Dog Swollen Eye, Eyelids, Causes and Treatment

dog swollen eye

While it may look like your dog is winking at you playfully, eye swelling can be a concerning symptom. Swollen eyes can have many causes, from allergies to infections, and can affect not only the eye, but the surrounding eyelid and face. If you notice your dog pawing at their face, redness around the eye, or gunky discharge, read on to learn more about what may be happening.

What Are Swollen Eyes?

Swelling is the inflammation of tissue with fluid in response to an immune reaction. This can be caused by a number of things, from allergens, to insect stings, to attacking bacteria and viruses. Genetic defects of the eye and eyelids may also resemble swelling if the eye is protruding or the eyelid turned outward at an odd angle. As the problem persists, scratching and pawing at the eye can lead to further irritation, and increased swelling, worsening swollen eyes overall.

General Signs to Watch Out For

While the cause and specific symptoms can differ from situation to situation, there are a few general signs to watch out for with eye swelling in your dog. The first is rapid swelling that changes over minutes to hours, which can indicate a severe allergic reaction. Discharge from the eye, both clear or cloudy, can also indicate a problem. It is also concerning if your dog seems bothered by the eye, and is pawing or rubbing at it. Finally, inability to keep the eye open, or inability to close the eye are both symptoms that warrant a trip to your vet.

Dog Swollen Eye — Causes

Here are some of the top causes of swelling of the eye in dogs:

1. Injury to Your Dog’s Eyes, Eyelid, and Surrounding Tissue

Injuries of the eyes, eyelids, and surrounding tissues such as the face, tear ducts, and nose, can all cause swelling to occur. You may notice your dog’s eye looks “puffy” or red, or they may paw at it or whine when the area is touched. A severely swollen eye may also “bug” out or the eyelid remain closed, even when your dog is not asleep. Injuries may also have bloody or discolored discharge, clouding of the eye, visible wounds, or blood.

Diagnosis involves a full history of any accidents that could have caused injury, as well as inspection of the face and eyes. If the eye itself is affected, a fluorescein stain can be used to check for problems with the lens and cornea. Cleaning and removing any fur or debris around the eye can also help check for injuries.

Treatment depends on the underlying cause. Generally, it involves cleaning of wounds, and a topical or oral antibiotic and pain medication. The use of an Elizabethan (cone) collar to prevent rubbing and scratching can also help reduce the chances of infection and further swelling. Using protective equipment such as dog goggles can help prevent injuries. Also inspect your dog’s face and eyes after coming inside from play.

2. Infections From Bacteria or Viruses

Bacterial and viral infections can also cause swollen eyes in dogs, due to secondary inflammation. In addition to the eye or eyelid appearing puffy, you may notice yellow or green discharge, a sign of infection, from the eye or tear ducts. In systemic illnesses, discharge may also be present from the nose. If the eye is infected, it may also be painful or hot to the touch. Systemic viral and bacterial infections may also cause fever, lethargy, and loss of appetite.

Diagnosis includes a complete exam from your veterinarian. Bloodwork can check for the presence of increased white blood cells and other markers that can point toward a systemic problem. If your vet suspects a specific viral illness, such as parvovirus, a rapid SNAP test can be done to confirm it.

Treatment is different depending on if the infection is localized to the eye itself, or systemic. For eye infections, daily cleaning of the eye and antibiotic eye drops can help. Your vet may also recommend using a warm compress on the eye a few times a day to help reduce swelling and allow for any discharge to fully drain. Systemic illnesses may be treated with antibiotics, palliative care, or hospitalization depending on severity. As some viral illnesses are very contagious, care should be taken. Thoroughly wash bedding, clothing, and the environment after handling a sick pet.

3. Allergies

Allergies in dogs can have similar symptoms to other causes of swollen eyes. However, there are some key differences that separate an allergic reaction from an infection or injury. In addition to swelling and redness of the eyes, discharge is generally clear. This is different from yellow or green discharge, which indicates an infection. Your dog may also sneeze or cough. Full-body symptoms, such as rashes, itching around the ears or face, and hair loss can also suggest an allergic reaction. In the case of an insect bite or sting, you may see the stinger or a bite mark.

In many cases, allergies that affect the eyes are environmental, rather than food-based. Most food-based allergies will present with general GI upset in addition to skin problems. Your vet can help narrow down the cause of the allergen by taking a general history. Checking for causes such as excessive dirt or dust in the environment, interaction with plants or insects, seasonal changes, and more can narrow down the cause of the allergen. In severe cases, a referral to a veterinary allergist is also useful for more specific testing and tailored treatment.

Treatment can vary. A conservative daily dose of an over the counter allergy medication such as Benadryl or Allegra can reduce minor irritation. For stings or bites, injected antihistamines and steroids can be given in the clinic. Prescription medications and topical eye ointments and shampoos can also help reduce symptoms in more severe allergic reactions. Allergy shots can also be provided by a veterinary allergist. Prevention generally involves avoidance of the trigger allergen. Wiping down your dog’s paws, face, and coat can reduce the chances of a reaction.

4. Glaucoma

Glaucoma leads to swollen eyes due to a buildup of fluid within the eye itself. This causes pressure on the retina and optic nerve, which can lead to permanent damage including blindness or loss of the eye. Glaucoma can come on gradually, with its open-angle form, or suddenly, with its closed-angle form. While the sudden form of glaucoma is more readily spotted due to the rapid onset of swelling, redness, and pain, open-angle glaucoma can be dangerous as its effects are often missed by owners. Dogs are also able to compensate for the loss of vision with their other senses such as hearing and smell.

Regular veterinary checkups are the best way of spotting glaucoma, especially if you have a breed predisposed to the condition such as Cocker Spaniels, poodles, terriers, and Basset Hounds. Regular eye exams can look for gradual changes to the eye, including swelling. Your vet will use a tonometer, a special tool that measures eye pressure, to check. Once found, treatment can range from long-term eye drops to reduce pressure and fluid build-up to surgical treatment. In extremely severe cases, removal of the eye may be needed.

5. Cherry Eye

Cherry eye, or prolapse of the third eyelid, causes swelling of the inner eyelid of your dog’s eye. It will appear as a “popped out” swollen red mass that sits at the base of your dog’s eye. While any breed may experience a cherry eye, some are more predisposed. Bulldogs, terriers, and other smushed-faced breeds are all affected, due to a weakening of the ligaments surrounding the eyelid.

Visual inspection by your veterinarian is generally all that is needed to diagnose a cherry eye. This is usually done at a routine puppy exam. Surgical treatment from your regular vet to fix the eyelid is the treatment of choice, and has good results and prognosis, with a full recovery and full use of the eyelid within several weeks. Some dogs can develop a chronic dry eye from the procedure, however, that is treatable with daily eye drops.

6. Entropion and Ectropion

Entropion, or turning of the eyelid inward, and ectropion, or turning of the eyelid outward, are two conditions that can resemble swollen eyes. The turning inward or outward of the eyelashes can also lead to additional symptoms. These include redness, irritation, pain, and swelling of the eyelid, which may cause your dog to paw at it. If left untreated, these conditions can also lead to scarring and damage to the eye.

Visual examination by your vet can determine if there is a defect with the eyelid. Like cherry eye, surgical correction is best. This is done by placing stitches into the eyelid to help move the eyelid back into place until healed. Your vet may also recommend medications such as antibiotic or steroid eye drops. These treat any secondary infections and inflammation due to the eye not being able to close properly. As this condition can be genetic, prevention is hard. Breeds predisposed to it such as Saint Bernards, Great Danes, and Mastiffs should have their eyes examined regularly to catch symptoms early.

7. Metabolic Illnesses (Hypothyroidism, Cushing’s Disease, Diabetes)

Many metabolic illnesses affect all systems of the body, including the eyes. In the case of metabolic diseases like hypothyroidism, the eyes may “bug out” or swell as an inflammatory response. Other conditions, like diabetes, can lead to cataracts in the eyes, which may give the eye a cloudy, swollen appearance. Cushing’s Disease can also affect the eye due to hypertension (high blood pressure) and hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol) causing fluid retention and swelling. In most cases, you’ll also notice general signs. These include changes in appetite and drinking, changes in bowel and urinary habits, and changes in coat, weight, and skin condition.

Since these conditions often present with body-wide symptoms, swollen eyes are only part of the diagnostic process. Diagnosis is usually for the underlying systemic illness. This includes bloodwork, specific thyroid Free-T4 and TSH testing, low-stim ACTH tests, insulin tests, and more. Getting the underlying condition under control with medications is best. Treatments such as levothyroxine for hypothyroidism or steroids for Cushing’s will usually resolve symptoms, including swelling of the eye.

These conditions are often seen in older, senior pets. Regular bloodwork and senior exams can help catch them in their early stages. Treating before symptoms become severe can help reduce long-term side effects.

8. Tumors and Cancers

Various benign tumors and more serious cancers involving the eyes and eyelid can cause swelling. This may be due to the visible appearance of the growth itself, or due to the tumor pushing on the eye or eyelid, causing it to protrude. You may notice discharge or redness from the growth, or it may be painful or bothersome to your dog. Often, tumors and growths are irregular in size, shape, and color, compared to the surrounding tissue. Growth can also be sudden, with an increase in size over days to weeks indicating a problem.

If you notice a strange growth on your dog’s eye or eyelid, it is best to seek veterinary care. Your vet will recommend taking an aspirate, or sample of tissue via a needle, to determine what cells are present. In most cases, your dog will need to be sedated for this procedure. Accidentally bumping or moving during it may cause injury to the eye. From there, your vet can look at the sample under a microscope, or send it off to a lab for analysis.

Treatment of tumors and cancers involves removal of the growth. Sometimes, this includes a section of healthy tissue around it to ensure all cancerous cells are removed. In cases where the growth cannot be removed on its own, removal of the eye may be needed. Some treatments, such as chemotherapy, may be viable if the growth is in a delicate place, but has mixed results. Your vet can refer you to a veterinary oncologist as needed depending on the severity of the tumor.

Swelling of the eye can have a range of causes, from the mostly harmless, to the serious. If you notice your dog “winking” or pawing at their eye, or changes to the eye in general, a trip to your vet is best. Keeping the eye clean, dry, and using an Elizabethan (cone) collar can also help prevent further irritation. Early eye care is important to help your dog heal faster and return to normal.