Can Dogs Get Eye Infections?

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Pink eye, the scourge of the kindergarten and farmyard alike! Eye infections, often called pink eye, can be caused by bacterial or viral infections, resulting in inflammation of the eye membranes (the conjunctiva) making them appear pink or red. Eye infections are usually very irritating for humans, and are often spread amongst school children. These infections are also commonly seen in the farmyard, where they are associated with livestock and other animals.

Can Dogs Get Eye Infections?

YES!

Your dog can get an eye infection, the same as humans and other animals, and for many of the same reasons. Eye infections are contagious, whether bacterial or viral. It is often associated with bacterial infection from contamination with fecal matter, which is gross no matter what species you're from, but can be caused by a variety of bacteria and viruses. Bacterial infections can be passed between species, but it is unclear whether viral infections can pass between you and your dog. The current thinking is that they can not, so while you and your dog may share bacterial infections of the eye (yuck), you probably can not share viral infections of the eye, which is some good news. To avoid passing bacterial infection, wash hands with warm water after touching the infected family member, and avoid touching eyes.

Does My Dog Have an Eye Infection?

Eye infections in people and dogs have many of the same symptoms, and your dog’s additional symptoms can be the result of the fact that dogs’ eyes are anatomically different. Dogs have a third eyelid, a nictitating membrane, which can be closed to protect their eye but which they can see through. This was of great use for a predator that used to be on the hunt, or hunted, and needed to see and protect their eye from debris at the same time. Inflammation of eye membranes in dogs can include this nictitating membrane and associated structures. Otherwise, symptoms of eye infection in both species are pretty similar including:

  • Redness in the eye

  • Swelling

  • Itching and irritation of the eye

  • Clear, opaque or purulent discharge

  • Sensitivity to light, frequent blinking and squinting

  • Pawing at eye to relieve irritation

In addition to symptoms, causes of eye infection in dogs, and humans are also similar. There are a variety of causes for eye infection including:

  • Structural abnormalities in the lid or tear duct making bacterial infection more likely

  • Fungal or parasitic infection

  • Lyme disease bacteria

Conjunctivitis is the most common infection of your dog's eye, usually caused by bacteria or virus, which involves inflammation of the conjunctiva eye tissue, which is the thin mucous lining of the eye and eyelids. Corneal infection, referred to as keratitis, is the result of infection of the corneal lining of your dog’s eye. If left untreated it can ulcer and rupture the eye globe which requires removal of the eye. Uveitis is inflammation of the inner eye structures. If an eye infection is left untreated it can cause permanent damage to the eye.

Your veterinarian will first examine your dog's eye to rule out other eye conditions that may be causing redness in the eye such as glaucoma or cherry eye, which is an inflammation or prolapse of the third eyelid in dogs, or allergies. A culture can be taken of the discharge to determine if bacteria is present. Most diagnosis of eye infection will be made based on symptoms present. If thick, smelly discharge is present, a bacterial infection is diagnosed and treated accordingly.

The following guides provide more information on eye infections in your dog:

Conjunctivitis in Dogs

Red Eye in Dogs

Pink Eye in Dogs

How Do I Treat My Dog’s Eye Infection?

If the eye infection is viral, supportive treatment for symptoms, by providing soothing eye drops, warm compresses, and monitoring to ensure secondary infection does not develop is provided. The virus should pass in several days.

If a bacterial infection is present, topical antibiotic will be provided that will need to be instilled into your dog's eyes as directed. Oral antibiotics may also be provided, if deemed necessary, especially if infection in other parts of the body is suspected. Allergy medication or medication for other conditions such as dry eye may also be necessary. If a parasitic or fungal infection is present it will need to be treated as well.

You should wipe away eye discharge with a clean wet cloth, lukewarm water is recommended.


To prevent eye infection, or aid in healing, try trimming hair from around the eyes to help reduce contamination of your dog's eyes and keep their face clean. You can also purchase dog goggles, specifically for dogs, if they are continually exposed to dusty, irritating conditions, making them prone to eye infections.

How are Eye Infections Similar in Dogs and Humans?

Eye infections in dogs, and in humans, are highly contagious and bacterial infections can be passed between you and your dog. Other similarities are:

  • Symptoms, which include red, irritated eyes

  • Causes, including bacteria or viruses

  • Treatments; warm compresses, cleaning away discharge and topical antibiotics if necessary

How are Eye Infections Different in Dogs and  Humans?

Although very similar, there are some differences between your dog and you, when it comes to eye infections.

  • While your furry friend can benefit from having hair trimmed from their eye, hopefully, this is not a necessity for you!

  • Viral eye infections are specific to either dogs or humans and do not pass between you and your dog.

  • Dogs have a third eyelid which may become infected or experience complications from infection

Case Study

Suzy, a young, gregarious miniature poodle, was sent by her owner to a boarding kennel while her owners were on vacation. At the kennel, she enjoyed playing with the other dogs and made friends with her fellow canine hotel guests in the kennels adjacent to her. One of her canine companions must have had a viral eye infection, because, while at the kennel, Suzy’s eye became inflamed and started to tear up. Suzy pawed at her eyes and contaminated her eye with bacteria. Unfortunately, the kennel did not notice, or treat, the condition and by the time Suzy’s owners picked her up, a secondary bacterial infection had developed and a thick smelly discharge had begun to develop. Suzy’s owners sought veterinary treatment and were prescribed antibiotic eye drops, which they put in her eyes regularly. They also put warm soothing compresses on her eyes, and trimmed the hair from around her eyes so they could clean away discharge better. Within a week Suzy’s eyes had cleared up.