Scratching His Eyes in Dogs

Veterinary reviewed by: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

Why is my dog scratching his eyes?

Veterinary reviewed by: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

Why is my dog scratching his eyes?

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
  • Ocular 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, allergic reactions to ragwort or similar plants, food allergies, and a reaction to pollen. Environmental allergies can 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. Dogs can be allergic to any ingredient, including chicken, egg, dairy, grains or peas. 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. Other signs can include vomiting and hives.

You may 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, food ingredients and shampoos. Your vet can help guide you through identifying your dog’s particular triggers.

Canine Conjunctivitis 

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. 

Your vet will examine the eye, stain it for any secondary ulcers and measure the tear production. They should also flush it to rule out the presence of any foreign body. Treatment usually includes antibiotic eye drops and a buster collar to prevent rubbing.

Inflammation

Inflammation in the middle layer of the eye in dogs is referred to as 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. Treatment includes drops to improve tear production and lubricants.

Entropion

Entropion occurs when the eyelid rolls inwards. The eyelashes 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. Treatment is to surgically correct the defect and treat.

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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 as needed. 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. A buster collar can minimise rubbing and prevent secondary damage to the skin. Anti-histamines and other medicine may be prescribed by your vet. Ideally, determine what your vet is reacting to and minimise exposure where possible.


Whenever your dog's eye looks abnormal, seek veterinary care right away.

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Prevention of Scratching His Eyes

Talking with your vet is advised, as soon as you notice any red or irritated eyes. Keeping your dog’s skin clean and dry is important and long fur around the eyes can be trimmed short.

Ensure the air is well ventilated and free of any dust, smoke or cooking fumes.

Any congenital issue such as entropion should be addressed right away.

An annual wellness check will include an eye examination (and a tear measurement test) 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

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Shichon

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Three Months

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4 found helpful

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4 found helpful

Has Symptoms

Rubbing Eyes With Paws And On Carpet

Should I take my puppy to the vet. He keeps rubbing his eyes with his paws and blinking a lot

Sept. 27, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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4 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay in my response, this venue is not set up for urgent emails. I think that it would be a good idea to have him seen, yes. There are many reasons that his eyes might be bothering him, and Since I cannot see your pet, it would be best to have them seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be causing this, and get treatment if needed.

Oct. 13, 2020

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Pit Bull

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Two Years

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10 found helpful

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10 found helpful

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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10 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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