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What are Scratching His Eyes?

If you have noticed your dog pawing at his eye or rubbing his face along the furniture or the floor, he may have ocular discomfort. Your pet may be squinting or may not want to open the eye at all. Conditions that can cause your dog to experience a need to scratch the eye include:

  • Seasonal allergies or other irritation
  • Canine conjunctivitis
  • Inflammation
  • Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) 
  • Entropion

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Why Scratching His Eyes Occurs in Dogs

Seasonal Allergies or Other Irritation

Your dog can experience the misery of allergies just as humans can. There can be a multitude of causes for allergies such as airborne irritants that are inhaled, contact irritants, flea bite allergies, allergic reactions to ragwort or similar plants, food allergies, and pollen. Allergies usually manifest themselves by causing a dog’s eyes to itch. You will notice your dog pawing at his eyes. He may also rub his face on the floor in an effort to relieve the itching. He may do this to the point that he loses hair around his eyes and muzzle. His eyes will be watery and you may observe redness. 

Allergies are usually caused by things that are inhaled or ingested or may result from contact allergies (items or products your dog otherwise touched). Pollen, mold, and dust mites can be inhaled and have much the same affect on a dog as they do on an allergy-prone human. Dogs can come in contact with carpet fiber and have an allergic reaction. They may even have a reaction to a laundry detergent that you washed his bedding in. 

Food allergies are not the same as food intolerances. Some dogs are allergic to grains in commercial dog food. Rather than having an upset tummy (this is a sign of food intolerance rather than an allergy), your dog may display an allergic reaction of itching and red eyes. 

You will notice itchy or red skin, runny eyes, sneezing (reverse sneezing is also possible), possible digestive issues, and heavy snoring. Finding the culprit may not always be easy. However, common allergy triggers for dogs are cigarette smoke, pollen, dust mites, mold, flea bites, food ingredients, and shampoos. Your vet can help guide you through identifying your dog’s particular triggers.

Canine Conjunctivitis 

Unlike human conjunctivitis, in canines, the issue known as pink eye is not contagious. However, left untreated, canine conjunctivitis can lead to blindness. You will notice a discharge from the eye, redness, and swelling of the conjunctiva. If you notice a squinty or cloudy eye, and your dog is reluctant to let you touch his eye, get him to the vet immediately. Often, canine conjunctivitis is secondary to another issue, possibly a very serious one. You may also notice vomiting, jaundice, diarrhea, and lethargy. If so, document these issues to share with your vet. 

Inflammation

Eye inflammation in dogs is referred to as anterior uveitis. You may notice your dog blinking more than usual, squinting, holding his eye closed, and excessive tearing. Glaucoma may be an issue (glaucoma is increased pressure within the eye and has much the same effect as it does in humans). See your vet for a general ophthalmic exam. He may refer you to a dog eye expert if the issue is more serious. 

Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KCS)

Keratoconjunctivitis sicca or KCS is more commonly known as dry eye in dogs. By the time it is diagnosed as KCS, inadequate tear production has irritated the cornea and surrounding tissues. KCS may be an inherited condition, although it is not restricted to any particular breed. The most common cause is immune disorders that damage tear producing glands. Canine distemper can cause KCS as can hypothyroidism. Certain medications also may contribute to keratoconjunctivitis sicca.

Entropion

Entropion occurs when the eyelid appears to roll inward. The hair on the eyelid will then irritate the eye, causing redness and weeping. You may notice your dog squinting or holding his eye closed. Left untreated, this could cause permanent scarring of the cornea. Many dogs are prone to this issue including the Akita, Pekingese, Bulldog, Pomeranian, Japanese Chin, Shih Tzu, Yorkshire Terrier, Old English Sheepdog, Rottweiler, Siberian Husky, Weimaraner, Toy and Miniature Poodles, and Basset Hound. The list of breed types is extensive and also includes the Bloodhound, English Toy and Springer Spaniel, Setter and Retriever breeds, Great Dane, Newfoundland, Great Pyrenees, and Shar Pei.

What to do if your Dog is Scratching His Eyes

If you suspect allergies, there are a number of things you can do; however, you should still see your vet as a precaution to make sure that there are no other issues causing your dog’s red eyes and the need for him to scratch it. The veterinarian will examine your companion’s eye for ulcerations, signs of glaucoma, and conditions such as entropion. Once these possible causes, and others like conjunctivitis, are ruled out the vet will explore other reasons for the scratching, such as allergies.

To prevent irritation of the eye leading to scratching, you can clean your dog’s bedding weekly to prevent build-up of pet dander and dust. If you wash your pet’s bedding, do so with a detergent free of dyes and perfumes. Use a hypoallergenic dog shampoo to bathe him weekly. Be careful with the ingredients of dog shampoos – a shampoo that is certified organic is best. Often your vet will provide you with topical medications or antihistamines to prevent further flares.

Prevention of Scratching His Eyes

Talking with your vet is the best prevention for red, irritated eyes, especially if you think allergies are the culprit. Your vet can help you change your dog’s diet to a hydrolyzed protein diet. He may also encourage allergy testing so that you will know exactly what allergens to avoid. Keeping your dog’s skin clean and dry goes a long way toward fighting allergic reactions to environmental irritants.

An annual wellness check will include an eye examination and this can identify possible ocular diseases for treatment before they advance to a serious stage.

Cost of Scratching His Eyes

Treating canine conjunctivitis in dogs can be an expensive treatment ranging from $200 to $3,500 depending on the cause and severity of the illness. The expense for diagnosing and reducing the pressure in the eye caused by glaucoma can be as high as $3500, with the average cost being $900.

Scratching His Eyes Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Buddy
Sheltie
2 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Itchy eye
Itchy eye swelling, redness

Buddy got groomed today and when I picked him up at daycare the owner talked to be about his eye being red, swelling, itchy. He has been pawing at it and rubbing it against the furniture and floor. They flushed it with saline at the groomers and applied tenomyocin but it's not getting better. I have been putting cold compresses on it and he seems to like that. I'm very nervous about this. He's never been sick and I don't want him to damage his eye

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2981 Recommendations
If Buddy keeps pawing at his eye you should place a cone on him to prevent him causing any further injury to himself, you should also continue to flush the eye at least twice per day and apply an antibiotic ointment. Without examining the eye I cannot say how severe the injury is, but you if there is a visible scratch to the eye or surrounding tissue you should visit your Veterinarian for a check to be on the safe side. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Tinkie
Chihuahua
8 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

watery eye, squinting

my dog has old scarring in her eye from other dog scratching it. The eye will periodically get watery and she squints and act like it hurts. What can I give her to help with pain and to try to lessen scarring? I have used vet prescribed eye ointment that I had from previous dog. Vet did not give me any suggestions when saw dog; only said it's permanent scarring

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2981 Recommendations
Sometimes scarring can be permanent especially from deep scratches; however, at home you can flush the eye out with sterile saline and apply an ophthalmic antibiotic ointment, there isn’t anything else I can recommend which is over the counter for this unfortunately. You should follow up with your Veterinarian if Tinkie is showing signs of pain or discomfort as they may prescribe something to help. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Beatrice
Pug
8 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Redness

Beatrice came back from pet sitter squinting her eye. No real discharge, but eye is red. Of course it is Sunday and vet is closed. She rubs at it occasionally. Could this be allergies? A scratch? She has no history of this issue. She just turned 8.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2981 Recommendations
Without examining Beatrice I cannot say for certain whether there are allergies, scratch, small foreign object or another cause; you should for the meantime gently flush the eye out with sterile saline and apply an antibiotic ophthalmic ointment to the eye just to be cautious. Try to stop her from scratching her eye for the meantime and visit your Veterinarian when they open. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Shiro
Morkie
1 Year
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Hairloss around eyes
red eyes

Medication Used

Rilexine
Neomycin
Apoquel

For three months my dog Shiro a almost two year old morkie has been rubbing and scratching at his eyes. I took him to the vet several times the pass three months. He has taken all the medication and has no scaring in his eyes. But he still won’t stopped scratching. I have to keep him in a cone so he won’t scratch his eyes out. Is there anything I can do since the vets are not helping? They won’t even do a skin graph.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2981 Recommendations
Without determining a cause for the scratching it can be impossible to treat; allergies, inflammation, infections, glaucoma, foreign objects among other cause may lead to scratching eyes. At this point, I would recommend visiting an Ophthalmologist to be on the safe side since there may be something more serious going on with Shiro’s eyes and without examining him myself I cannot say what the specific cause is. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Uno
Mixed
3 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Red around eyes
Redness

My 3 year old dog is red around the eyes and rubbing her eyes against everything you can think of. What do you think it is ? Taking her to the vet will be out last option way to expensive.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1397 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. unfortunately, without seeing Uno, I can't say what might be going on. It sounds like it could be an allergic reaction, but it could also be parasites, a sin infection, or a fungal infection. It wound be best to have him seen as soon as possible, to examine him, and get the right treatment for him. I hope that he does well.

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