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Health & Wellness

Conjunctivitis in dogs — here’s how vets treat it

When your dog’s eyes are red and itchy, here’s what you need to do to help.

Conjunctivitis, also known as ”pink eye,” is common amongst school children and may even be an issue you’ve experienced as an adult. But it’s not something reserved just for the human population. Dogs can be diagnosed with conjunctivitis, too. So if your dog’s eyes look red or appear to be itchy, go ahead and call your vet to find out how to treat conjunctivitis in your dog. Here’s what they’ll probably tell you.

What is conjunctivitis in dogs?

“Conjunctivitis is inflammation of the conjunctiva or the tissue that surrounds the globe of the eyeball,” Dr. Melissa Best, DVM, a US-trained-and-licensed veterinarian and the owner of Tranquila Vet in Costa Rica, says.

And, just as eye inflammation can be irritating and painful for people, it has the same general effect on dogs. “It’s typically uncomfortable, and owners might notice their dogs squinting or pawing at their eyes. Sometimes the white part of the eye is red, sometimes just the pink tissue around the eyes is affected and looks swollen.”

Aside from redness and irritation, you may also notice discharge from the eye. Even clear, watery discharge can be a sign of conjunctivitis, but definitely note whether the discharge is green or yellowish mucus, Dr. Best says. This can be a sign of a more serious infection. And if you notice it in one eye, it’s common for it to spread. Try to get your dog to the vet before conjunctivitis takes over both eyes.

RELATED: Dog eye infections: symptoms and treatments

Causes of conjunctivitis

Because conjunctivitis, really, is the inflammation of the tissue surrounding the eyeball, it can be caused by all sorts of reasons. “Conjunctivitis can be caused by viruses, allergies, bacteria, a foreign object in the eye or even neoplasia (cancer),” Dr. Best says. And because conjunctivitis can have so many variable causes, it’s important to see your vet when your dog starts displaying symptoms. While you may just assume that the inflammation will go away on its own, if there’s a more serious underlying cause (like cancer or a foreign object), the sooner you have it checked out, the more likely you are to prevent serious, long-term damage to the eye.

“While conjunctivitis may resolve on its own, some of the causes can mean irreversible damage to the eye. It’s important to get to a vet right away to have the eyes evaluated,” Dr. Best explains.

And, in some cases, like with a bacterial infection, conjunctivitis in dogs can be contagious. So if you have multiple dogs, or if your dog regularly interacts with other dogs, failing to treat and resolve your dog’s conjunctivitis could pass the condition on to other dogs.

Home treatments before your vet appointment

Having your dog’s eyes evaluated is the first course of action when you notice possible conjunctivitis symptoms — but, if you can’t get into the vet right away, there are a few things you can do at home to help alleviate discomfort. “You can use an artificial tear product that does not contain any anti-redness ingredients, or even use a compress with cooled chamomile tea for comfort,” says Dr. Best. “These are unlikely to treat the real problem, however, they will give your pet some comfort until they can be treated by their veterinarian.” Just make sure to call your vet and ask if those home care approaches are right for your dog.

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The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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