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Pink Eye in Dogs: What You Need To Know

Written By
6 min read

Updated - Jul 15th, 2022

Pink eye, also called conjunctivitis, is a common ailment in dogs and humans alike. When your dog has eye discharge or is pawing or rubbing their eyes on the rug or furniture, pink eye may be to blame.

What is pink eye or conjunctivitis?

Covering your dog’s eyeball, all around the eye and inside of the eyelid is a mucous membrane called the conjunctiva. When the conjunctiva gets inflamed and swells, it’s called conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye.

You may ‌also see your dog’s third eyelid when the conjunctiva becomes inflamed. This part of the conjunctiva is called the nictating membrane, ‌located in the inner corner of each eye. Your dog’s conjunctiva can become itchy and turn bright pink or red when it is infected or irritated.

If you’ve ever had pink eye, you know how uncomfortable this can be for your pooch. If left untreated, conjunctivitis can damage your pet’s eyes. This is why it’s so important to know how to recognize the symptoms and get the appropriate veterinary care.

Types of pink eye (conjunctivitis) in dogs

There are several types of dog conjunctivitis that can affect your pet. Resolving the issue depends on the type of conjunctivitis.

Allergic conjunctivitis

This is especially common in dogs predisposed to atopic dermatitis. However, any dog can react to environmental allergens such as dust, pollen, perfumes, shampoos, molds, mites, smoke, and certain proteins or foods.

Viral conjunctivitis

Any virus that causes inflammation in the eyes falls in this category. The most common is canine distemper and canine herpesvirus. Viral conjunctivitis is usually mild and resolves on its own. While anti-viral medications are available for severe cases, prevention with vaccination is the best course of action.

Bacterial conjunctivitis

 Bacterial infections that cause conjunctivitis are usually secondary to an underlying medical condition, such as:

Other medical conditions that can cause conjunctivitis:

Symptoms of pink eye in dogs

Your dog’s eyelids and eyeballs will be itchy, burning, and painful. If your dog is suffering from it, you may notice these symptoms:

  • Rubbing their face on rugs, furniture, or with their paws
  • Squinting, excessive blinking, or holding eye closed
  • Crusty eyelids from dried discharge, especially after sleeping
  • Red, swollen mucus membranes surrounding the eyes 
  • Hair loss around the eyes
  • Exposed third eyelid
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Watery eyes, tearing, or sneezing
  • A cloudy white, green, or yellow discharge in the affected eye (White is typical of allergies and green or yellow is typical of bacterial infections, and is common in KCS or corneal ulcers)

How is pink eye diagnosed?

Anytime your dog is showing signs of eye discomfort, it’s time to see the veterinarian. When left untreated, canine conjunctivitis can seriously damage your dog’s eyes. Here’s what to expect at the vet visit.

Physical examination: The primary goal is to find out what is causing your dog’s eye discomfort. First, your vet will do a thorough physical examination to rule out anatomical abnormalities affecting your dog’s eyes or any damage to the eye or surrounding areas.

Ophthalmic examination: This is a complete examination of the eye structures: eyelids, the fur around the eyes, eyelashes, the nictating membrane, cornea, sclera, conjunctiva, anterior chamber, lens, and retina. 

A tear production test, called the Schirmer tear test, is a non-invasive test to check for adequate tear production.

A corneal stain test, also called a fluorescein test, checks the outer layer of the eye and the cornea, for scrapes and ulcerations. The veterinarian will put a yellow stain on the eye and examine it in a darkened room with a special light.

The intraocular pressure test measures pressure in both eyes. This is used to determine if glaucoma or uveitis is a factor.

Your veterinarian may also order bacterial cultures, a conjunctival scraping or biopsy, allergy testing, viral testing, ultrasound of the eyeball, or a tear duct flushing. If your dog has a difficult case that is beyond the scope of your veterinarian, you may be referred to a veterinary ophthalmologist. 

These procedures determine the underlying cause of conjunctivitis and keep your dog’s eyes healthy. A pet insurance plan can help offset the costs of unexpected procedures and diagnoses, allowing you to focus more on your dog’s health and less on vet bills. Pumpkin offers best-in-class dog insurance for your precious pooch.

Treatment of canine conjunctivitis

Your dog’s treatment plan will depend on the cause of their conjunctivitis. Here are the most common treatments according to the type of eye infection present.

Allergic conjunctivitis: Your vet may prescribe eye drops or ointments with steroids to reduce the inflammation or they may receive oral steroids and antihistamines to reduce the symptoms until you eliminate the allergens, and the symptoms are resolved. 

Your vet may recommend allergy testing, environmental changes, and possibly food trials if they suspect your dog has a food allergy

Bacterial conjunctivitis: Topical antibiotics and anti-inflammatory eye drops or ointment are typically prescribed for bacterial conjunctivitis.

Eyelid or eyelash abnormalities: These usually require a surgical correction. Eye drops and ointments may be prescribed to ease symptoms until the dog can have surgery. 

Chronic dry eye (KCS): This lifelong condition will require eye drops for the rest of your dog’s life to provide comfort and maintain the health of their eyes.

Most dogs have an excellent prognosis with conjunctivitis. However, follow-up appointments to determine the progress of the healing are important. If there isn’t a complete resolution, you may be referred to a veterinary ophthalmologist or a veterinary dermatologist depending on the source of the eye infections.

To prevent further damage, an Elizabethan collar, (a dog cone) may be in order. You don’t want your dog to dig at their eyes while they’re healing and cause damage or introduce additional bacteria.

Is pink eye contagious to other dogs or humans?

The cause of conjunctivitis determines the contagion level for other dogs or humans.  

Viral conjunctivitis is not contagious to humans, or dogs that are fully vaccinated. 

Bacterial conjunctivitis rarely can spread to humans through direct contact. Always wash your hands thoroughly before and after touching your dog if they are under treatment for bacterial conjunctivitis. 

Allergic conjunctivitis, cancerous, immune deficiency related, chronic dry eyes, or tear duct blockages are not contagious to other dogs.

It’s important to note: dogs can get pink eye from humans, too! If someone in your household has it, they should avoid being around your dog, or wash their hands before and after interacting with them. When your pooch gets sick, you want to ‌focus on their health and not on the cost of treatment. Pet insurance can help you do just this by providing peace of mind when the unexpected happens.

Writer, Mom of a Fab Fur Fam of Five
Lynn is a writer and long-time Learning & Development Manager at a large PNW retailer. She's also mom to 3 dogs & 2 cats!