Dog Eye Discharge: Causes & Symptoms

Eyes are the window to the soul, so it’s no wonder that as a dog owner, you might get a little nervous if anything out of the ordinary should arise in your dog’s orbital spheres (fancy way of saying eyeballs).

The truth is, the eye is an extremely complex and sensitive organ. It’s a majorly vulnerable point for physical objects, bacterial infections, and other diseases to take root.

That being said, most of the time your dog suffers from some sort of eye issue, he’ll recover quickly with no lasting harm. There are some cases where there is cause for alarm, but if you perform regular checkups with your dog and bring him to the vet before symptoms escalate, you and your canine should be alright.

What Exactly is Eye Discharge in Dogs

Before jumping into the details, it will probably help to cover the basics of what eye discharge is and the various types you may see.

This article has broken it down into four categories, but keep in mind discharge can come in many shapes and forms. Therefore, it’s important to use your best judgment and contact your vet if you have any concerns.

Gunk and Crust

A small amount of gunk or crust is usually called eye-boogers. Eye-boogers are made up of dried tears, dust, dead cells, and other materials that tears have flushed from the eyes.

This is totally normal and not a sign for alarm. Just keep an eye on your dog’s eye-boogers. If his eyes change color or seem to be making an excessive amount (in other words, more than they usually do), you may want to call your vet.

You can wipe your dog’s eye-boogers clean with a damp cotton ball. Be sure to use a fresh cotton ball for each eye.

Teary, Watery Eyes

As mentioned above, tears are a totally normal and healthy part of eye function. However, too much tearing, resulting in watery eyes, can be a sign for concern.

The condition of excess tears is called epiphora. Epiphora isn’t a disease in itself, but a symptom that’s related to many different conditions.

If it just happens occasionally, watery eyes can simply be due to dust, irritants or allergens. If you notice it occurring frequently in your dog, it may be a sign of a chronic underlying condition.

Generally, if something is wrong, watery eyes will be experienced alongside other symptoms, so keep your eye out for any other changes in your dog’s eyes or behavior.

Clear to White-Gray Mucus-Like Substance

If your dog consistently accumulates a mucus-like substance around his eyes, it could be a sign of a chronic condition called KCS.

KCS can again be caused by a myriad of factors. The reason KCS causes a mucus-like discharge is because the body tries to make up for the lack of tear production by ramping up mucus production.

While this can be an effective short-term solution, mucus isn’t a perfect replacement for tears, which causes issues.

If your dog is suffering from KCS, make an appointment with your vet. Depending on the root cause, the treatment may include medications or surgery.

Yellow, Green, or Other Discolored Discharge

When the discharge is an icky color like yellow or green, it’s a pretty clear sign that your dog is battling an eye infection. Generally, if you see a discolored discharge, the eye will also be red and swollen.

This doesn’t necessarily mean anything to panic about, but with infections, you never know. That’s why you should bring your dog to the vet at the first sign of a discolored discharge.

The causes of eye discharge in dogs are numerous. Eye infections can be caused by injuries to the eye (like a scratch), other infections spreading (like upper-respiratory infections), or by an acute or chronic health condition affecting your dog’s immune system.

No matter what, if you suspect your dog has an eye infection, make an appointment immediately. You don’t want to wait until it worsens.

Symptoms Related to Dog Eye Discharge

It’s important to remember that dog eye discharge is a symptom and not a disease. Therefore, the list of symptoms here isn’t a list of symptoms of dog eye discharge, but symptoms that are often seen alongside it.

These are important to know because depending on the other symptoms going on, you’ll have a better understanding of just why your dog has eye discharge.

The symptoms may include:

  • Squinting or blinking excessively: In some cases, squinting and blinking may be the first symptom you notice, and only on further inspection will you see discharge. Squinting or blinking can be a sign of infection or underlying health issue, but many times, it’s simply a sign of an irritated eye due to allergies, foreign matter, or an injury to the eyeball.
  • Swelling of the eye and surrounding areas: Many times, eye discharge is associated with inflammation and swelling. This can be swelling in the eyeball itself or in the surrounding tissues, including the conjunctiva (the pink lining on the inside of your dog’s eyelids). Usually, swelling will bring with it red or bloodshot eyes.
  • Teary and watery eyes: Though teary and watery eyes can be a form of discharge, many times when other forms of discharge are present, the eyes can get excessively watery. This is usually an attempt to flush contaminants out of the eye.
  • Structural abnormalities: There are many different structural abnormalities that can be associated with discharge. Some of these are obvious, such as a swollen and red conjunctiva, while others can only be seen on x-ray or by using other advanced techniques.
  • Behavioral change: You may notice your dog’s behavior change when they’re experiencing eye discharge. Behavioral changes may include loss of appetite, whining, or scratching and pawing at the eyes excessively.

If you noticed some of these symptoms in your dog, you’re probably wondering, “What the heck is the cause?”
While you should never self-diagnose your dog, you can read about some of the most common causes below to give you a better idea of what it could be.

Remember to always take your dog to the vet if you think he is suffering or having a medical problem.

Common Causes of Dog Eye Discharge:

The reasons a dog can get eye discharge is just about endless, so keep that in mind when going through this list.

But most of the time if your dog is experiencing eye discharge, it will connect to one of the conditions or causes listed below. Remember, some of these will be diseases, some will be caused by diseases or underlying health issues, while some may just be an acute and short-lasting problem.

  • Dry Eye: Dry eye is one of those things that can be caused or aggravated by a number of factors. The simple explanation of dry eye in dogs is that the eyes require constant moisture from tears to work properly. If the eye fails to produce an adequate number of tears, dry eye can cause all sorts of issues including discomfort. One of the reactions to dry eye is that the body produces extra mucus in an attempt to lubricate the eye. While effective in the short-term, mucus isn’t a perfect substitution for tears, so the eye becomes irritated and inflamed. This extra mucus can also come out as discharge. The long explanation can include autoimmune disorders or blocked tear ducts.
  • Pink eye: Pink eye is also commonly called conjunctivitis. That’s because it causes irritation and inflammation to the conjunctiva (the normally pink lining on the inside of the eyelids). If you think your dog has pink eye, examine the conjunctiva. Make sure to use clean hands to avoid further infection. The conjunctiva should be pink (not white or red) and shouldn’t be excessively puffy or swollen. If you’re unsure, it’s best to bring your dog in to see the vet.
  • Trauma or injury: Trauma or injury to the eye can be from rough and tumble play (or even fighting for the more unruly pups) or even just from running through tall grass. The eyeball is incredibly delicate, so even a blade of grass moving across it can cause cutting and damage. The good news is, that minor cuts like that usually heal on their own. The bad news is that even minor cuts can open the door to other problems like infections. Other trauma can be deeper and more problematic.
  • Allergies: These can come from environmental sources (pollen, dust), from chemical sources (perfumes, air fresheners, pollution), or from food. Generally, allergies are easy to treat by removing the source and giving an antihistamine or other medication. If you suspect your dog is suffering from allergies, be sure to remove the source immediately.
  • Ulcers, glaucoma, other issues: There are some pretty serious causes of dog eye discharge, like ulcers and glaucoma, as well. Examples range from cancer or tumors in the eye to corneal ulcers and glaucoma.

So you think your dog may have an eye issue and you’re wondering what the vet will do to diagnose and treat your pup? Read on to get a better idea of what to expect.

Diagnosis, Treatment, & Beyond

When you bring your dog to the vet for eye discharge or a related issue, the first thing the vet will want to do is perform a visual eye exam.

Basically, the vet will check out your dog’s eye to give them clues into what’s wrong, and what tests they need to run, if any.

Sometimes a visual eye exam is all they’ll need for a diagnosis, but many times, they’ll need to perform various exams, including blood panels, urinalysis, and electrolyte panels.

If doctors think the eye discharge is caused by an acute problem, they may perform x-rays or some other form of imaging exam.

With a diagnosis in hand, your vet will prescribe a variety of treatments depending on the causes and symptoms.

A simple Elizabethan collar may be prescribed, or medication (such as antibiotics) may be required.

In addition to knowing what to expect while at the vet, you probably want to know more about protecting your dog from getting eye issues such as discharge in the future.

It is recommended that you check on your dog daily and clean his eye of any gunk that may develop. In addition, be sure to give him an extra checkup after any rough play or adventures that take him through thick vegetation.

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