Cloudy eyes in dogs can be a concerning, but not always severe issue. There are many causes for clouding of the eyes, including aging-related health issues, injuries, and more. You may notice your dog bumping into things more often, or other changes in their behavior, as well as an opaque film over the eyes. Read on to learn the most common causes of cloudy eyes in dogs, and when you should worry.
What Are Cloudy Eyes in dogs?
Clouding of the eye refers to a cloudy, opaque film covering its surface. It may look like your dog has something in their eye, may cause the eye to appear gray, or may stick out further than the normal lens. This clouding affects your dog’s ability to see by blocking visible light to the retina. However, cloudy eyes can sometimes be hard to detect, especially if your dog relies more on their other senses, such as hearing and smell, to compensate.
General Signs to Watch Out For
In the case of injury, signs of a problem can be obvious. However, there are some subtle signs to watch out for that can indicate an issue with the eyes. Your dog may bump into objects, or become clingy in low light situations. Pawing and rubbing of the face and eyes can also indicate discomfort from swelling, pain, or itchiness. Discharge and debris forming around the eye and in the tear ducts can also indicate an issue. In the case of systemic illness leading to cloudy eyes, you may also see changes in overall behavior, appetite, or energy levels.
If your dog has an acute injury to the eye, such as bumping into a foreign object or getting bitten by another dog, it should be considered a medical emergency. The sooner you get your dog in for care, the better the chances of keeping the eye intact for a full recovery.
Cloudy Eyes in Dogs — Causes
Here are some of the most common causes of eye cloudiness, and what to do:
1. Injury to the Eye
Injuries to the eye encompass a wide variety of signs and symptoms, such as bulging, visible wounds, proptosis (bulging), and cloudiness. Eye injuries can occur for several reasons, including trauma to the eye from a bite, scratches from foreign objects, or inflammation due to underlying illness leading to swelling and bulging.
Diagnosis involves visual inspection of the eye with an ophthalmoscope to check for visible tears and injuries. A fluorescein stain can also be used to check for injuries to the cornea. This is done by applying a stain to the eye and then shining a fluorescent light over it. Areas of injury will glow brightly.
From there, treatment depends on the underlying cause of the injury. For foreign body injuries such as scratches or bites, removal of the object, cleaning of the eye, including the surrounding tear ducts and membranes, and oral and topical antibiotics and pain medications can help. In more severe cases, referral to a veterinary ophthalmologist is best for more tailored treatment. In the case of an eye that is severely damaged or infected, removal is generally the best course of action.
Prevention can be difficult in the case of sudden punctures from bites or foreign objects. However, if you travel frequently with your dog in the car with the window down, or on bikes or other locations with flying debris, pet goggles are beneficial to avoid dirt and debris from causing scratches.
2. Eye Infections
An eye infection can be secondary to an initial injury, but may also be a result of bacteria or inflammation of the eye. Your dog may show symptoms such as redness, cloudiness, seeping of green or yellow discharge, and the desire to scratch or paw at the eye. In the case of systemic illness, you may also see other symptoms such as fever, loss of appetite, and lethargy. Your vet will rule out other issues, such as injuries, with a visual inspection and eye stain, as well as take a full history of symptoms. Bloodwork may also be helpful in checking for systemic illnesses.
Treatment generally involves medicated eye drops or ointments such as Terramycin, but may also include an oral antibiotic or pain medication depending on severity. Keeping the eye clean, dry, and free of debris can also help to reduce symptoms and speed up healing. An Elizabethan (cone) collar is also best in keeping your dog from rubbing or pawing the eye, reducing inflammation during the healing process. Prevention is difficult in the case of infections, but regular monitoring of the eyes and keeping them free from dirt and debris can help.
Often an issue in senior dogs, cataracts affect the lens of the eye. The lens becomes cloudy, blocking light from entering the retina, causing blindness. Cataracts can occur for many reasons, including hereditary causes with breeds such as Springer Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, and Boston Terriers. Other underlying health issues, such as diabetes, trauma, inflammation, and nutritional issues can lead to cataract formation.
Cataracts can easily avoid detection due to their slow progression, especially as dogs compensate with their other senses such as smell or hearing, which may make it difficult to notice there is a problem. However, once it has progressed to blindness, you may notice your dog bumping into objects, or becoming unusually clingy. Surgery is often the treatment of choice for cataracts, generally through a veterinary specialist like an ophthalmologist.
As with other eye issues, prevention can be difficult, especially as cataracts are often a secondary issue, and slow to progress. Knowing your dog’s breed history, and having regular checkups to check the eyes can help with early detection.
4. Foreign Body
Foreign bodies are another cause of visible eye cloudiness. They can range from small microscopic abrasives, such as dirt or sand, to larger objects such as sticks or in rarer cases, teeth or nails. Foreign bodies, when left in the eye, cause inflammation, swelling, and abrasions on the cornea, leading to its cloudy appearance. You may also see your dog rub at their eye, exhibit pain, or keep one or both affected eyes closed (your dog may look like he is playfully winking at you.)
Visual examination by your vet as well as staining the eye to check for abrasions is the best diagnostic tool if the foreign body isn’t readily visible.
If the foreign body can be removed, your vet will likely recommend sedation. This will make your dog more comfortable during the procedure. Depending on the type of foreign body, removal can vary. Flushing the eye out with sterile fluids works for smaller objects, while splinters or larger objects may need removal with surgical tools. Once your dog is awake, your vet will likely prescribe medications. Eye ointments such as a steroid or antibiotics, as well as oral pain medications will help until the eye is fully healed. This can also reduce secondary infections and inflammation.
Glaucoma, or an increase in eye pressure, can also cause clouding of the eyes. It can come on slowly over time (open-angle) or rapidly (closed-angle). While glaucoma is relatively rare in dogs, there are some breeds more predisposed. These include Beagles, Labrador Retrievers, Basset Hounds, and Boston Terriers. As glaucoma can be hard to detect by owners, it is usually caught during an annual examination by your vet. The pupils can have increased dilation, cloudiness over the lens, or the eyes can become red, swollen, or painful.
Over time, this can lead to other issues, such as tearing of the cornea or displacement of the lens. Treatment varies depending on the severity and underlying conditions. In less severe cases, medications to help reduce swelling, remove fluid from the eye, and decrease eye pressure can help. With more severe cases, surgical intervention by a veterinary ophthalmologist may be recommended. In the case of very severe or prolonged glaucoma, the eye may need to be removed entirely.
Glaucoma is hard to prevent, especially as it can be very slow to progress and hard for owners to detect. Regular visits to your vet can help catch the early stages of glaucoma which can respond better to conservative treatment. However, in most cases, treatment of glaucoma is lifelong.
Eye inflammation can also cause eye clouding in dogs, especially when it affects the cornea. This is due to fluid build-up and debris forming behind it. Injury to the eye, and bacterial infections can also cause inflammation as a secondary symptom to the initial cause. In rarer cases, fungal infections and viruses such as hepatitis can cause eye inflammation. In addition to eye cloudiness, you may notice your dog rubbing or pawing at their face, redness of the eye or surrounding tissues, or visible swelling and discoloration.
Some breeds can also have a special type of eye inflammation caused by a disease called Pannus. Breeds most prone include German Shepherds, Collies, Huskies, and related breeds. If you suspect eye inflammation, your vet can help figure out the underlying cause. Tests such as eye stains to rule out injury, bloodwork to check for systemic illnesses, and visual examination of the eye can all help narrow down the cause behind the inflammation.
Treatment depends on the underlying issue. Treating any primary conditions such as bacterial or fungal infections, or underlying systemic health issues will usually help resolve the eye inflammation. If the cause is due to the problem with the eye itself, or an injury to the eye, treatment such as medicated steroid eye drops, antibiotics, and pain medications can help. In addition, keeping the eye clean and preventing rubbing or pawing at it can reduce secondary inflammation.
7. Corneal Ulcer
Corneal ulcers, also known as ulcerative keratitis, are caused by slow-to-heal ulcers and sores forming on the cornea. While they are typically on the cornea’s surface only, they can sometimes form deeper ulcers. Injury is the most common cause of abrasion and injury to the cornea, however, bacterial infections can also lead to corneal ulcers if left untreated, and may take hold as a secondary infection in traumatic injuries. Chronic dry eye can also cause corneal ulceration. Your dog may rub at the affected eye, show pain when the eye is touched, or may have visible clouding or injury to the cornea.
Fluorescein stains are the top diagnostic tool for corneal injuries. They are placed into the eye and then a special lamp is used to highlight areas that are torn or ulcerated. If there is a foreign body present causing the ulcer, it can also be removed at this time. Otherwise, most corneal injuries will heal on their own over time. That said, prophylactic antibiotics, as well as medicated eye ointments and pain medications can help reduce the chances of a secondary infection as well as reduce rubbing and overall irritation while the eye heals.
8. Emergency Causes
While not a specific cause of cloudy eyes, emergencies do warrant their own mention. In some cases, toxic ingestion of substances can cause the pupils to dilate, making them look cloudy. Acute injuries can also cause the eyes to appear cloudy or red. Other issues, such as seizures, may also cause changes to the eye, giving them a cloudy, faraway look.
Other signs of an emergency include visible distress or pain. Your dog may also have changes in behavior such as loss of appetite, lethargy, or increased/decreased urinary and bowel habits. Sudden symptoms such as vomiting, seizures, or drooling are also signs of an emergency. Lastly, heavy panting, or blue or pale gums or tongue indicate a serious issue. If you notice your dog has cloudy eyes, and is experiencing the symptoms of an emergency, it is best to seek out veterinary care from your vet or an emergency clinic right away.
If you notice changes to your dog’s vision, including clouding of the eyes, a visit to your vet is always best. Making sure to keep the eye clean and dry, and preventing rubbing can also help reduce the chances of further injury and irritation, helping with healing. Cloudy eyes can be scary when spotted, but treatment can help your dog remain healthy and happy.