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.


Cry me a River- Pet’s Unsightly Tear Stains

By Dr. Becker and Diane Weinmanntear-stain

Tear staining refers to reddish brown streaks that appear under your dog or cat’s eyes. It’s most common in dog breeds like the Maltese, Lhasa Apso and Shih Tzu, and will be much more noticeable on animals with light-colored fur.

Many owners fret over tear staining because they believe it to be unsightly, but it could be more than a purely aesthetic concern. Epiphora, or excessive tear production, is the most common cause of the discoloration.

This is because your pet’s tears contain porphyrins, which are molecules containing iron as the result of breakdown of red blood cells.

The amount of porphyrins your pet makes and secretes can be influenced by genetics, environmental factors and overall health status. If the porphyrins sit on your pet’s fur, they can leave a rust-colored stain.

I’ll explain some natural options for removing tear stains below, but first it’s important to rule out certain medical issues that could be causing your pet’s excessive tear production.

Medical Reasons for Excess Tearing and Tear Stains

There are many conditions that may result in excess tearing. If your dog has protruding eyes and a flatter snout, check to be sure facial hair is not rubbing on her cornea, leading to irritation and tearing.

Keeping fur trimmed short around her eyes will solve this problem. Other medical conditions that may cause excess tearing include:

  • Entropion: A condition in which the lower eyelid folds inward, resulting in pain, irritation and excessive tearing
  • Trichiasis: A condition in which eyelashes grow in the wrong direction, causing pain and irritation
  • Ectropion: A condition in which the lower eyelid droops or rolls out from the surface of the eye, causing irritation and watery eyes

If structural abnormality of your pet’s eyelid or eyelashes isn’t to blame, chronic eye irritation leading to excessive tearing could be due to viral conjunctivitis (which is especially common in cats), glaucoma or an allergic reaction.

Acute injury, such as if a foreign object gets stuck in your pet’s eye, can also cause eye irritation and tearing.

Some Breeds Struggle With Normal Tear Drainage

Tear stains may also be the result of abnormal tear drainage, which is quite common in brachycephalic breeds (dogs and cats with “pushed in” faces). Examples include boxers, bulldogs, Pekingese, pugs, Shih Tzus, Himalayan (cat) and Persians (cat).

Eyelid problems are common with these breeds and due to their protruding eyes, they may have difficulty closing their eyes all the way. This can lead to drying and irritation, leading to excessive tearing as the body attempts to keep the corneas moist and well lubricated. Some of these breeds also have abnormal tear drainage.

Instead of their tears being funneled into their tear ducts, they may instead spill out onto their faces, which means their eyes may be chronically runny. In some cases, your pet’s tear ducts may simply be blocked, and your veterinarian may be able to flush them out and solve the problem.

Some dogs have tear ducts that have been sealed shut since birth (this is sometimes seen in Cocker Spaniels and poodles, for instance). Others, as mentioned, may struggle with normal tear draining because of their flat face and shallow eye sockets.1

If your pet has a tear drainage problem that can be resolved with surgery, such as prolapsed third eyelid, I recommend you make sure the procedure is done correctly (the gland is replaced verses being removed).

Consulting with a veterinary ophthalmologist for complicated cases is well worth it. These vet specialists will have the training, experience and specialized equipment necessary to perform delicate eye surgery.

Excessive Tearing Can Lead to Infectiontear-stain-cat

Constant watery discharge from your pet’s eyes is likely uncomfortable for your pet and, due to the area staying constantly wet, may lead to infection. If an unpleasant odor is present, your pet may have developed a yeast infection (this is especially true if the stains are more brownish than reddish).

If yeast or another infection is present, see a holistic veterinarian for natural treatment options. You can try colloidal silver, for instance, by applying a small amount (via a cotton ball) to your pet’s face. Colloidal silver has antimicrobial properties that may help reduce yeast infection or dermatitis in the area.

You can also use a diluted organic tear-free baby shampoo to gently cleanse the skin around your dog’s eyes twice a day until the infection resolves.

Tips for Removing and Preventing Tear Stains

Some dogs are more prone to tear stains than other, even within the same breed. One of the simplest methods of prevention, however, applies to all dogs: wipe her face with a warm, damp cloth at least twice a day, which will help to clear away porphyrin-containing moisture. Keeping her face hair trimmed is also important.

If the hair around your pet’s eyes is notably annoying to her, ask a groomer to shave the hair under the eyes and then apply a thin layer of coconut oil to the area. This may help to reduce irritation and inflammation.

There are some herbal eye wash products available that may be useful for pets prone to tear stains. I have also found supplements that assist in detoxification, including milk thistle, SAMe, dandelion, olive leaf, chlorophyll, colostrum and probiotics, to be effective in decreasing the amount of tear staining in my patients.

At a foundational level, you’ll also want to feed your pet a fresh, balanced and species-appropriate diet and fresh, filtered drinking water. This will ensure she’s not taking in excess iron or impurities that will further stress her body (and perhaps contribute to staining).

If you feed a commercial diet, I recommend rotating brands and flavors/recipes to provide a variety of nutrients to your pet but to also to give him a break from the exact same amount of premixed vitamins and minerals you feed on a daily basis. Many pet foods meet AAFCO minimum nutrient requirements but can also contain borderline toxic levels of some nutrients (such as iron) and over time feeding a diet too high or low in nutrients is stressful on the body.

By keeping your pet’s face clean, providing her with a healthy diet and addressing any injuries or structural or infectious factors in her excessive tearing, you can likely keep tear staining to a minimum. Whatever you do, do not attempt to remove tear stains with products like milk of magnesia, medicated powders intended for humans, makeup remover, corn syrup or hydrogen peroxide.

Also, avoid tearstain-removal products that contain antibiotics, which may or may not be listed on the label. Any product you use for tear stains should be clearly labeled “antibiotic-free.” If you’re interested in a natural tearstain remover, your holistic veterinarian should be able to recommend one. Research has found that many tear stain products contain Tylosin, an ingredient that is potentially harmful and may promote negative side effects

Tearplex™ has been vet recommended as superior in all these categories for cats or dogs:


Marketed to Reduce Appearance of Existing Tear Stains Marketed to Target Future Tear Stains  Does NOT   Contain Tylosin†Potentially  Harmful Ingredient Marketed to Contain Natural Ingredients Marketed for Dogs of ALL Breeds