating Conjunctivitis

The course of treatment your vet prescribes ultimately depends on what is causing the conjunctivitis. If they determine that your dog does indeed have pink eye, he'll likely be prescribed a bactericidal or fungicidal ointment to be applied to the eye topically. Your dog might also be given anti-inflammatory medication to help with swelling and discomfort.

If a foreign object is responsible for the irritation and swelling, your pup may need to be placed under general anesthesia in order for the vet to remove it without risking further eye injury. Of course, if your dog's conjunctivitis turns out to be a sign of a more serious illness, your vet will work with you to take steps to treat the underlying condition.

Helping Your Dog at Home

Natural and home remedies may be helpful in providing relief to your pet, although they should never be a replacement for veterinary care. Wash your hands thoroughly before touching his eyes and face to avoid causing more irritation. You should always check with your vet before applying any herbal or homeopathic remedies to be sure the ingredients are safe and won't interact harmfully with any of his prescribed medications or interfere with treatment of his underlying conditions.

Non-infections conjunctivitis, while uncomfortable for your dog may only be an irritant to your dog, but that doesn't mean the signs should be taken lightly. Now that you're armed with knowledge of what to watch for, you'll be able to take prompt action to get your pup a proper diagnosis and treatment to protect his vision and overall health.

Contributor Bio

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus is a pet parent, pet blogger and novelist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she usually writes under the supervision of a lapful of furbabies.