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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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Scratching His Eyes Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Pit Bull

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Two Years

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Unknown severity

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2 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Itching

My dog itches his muzzle and face until it bleeds. Vet told me to give him benadryl. Does not work. What can I do? He is miserable

Aug. 16, 2020

Owner

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Jessica N. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello- Thank you for your question. In dogs generalized itchiness is commonly the result of allergies. In about 80 to 90% of our dogs the allergy is environmental and in about 10 to 20% of our dogs the allergy is food related. They can also be allergic to fleas so make sure that he is on an effective flea preventative. I would recommend giving your veterinarian a call to discuss other treatment options. Antihistamines are effective in some dogs but for many they don't work well. I would recommend discussing apoquel and cytopoint with your veterinarian as his skin appears to be quite irritated and inflamed. Both of those medications help about 75-80% of dogs with allergies. Another option would be to consider a hydrolyzed protein diet trial for him. If none of these options are effective then the next step would be a consult with a dermatologist. Good luck.

Aug. 16, 2020

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German Shepherd

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Seven Years

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Itching Eyes

My dog keeps itching his eye

July 31, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. If your dog is just itching at his eye, and he is looking at you normally in his eyes open, you may just need to keep an eye on him and make sure that it continues to get better. If he is squinting, rubbing at his eye, or there is redness or any drainage, then it would be best to have him seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Dogs can get ulcers, bacterial infections, or ingrown hairs that can cause problems. Your veterinarian will be able to look at your dog, see what might be going on, and get the right treatment. I hope that all goes well for your dog.

July 31, 2020

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Mixed

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Three Years

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Itchy Eyes

Issue with itchy eyes on dog. He has had new food for 2 weeks. Still eats, plays, and goes to the bathroom normally. Often teary eyes the itches. Possible allergic reaction?

July 26, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. The problem you're describing with your dog may be related to allergies, or it may be a bacterial infection, or a problem with the eyelids or eyes. Since it has been going on for a while and not getting better, it would probably be best to have your dog seen by a veterinarian. They would be able to examine your dog, look at the eyes, and see what might be going on. Once they know more about the cause, they can discuss treatment options with you so that your dog is comfortable again. I hope that all goes well for your dog!

July 26, 2020

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Chihuahua

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Two Years

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Scratching Eye

What does it mean if he keeps Scratching his eye

July 21, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. Dogs can develop infections, ulcers, or ingrown hairs that can cause eye problems. If he is continuing to scratch at his eye, it would be best to have him seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine him and see what might be causing the problem. I hope that all goes well for him!

July 25, 2020

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German Shepherd/Rottweiler

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~3 months

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Scratching

My dog is scratching her eyes to wear it bleeds and she is losing fur around her eyes. I’m not sure if it is allergies like mine or another condition

July 14, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. Puppies can commonly be affected by parasites like Demodex, and your puppy likely needs to see a veterinarian and get treatment. They will be able to examine her and give her medication to help. I hope that all goes well for her!

July 14, 2020

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Gia

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Boston Terrier

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13 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Red Eye
Discharge
Rubbing Face

My dog has had a red left eye for months, the vet said he thought it was dry eye but it’s always watering and she has yellow discharge. I think it’s infected but they won’t test for that until I pay $60 to test for dry eye which I don’t think it is. I have been flushing it out and it’ll get better and then she licks her paw and rubs her eye and it gets red again. I am switching vets soon. This is the same vet who missed the fact she was dying from a grain allergy. I looked at her labs after months of the vet having no answer and saw it was clearly a grain allergy and switched her to grain free and she stopped having all those symptoms so I feel bad now she’s dealing with an irritated eye. Help!

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Mysti

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Staffordshire Bull Terrier Cross

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1 Year

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Itching

My dog has been scratching her eyes for mostly all of her life (she's currently one) she scratches with her paws and rubs herself against carpet. Been given drops my vets so many times but it does something for a week then a week later her eyes are red and puffy again.

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Zeus

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St. Bernard

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2 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Redness
Swelling
Eyes Closed

Zeus is my 2 year old St. Bernard. He’s been scratching at his eyes, banging his head trying to relieve it. There is quite some swelling and redness around his eyes from the scratching but he won’t let me get near his eye without becoming aggressive. It reminds me of how a human would react to allergies, but he makes this weird sound with his mouth when he’s trying to scratch his eye. The vet it closed for the weekend so I’m at a loss. What can I do in the meantime

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Flynn

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Dachshund

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9 Months

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Redness
Swollen Eyes
Rednes

My pup started itching his eyes and put some colloidal silver and it just wouldn’t stop he is ripping his eyelids and now they’re super inflamed. I took him to the vet and they have me some stuff to put in his eyes. It sort of worked for awhile but I’m almost out it was more of a bandaid not a real fix. I got him a cone but he’s been in it forever I feel so bad. He’s gotten so creative he now itches his eyes on the corners of the tables and counters and sofa I feel so terrible I’ve taken them back and they aren’t doing anything to help. I just want my pup to not be in pain.

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Ben

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Patuljasti pinč

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6 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Eye Bleeding
Itchy Eye

So my dog is scratching his eye mostly and licking his paw after he scratches it its watery only and there are not visible simptoms on him i washed his eye 2 times and massaged the area but i can tell his eye is itchy to him so should i be worried or?

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