When should I be concerned about my dogs eye discharge?

When should I be concerned about my dogs eye discharge?
What color should my dogs' eye snot be?
When should I be concerned about my dogs eye discharge?

When a dog develops eye discharge, commonly known as “snot,” it’s quite normal for dog owners to feel alarmed about it, especially if it appears a different color.

Other dog owners, on the other hand, may be annoyed by them, mainly because they are an unpleasant sight.

Those who engage in worrying thoughts may be right. In some cases, dirt can indicate an underlying eye problem depending on the type of discharge and the amount, notes veterinarian Dr. Ivana.

In this article, Dr. Ivana Crnec, a practicing veterinarian graduated from the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia, will cover the following:

  • Whether eye discharge in dogs is normal
  • Types of Eye Discharge That Indicate Problems
  • Common Underlying Causes of Eye Discharge
  • Some eye colors that indicate problems
  • Underlying problems known to cause eye discharge

Is eye discharge normal in dogs?

Yes, small and infrequent amounts of eye discharge are normal.

For your dog’s eye to function normally, it needs to be lubricated. This is where the tears come in. Tears have several functions: they nourish the eye and provide oxygen, hydrate the outer layers, and help remove debris from the surface.

Tears are produced in the lacrimal glands. When they form, they wash out of the eye and then drain through the tear ducts located in the corner of the eye.

Since the dog’s eyes are constantly exposed to the environment, debris can be expected to accumulate in the corner of the eye.

The waste mixes with the tears that are waiting to be drained and forms ocular secretions, more popularly known as mucus, dirt, goo or crust.

Small amounts of discharge can be quite normal.
Small amounts of discharge can be quite normal.

When is eye discharge normal in dogs?

Ocular discharge is normal when it is present in small amounts and in specific situations.

For example, a small amount of light brown mucus in the morning is normal. It is also normal if this type of eye dirt is present when a dog wakes up from a nap.

Depending on the dog’s facial anatomy and hygiene habits, these morning soilings are more pronounced in some dogs than others.

That is, boxers, pugs, and other breeds with large eyes and short muzzles are likely to experience copious eye loss.

Similarly, Cocker Spaniels and Poodles are predisposed to blocked tear ducts. Once the tear ducts are blocked, tears back up, resulting in more heavy build-up of dirt and discharge in the eyes.

In addition to facial and ocular anatomy, another risk factor for increased presence of ocular discharge in dogs is allergies. Obviously, dogs with allergies experience increased urine loss and are more likely to develop runny nose under normal circumstances.

As an owner, you will be able to notice a pattern in the presence of eye discharge in your dog. That way, you’ll know when the snot is normal and when it’s indicative of an underlying problem.

What colors can eye discharge be?

Eye discharge can be clear, white, dark red, brown, yellow, or green. Color is important as it often indicates a specific problem. Let’s take a closer look at the different colors and their meaning.

Clear, watery eye discharge

Typically, this type of discharge is caused by allergies and common environmental irritants, such as dust or pollen.

Clear, watery discharge can also be caused by blunt trauma to the eye, superficial eye injuries, and blocked tear ducts.

Watery eye discharge is normal in brachycephalic breeds (pugs, boxers, and Pekingese dogs) with bulging eyes.

White eye discharge

White eye discharge has two main causes: allergies and problems with the anatomy of the eye.

Common problems that result in white eye discharge are dry eye (also known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca or KCS) and conjunctivitis (inflammation of the tissues surrounding the eye).

Dark red and brown eye discharge

This is usually more common in the form of spots rather than the typical discharge.

It occurs in dogs with chronic tearing caused by blocked tear ducts or abnormal ocular anatomy.

Either way, the unique color is due to prolonged exposure to tear stains. The staining itself is the result of a substance called porphyrin.

Porphyrin is normally found in tears and is colorless. However, when exposed to oxygen, it turns red or brown.

Yellow and green eye discharge

The most common cause of yellow or green eye discharge is a bacterial infection of the eye.

These colors of eye discharge can also be seen in dogs with corneal ulcers and infected eye wounds.

The presence of yellow or green eye discharge is a red flag and indicates that the dog needs immediate veterinary attention.

What causes eye discharge in dogs?

With the colors of eye discharge covered, it’s time for us to discuss the most common underlying causes and say a word or two about potential treatment options.

1. Eye infection (conjunctivitis)

Conjunctivitis is inflammation of the lining of the eye and is a widespread problem in dogs. It can be triggered by allergies, birth defects, problems with the tear ducts, injuries, infectious diseases (eg, distemper), or even eye tumors.

If left untreated, conjunctivitis spreads and can cause permanent eye damage. Since there are many different causes of an eye infection, the exact treatment will depend on the specific trigger.

2. Dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca)

Dry eye or keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) is a specific type of eye infection in which the lacrimal glands do not produce tears. As a result, the eye cannot be lubricated and becomes dry and inflamed.

This can lead to infections, permanent eye damage, and in severe cases, even vision loss. Fortunately, KCS is easy to diagnose and, with prompt and proper treatment, easy to manage.

3. Eye injuries and foreign objects

Superficial eye injuries and foreign objects are common in dogs and always manifest with increased ocular discharge.

In such cases, the increased production of ocular discharge is a normal defense mechanism: the eye produces more tears to clean the wound or remove the foreign object.

However, if the eye discharge changes color or becomes pronounced, it is imperative to go to the vet.

4. Cherry eye

Cherry eye is a condition in which the gland on the back of the third eyelid (also known as the nictitating membrane) bulges out and becomes a swollen, inflamed mass that resembles a cherry.

Normally, the gland is held in place by a ligament. However, if the ligament is torn, the gland will burst open. This is more common in brachycephalic breeds.

Cherry eye is not painful, but it is irritating and increases the risk of eye infections.

Cherry-eyed dogs require corrective surgery in which the gland is repositioned and fixed in its normal anatomical location.

5. Entropion and ectropion

Entropion and ectropion are hereditary abnormalities of the eyelids.

Entropion indicates inverted eyelids and is more common in dogs with excessive skin folds, such as Shar-Peis and Chow Chows. As a result, the eyelashes constantly irritate the cornea.

Dogs with ectropion have the opposite problem: inverted eyelids, which prevents the eye from closing properly. The condition is common in Bloodhounds, Cocker Spaniels, Mastiffs, and Dogue de Bordeaux.

Both conditions are easy to resolve through a simple surgical procedure.

6. Corneal ulcers

Corneal ulcer is the medical term for eye sores, which can be superficial or deep. In both cases, they are painful and, if left untreated, can have long-term consequences.

Corneal ulcers can be caused by eye trauma, foreign bodies, lack of tear production, etc. A dog with a corneal ulcer will be sensitive to light, squinting frequently, and pawing at the eye.

Depending on the severity of the ulcer, treatment may include medications such as antibiotics and anti-inflammatories or surgery.

7. Eye tumors

Eye tumors in dogs are not common. However, if they do occur, they can trigger a variety of symptoms, including increased tearing and formation of eye discharge.

Some eye tumors are benign and can be treated, while others are malignant and have a poor prognosis.

8. Cataracts

Cataracts are clouding of the lens and are usually a hereditary condition. However, canine cataracts can also be the result of diabetes mellitus.

It is common in Boston Terriers, French Poodles, Labrador Retrievers, American Cocker Spaniels, and Welsh Springer Spaniels.

If caught early, the vet can perform surgery to remove the cataracts and save the dog’s vision. However, if left untreated, it leads to vision impairment and eventually vision loss.

9. Canine glaucoma

Canine glaucoma is a serious condition that manifests as increased pressure within the eye. It can be caused by damage to the lens, inflammation, infections, tumors, and bleeding inside the eye.

Glaucoma is an extremely painful condition and manifests with bulging of the affected eye, opacity of the eye, and excess tearing.

Depending on the severity of the situation, the vet may prescribe medication or, in more pronounced cases, recommend removal of the eyeball.

Have your dog seen by your vet right away if you notice eye problems.
Have your dog seen by your vet right away if you notice eye problems.

All things considered, eye discharge is normal when it is in small amounts and is clear or watery.

However, the presence of copious ocular discharge or dark colored discharge indicates an underlying problem and requires veterinary attention.

The dog’s eyes are sensitive structures. Therefore, all problems must be addressed quickly. When it comes to dog eye problems, things can go from bad to worse in a matter of hours.

If your dog is experiencing unusual eye discharge or other eye problems, call your trusted vet and schedule a visit.

This article is accurate and true to the best knowledge and belief of the author. It is not intended to replace the formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription or advice of a veterinary medical professional. Animals showing signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

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