5 Types of Dog Eye Discharge (and What They Mean)

5 Types of Dog Eye Discharge (and What They Mean)

Reviewed and updated for accuracy on February 13, 2020, by Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM

Eye discharge is a common problem in dogs. Some types are completely normal, while others are associated with potentially serious health concerns.


In order to determine when you need to take your dog to the vet, you’ll need to understand the various types of dog eye discharge and what each may mean.


5 Common Types of Eye Discharge in Dogs


Let’s take a look at five common types of dog eye discharge and what you should do about them.


1. A Little Goop or Crust


Tears play an essential role in maintaining eye health. They provide oxygen and nourishment to the cornea (the clear layer of tissue at the front of the eye) and help remove debris from the eye’s surface.


Tears normally drain through ducts located at the inner corner of each eye, but sometimes a little bit of goop or crust will accumulate there. This material is made out of dried tears, oil, mucus, dead cells, dust, etc., and is typically clear or a slightly reddish-brown color.


It’s most evident in the morning and is often perfectly normal. The amount of eye goop a dog produces each night (or after long naps) should stay relatively constant.


The goop or crust should be easy to remove with a warm, damp cloth. The eyes shouldn’t be red, and your dog should not exhibit any signs of eye discomfort (rubbing, squinting, blinking, and/or sensitivity to light).


If at any point you notice an increase in your dog’s eye goop or other worrisome symptoms, make an appointment with your veterinarian.


2. Watery Eyes


Excessive eye watering (epiphora) is associated with many different conditions that run the range from relatively benign to serious. Here are a few common causes of watery eyes in dogs:


·         Allergies

·         Irritants

·         Foreign material in the eye

·         Anatomical abnormalities (e.g., prominent eyes or rolled-in eyelids),

·         Blocked tear ducts

·         Corneal wounds

·         Glaucoma (increased eye pressure)


If your dog has a relatively mild increase in tearing, but his eyes look normal in all other respects—and he doesn’t seem to be in any discomfort—it’s reasonable to monitor the situation for a day or two.


Your dog may have simply received a face full of pollen or dust, and the increased tearing is working to solve the problem. But if his eyes continue to be watery or your dog develops red, painful eyes or other types of eye discharge, make an appointment with your veterinarian.


3. Reddish-Brown Tear Stains


Light-colored dogs often develop a reddish-brown discoloration to the fur near the inner corner of their eyes. This occurs because tears contain a pigment called porphyrin that turns reddish-brown with prolonged exposure to air.


In the absence of other problems, tear staining in this area is normal and is just a cosmetic concern. If you want to minimize your dog’s tear stains, try one or more of these solutions:


·         Wipe the area a few times a day with a cloth dampened with warm water or an eye-cleaning solution that’s made specifically for dogs

·         Keep the fur around your dog’s eyes trimmed short

·         Try giving your dog an antibiotic-free nutritional supplement that reduces tear staining


Keep in mind that it can take several months for porphyrin-stained fur to grow out and for the effects of any of these remedies to become obvious.


Make an appointment with your veterinarian for an eye examination if you notice any of the following:


·         An increase in the amount of tear staining

·         A change in the appearance of your dog’s tear staining

·         Your dog’s eyes become red and painful


4. White-Gray Mucus


Dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca or KCS) is a condition that usually develops when a dog’s immune system attacks and destroys the glands that produce tears.


With fewer tears, the body tries to compensate by making more mucus to lubricate the eyes. But mucus can’t replace all the functions of tears, so the eyes become red and painful and may develop ulcers and abnormal corneal pigmentation.


Left untreated, KCS can result in severe discomfort and blindness.


If you notice white-gray mucus collecting around your dog’s eyes, make an appointment with your veterinarian. They can perform a simple procedure called a “Schirmer Tear Test” to differentiate KCS from other diseases that are associated with increased eye mucus production.


Most dogs respond well to treatment for KCS, which may involve cyclosporine, tacrolimus, artificial tears, and/or other medications.


Surgery can also be considered but should be reserved for those cases when medical treatment is unsuccessful.


5. Yellow or Green Eye Discharge


A dog whose eyes produce yellow or green discharge often has an eye infection, particularly if eye redness and discomfort are also evident.


Eye infections can develop as a primary problem or as a result of another condition (wounds, dry eye, etc.) that weakens the eye’s natural defenses against infection.


Sometimes what looks to be an eye infection is actually a sign that a dog has a systemic illness or a problem affecting the respiratory tract, nervous system, or other part of the body.


Any dog who looks like he might have an eye infection should be seen by a veterinarian as quickly as possible.


By Jennifer Coates, DVM


Eyes are the window to your pet’s soul—keep them healthy!

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker


Eye problems are one of the most common reasons dogs and cats wind up at the veterinarian’s office. Some eye infections are harmless and self-limiting, meaning the body takes care of the problem itself. At the other end of the spectrum are eye infections that are very serious, causing permanent damage, including blindness or the loss of an eye. Many infections fall somewhere in between those two extremes.

How Serious Is Your Pet’s Eye Problem?

Veterinarians categorize eye infections as urgent. Most are not a true emergency, unless there’s been trauma to the eye or sudden bulging, in which case your pet should be seen by your regular veterinarian or at an emergency animal clinic immediately.

Generally speaking, you can consider your pet’s eye infection urgent if there are obvious changes to the eye that grow progressively worse to the point where you’re concerned. If your dog’s or cat’s quality of life is suffering due to an eye problem, it’s another sign the situation is urgent.

For example, if yesterday you noticed your cat blinking frequently, and today he’s not opening one of his eyes at all, it’s time for you to call the veterinarian for an appointment as soon as possible.

Eye Infections in Cats

Cats don’t have as many eye problems as dogs, because many kitties live their lives indoors, which dramatically reduces the likelihood of injuring an eye or being exposed to infection. Outdoor cats, however, have about the same risk level as dogs. The feline herpes virus is usually the cause of viral eye infections in kitties. If your cat is exposed to the virus, chances are she’ll never completely clear it from her body. She may have intermittent flare-ups for the rest of her life brought on by stress.

Because feline herpes virus is a stress-induced condition, cats with optimally functioning immune systems can effectively suppress the virus. But if your kitty’s immune system is weakened for any reason and she encounters a stressful situation, a viral outbreak can result, causing redness, irritation and inflammation of the eyes. It could also lead to a secondary bacterial infection.

Cats can also develop primary bacterial eye infections caused, for example, by chlamydia, as well as fungal infections like cryptococcus.

When to Call the Vet, and Prevention Tips

If your kitty’s eye infection isn’t resolving on its own after a few days, it’s important for your veterinarian to identify the cause so it can be treated correctly. This is very important, because viral, bacterial and fungal infections are managed very differently. There’s no single medication your vet can prescribe that will treat everything.

Symptoms of an eye infection in your cat can be tricky to detect, because kitties are masters at hiding discomfort, no matter the cause. You may notice her slowly blinking her eyes, or holding one eye closed, or pawing at them. You might also see some redness, which can be a sign of a condition known as conjunctivitis. Sometimes, there can be discharge and crusting around the eyes as well.

The best way to keep your cat safe from all types of eye infections is to keep her indoors and only allow her outside for leash walks or in a secured area like a catio, where she can be safe while outside. You can reduce your pet’s risk of acquiring an eye infection by at least 80 percent simply by never allowing her to roam free outdoors.

Eye Infections in Dogs

Viruses, bacteria and fungi also cause eye infections in dogs, as well as Lyme disease. Canine eye infections are either acute or recurrent. An acute eye infection means your dog was fine yesterday, but today he’s squinting, or his eyes are red and irritated, or he’s pawing at them or rubbing his head along the couch or on the floor.

Unlike cats, dogs are more likely to let us know there’s a problem as they try to self-soothe to relieve the discomfort. If your dog is really rubbing or pawing at his eyes, you should consider an E-collar to prevent him from doing permanent damage before the situation either resolves on its own in a day or two, or you get him to the veterinarian for diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Symptoms of an eye infection are similar in dogs and cats. Many dogs will have a green or yellowish discharge from an infected eye, which is a definite sign of a problem. Certain breeds known for tear staining are predisposed to recurrent eye infections, including the Lhasa Apso, the Shih Tzu and the Maltese.

Helping Your Dog Avoid Eye Problems

If your dog has long hair around his eyes, ask the groomer to clip it short, or you can trim it yourself. This will help prevent the hair from matting in the corners and will also reduce moisture build-up, both of which can set the stage for a secondary eye infection.

When your dog is outside, he’s exposed to allergens that he can also bring indoors on his fur and paws. Ragweed and pollen can get into your pet’s eyes and cause inflammation leading to a secondary bacterial infection. Keeping your pup’s face clean is a good way to minimize the microscopic bits of debris that collect on his face. Wipe gently with a damp cloth to remove allergens, dust and other irritants that can lead to an eye problem.

If your dog’s eyes tend to tear a lot, it’s important to remove the salt and gunk that collects in the moist crevices in the corners of his eyes, as this is also a set-up for a secondary eye infection. Making sure your dog doesn’t stick his head out the car window when you’re traveling with him is also an important step in reducing the risk of eye injury or infection.

If your dog digs and burrows in your yard or when you take him on walks or hikes, he’s at risk of getting dust, mulch, grass and other irritants from the soil in his eyes. Any foreign object, no matter how small, that winds up in your pet’s eyes creates a potential problem. Again, keeping your pet’s face clean by wiping with a soft, damp cloth after he’s been outdoors can go a long way toward eliminating the irritants that can result in infection.

Never use Visine or other human eye drops in your pet’s eyes unless you’ve cleared it with your veterinarian. You can use plain contact lens solution, which is also called eye-irrigating solution, to rinse the eyes, but avoid all chemical-based drops sold for human use, as they’re not only inappropriate for pets, but can actually do more damage. You can use pure colloidal silver from your local health food store on a clean cloth to safely disinfect around your pet’s eyes.

Other Conditions That Can Mimic Eye Infections in Pets

Other conditions of the eye that can mimic an eye infection include glaucoma, corneal ulcers, dry eye, cherry eye, entropion (the eyelids roll inward and can irritate the eye) and uveitis, an autoimmune condition.

If you notice a change in your pet’s eyes that doesn’t resolve on its own in a day or two, make an appointment for your dog or cat to be seen by your veterinarian or a veterinary ophthalmologist to determine the cause of the problem and the right course of treatment. If your dog or kitty is prone to recurrent eye infections, talk with your integrative veterinarian about homeopathic, herbal and nutraceutical preventives that can help manage the health of your pet’s eyes.