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What are Exophtalmos?

If you are concerned that your dog’s eyes are problematic, make an appointment with your veterinarian. Because of potential conditions such as hemorrhaging, cysts, or cancer an evaluation of your pet's eye should take place. Upon examination your veterinarian may refer you to a canine ophthalmologist for further diagnosis and treatment options.

Exophthalmos in dogs is where the eye bulges out in front. Exophthalmos can be unilateral or bilateral. Dogs that are “bug eyed” or have large, round eyes should be checked often. These dogs are more prone to developing eyes bulging out of orbit in the front. The Pug, Pekingese, Shih Tzu, Japanese Chin and Boston Terrier breeds are very likely to develop exophthalmos.

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Symptoms of Exophtalmos in Dogs

Anytime you see something abnormal occurring with your dog’s eyes, do not assume that it is nothing. Have your veterinarian exam your dog just to be sure that it is nothing that will affect the vision or is causing pain. If you see any of these symptoms of exophthalmos, be sure to tell your veterinarian what you have seen so an accurate diagnosis can be made.

  • Bruising of the eyelid
  • Swelling of the eyelid
  • Discharge from the eye
  • Redness in the eye 
  • Abnormal position of the eye (bulging forward)
  • Protrusion of the third eyelid
  • Unable to close the eyelid over the eye
  • Dry eye 
  • Crossed eyes
  • Ulceration of the cornea
  • Pain while opening the mouth
  • Visual impairment
  • Fever
  • Lethargy

Causes of Exophtalmos in Dogs

There can be several different causes of exophthalmos in dogs. These causes are all serious and do require treatment under a veterinarian’s care.


The tissue behind the eye is cancerous. This is one of the most common causes of exophthalmos in older dogs.

Infection or abscess

This is usually found behind the eye and is caused by the migration of foreign matter. The foreign matter can migrate from the mouth or be an extension of an infection that is affecting the roots of teeth in the upper part of the dog’s mouth. 


Trauma to the face can cause bleeding or hemorrhaging behind the eye, forcing the eye to bulge. Bleeding from behind the eye is a typical result of being hit by a car or large blunt object.


Myositis is the inflammation of muscles. This can involve the muscles in the actual eye or the muscles that are responsible for chewing. This is generally the case in young, large breed dogs.

Zygomatic salivary gland disease

Situated underneath the eye, the zygomatic salivary gland can become enlarged from an infection, a cyst or a tumor. This is uncommon in dogs, but has been documented in rare cases.

Cyst development

Cysts can form in the zygomatic salivary gland or the lacrimal gland causing the eye to be pushed forward. This is also uncommon in dogs, but has been documented in rare cases.

Diagnosis of Exophtalmos in Dogs

Only a veterinarian or a veterinary specialist can diagnose exophthalmos in dogs. A thorough physical exam will be required as well as gathering information regarding environmental factors that could have contributed to the possible bulging of the eye. Tests may also be required as a part of the complete diagnosis:

  • Urinalysis
  • Biochemical profile
  • CBC or complete blood cell count
  • Testing for infections 
  • Skull and nasal cavity x-rays
  • Chest x-rays
  • Urinalysis
  • Orbital ultrasound
  • MRI
  • Biopsy of the eye orbit

Treatment of Exophtalmos in Dogs

Treatment options for dogs diagnosed with exophthalmos will vary depending on the underlying cause. Your veterinarian will set up a specific treatment plan or if the case is severe enough will refer you to a specialist.

IV Support Therapy

Supportive therapy may be necessary if your dog has become dehydrated or is severely ill. Fluids will be delivered intravenously. 

Oral and/or Systemic Antibiotics

Antibiotics will be prescribed if an infection or abscess is present. A surgical procedure may be needed to open and drain an abscessed area behind the eye. Antibiotics may be prescribed orally or if your dog is severely ill, the antibiotic will be given through an IV.

Hot Packs

Swelling within the tissue surrounding the eye may be alleviated by applying hot packs.


In the event that the cornea is affected, lubricant ointments and/or antibiotic ointments will be used. 

Eyelid Sutures

In the event of severe trauma, the eyelids may be stitched closed for a time to protect the eye and prevent further conditions from arising.


In the case of zygomatic salivary gland disease or cyst formation, surgical removal of the affected areas must be done.

Cancer Treatments

Cancer treatments can vary depending on the placement of the cancerous tissue and the size of the affected area. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgical removal are some of the treatment options available.

Recovery of Exophtalmos in Dogs

Recovery time for dogs diagnosed with exophthalmos will vary depending upon which treatment plan has been prescribed. Always administer all medications as directed and complete all follow-up visits with your veterinarian. 

Your veterinarian will give detailed instructions on how to properly care for your dog. All questions regarding your dog’s treatment plan should be directed to your veterinarian.