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Swollen Eyes in Dogs

Dogs with Swollen Eyes

Swollen eyes in dogs is something that can create great concern to dog owners who are likely wondering what in the world happened to their best friend. If your dog woke up with the eyes the size of golf balls and a pitiful look on his face, you know that something is greatly amiss. What happened to your dog? And best of all, how can you help him? Veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec lists several potential causes of swollen eyes in dogs.

nasal congestion in dogs

Causes of Swollen Eyes in Dogs 

The most common and important causes of a swollen eye in dogs include allergies, conjunctivitis, glaucoma, foreign bodies, eye tumors and tear duct issues. Below is detailed information about these conditions.


Many allergens can cause swollen eyes in dogs. Common examples include bee and wasp stings, pollen, dust, human dander and certain types of grass.

The swelling associated with allergies is more sudden and more severe than the swelling associated with conjunctivitis and it usually includes swelling of the face and lips. It should be well-noted that sometimes the allergen can be inhaled or ingested.

Luckily, as alarming as it may seem, this type of eye swelling is easily treatable. Injectable antihistamines and steroids are enough to reverse the swelling and combat the allergen.


The term conjunctivitis indicates inflammation of the conjunctiva. This condition is popularly known as "pink eye." It can affect one or both eyes. If both eyes are affected, bacterial and viral infections are the usual culprits. Dogs with conjunctivitis will show the following signs and symptoms:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Nasal discharge
  • Squinting
  • Sneezing
  • Behavioral changes (reluctance to eat and play).

The diagnosis includes scraping the conjunctiva and performing a tear test.

The treatment usually involves topical antibiotics to fight-off the infection. The viral conjunctivitis is highly contagious and hard to treat (it may take several months to recover). The bacterial conjunctivitis is also contagious but not so stubborn in terms of treatment.

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Glaucoma is a medical term that indicates increased ocular pressure due to increased fluid production or insufficient fluid drainage. There are two types of glaucoma:

  • Primary – when the pressure is abnormally high, but the eye is otherwise healthy. This type is common in Basset Hounds, Beagles and Cocker Spaniels.
  • Secondary – when the pressure increases secondary to trauma or as a consequence of certain diseases. The most common underlying culprits are lens luxation, uveitis and eye tumors.

The clinical manifestation of glaucoma includes the following signs and symptoms:

  • Swelling and bulging of the affected eye
  • Excessive tearing
  • Cloudy cornea
  • Obvious eye pain
  • Blindness
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Different Types of Pain in Dogs

There are different types of pain in dogs and differentiating one from another can help you better understand your companion.

In cases of glaucoma, timing is of the essence. Reducing the pressure on time is crucial for preserving vision. The pressure can be reduced with medication that either decrease the fluid production or promote better drainage.

Pain management is also an important part of the glaucoma treatment. If the standard drugs are not working, the vet will suggest surgery. In extreme cases, if the eye has lost its seeing ability, to relieve the pain, the vet may suggest removing the eye (enucleation).

Foreign Bodies

Lacerations, ulcers and eye infections are all possible complications of foreign bodies in the eye. The most commonly found foreign bodies include grains of sand, foxtails and grass awns. These foreign bodies irritate the surface of the eye and eventually damage the cornea.

If a dog has a foreign body in its eye, it will show the following signs and symptoms:

  • Excessive tearing
  • Swelling of the eye
  • Redness
  • Purulent discharge
  • Excessive blinking of the eye
  • Rubbing or pawing at the eye.

A vet needs to examine the eye to determine the extent of the damage. This is because the treatment depends on the damage extent. If it is a simple scratch, the vet will suggest an Elizabethan collar to prevent further damage. In cases of more significant damage, the vet will prescribe medications and if needed perform surgical repair of the damaged cornea.

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Eye Tumors

Ocular tumors are almost always clinically manifested with swelling of the eye as well as excessive blinking, and sometimes squinting. Ultrasound, computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging can be used to determine the type of tumor. Sadly, most eye tumors are malignant and in most cases the prognosis is poor.

The treatment usually includes removing the tumor (the eye and the adjacent bone or soft tissue) and then subjecting the patient to radiation or chemotherapy.

Tear Duct Issues 

If the tear duct becomes inflamed it will result in a swollen eye. Another tear duct issue that may result in a swollen eye is the so-called cherry eye or prolapse of the nicticans gland. The nicticans gland participates in the tear production and therefore, although displaced, it must never be removed. Instead, it should be re-positioned and stitched back in place.

In a Nutshell...

It should be well-noted that most causes of a swollen eyes in dogs are considered an emergency and require an immediate trip to the vet’s office. This is because swollen eyes have a tendency to progress really quickly and unless successfully and promptly managed can lead to impaired vision, or in more severe cases, even permanent vision loss.

The management strategy depends on the underlying cause. In a nutshell, it can vary from something as simple as antibiotics to something as complicated and intensive as surgery. The management strategy also determines the cost. For example, if dealing with conjunctivitis, the cost will be around $200 to 1000. On the other hand, if dealing with glaucoma the cost will be $350 to 3500. Early diagnosis usually reduces the cost of the treatment.

Some causes of swollen eyes in dogs can be easily prevented while others cannot. For example, complications due to foreign objects and eye injuries can be prevented by taking care of your dog’s eye and checking dogs after walking or simply after going out. On the flip side, glaucoma cannot be prevented.

Generally speaking, it is advisable to have your dog’s eyes regularly checked by a veterinarian. By regularly, we mean at least once a year. Meanwhile, all abnormal signs and symptoms should be timely reported. If your regular vet suspects an ocular condition, you will likely be referred to a veterinary ophthalmologist.

About the Author

Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.

ivana crnec

She currently practices as a veterinarian in Bitola and is completing her postgraduate studies in the Pathology of Domestic Carnivores at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia.

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