Eye displacement is not pleasant to think about, but it’s a real issue for all dog breeds, especially those with shorter faces or bulging eyes.
There are several reasons a dog’s eye pops out of the socket and ways you can prevent it, as well as certain actions you need to do to increase the chance of saving your dog’s eyesight. If you notice your dog’s eye is protruding forward, or worse — barely hanging on — you need to get to the veterinarian fast.
Don’t worry; we didn’t include any graphic images, but you can search “eye proptosis” if you really want to see an example. I don’t recommend it if you have a queasy stomach.
What Is It?
Eye proptosis occurs when one of the eyeballs is displaced.
The eyelids can be trapped behind the eyeball. The eye may be extended forward or sometimes it can hang down onto the dog’s face. The eyelids are not able to cover or close over the eye, causing severe dryness and possible discoloration.
The eye may also be almost completely detached with only a few strands of tissue keeping it attached to the socket.
Why Does It Happen?
Dogs can experience a detached eye from trauma, fighting, head injury or pulling the skin too far back from the face or by the scruff of the neck.
Skin stretching or trauma can cause eye detachment in any breed of dog, but dogs with very shallow eye sockets can be more affected.
Shallow eye sockets are more common in dogs we refer to as smushed-faced or have bulging eyes (brachycephalic). Some of these breeds include shih-tzus, pugs, terriers and Pekingese. These more susceptible breeds can experience this condition just by excessive skin pulling.
Will My Dog Go Blind?
Yes, blindness is possible. This is an emergency and time is critical, and the longer the condition is untreated the more likely the dog will lose eyesight in the dislocated eye.
Even with immediate treatment, repairing the eye depends on the type of trauma and the extent of the damage to the eye, socket and tissue.
Dogs in accidents may have more severe injuries that must be treated first, such as a concussion, facial fractures or internal bleeding, or they may not be able to undergo anesthesia because of their consciousness or injuries.
What Should I Do?
Immediate treatment is necessary.
Before you hop in the car to head to the vet, grab some gauze and saline solution (or water as a last resort):
- Wet the gauze with the saline solution and cover the eye with the gauze.
- Keep it as moist as possible.
- Once you put the gauze over the eye, do not take it off to apply moisture. Taking the gauze off after it has been applied can cause damage to the eye.
- Head to the nearest vet’s office or emergency animal clinic.
If you have another person who can come with you, this will help keep the dog’s eye moist and the dog calm while you drive.
If you cannot reach a vet or clinic within an hour or more, you may need to push the eye back into the socket yourself:
- Use clean hands to try to extend the eyelids over the eye.
- If the eye is too far out, you may need another set of (clean) hands to push the eyeball back in place. If the muscles are swollen, this may not be possible. If the eye will not fit back into the socket, do not force it.
- Keep it moist and seek immediate care.
The above is recommended only for extreme circumstances (hours away from a vet, no water or saline available, you and the dog are stranded, etc.). Remember, the vet will replace the eye with the dog under general anesthesia. Replacing the eye in a conscious dog will cause distress and pain.
Some dogs may not let you touch the eye or apply the gauze or saline. Do not risk getting bitten. Fill a spray bottle with saline solution or water and mist the eye to keep it moist. Adjust the nozzle so the spray is a mist and not a single blast of water that might cause additional damage.
What Will the Vet Do?
Several things must be evaluated by the vet to determine the best possible treatment, including:
- Assessing the overall injury to the eye
- Amount of staining, discoloration, and cuts or scratches on the cornea
- Amount of bleeding or swelling inside the eye
- Condition of the attached muscles, nerves and optic nerve behind the eye
Based on the above evaluation, the eye may be repaired or removed. The eyelids are usually sutured temporarily (1–2 weeks) to aid in healing and keeping the area inside the eye socket clean. In the case of removal, sometimes the eye can be saved for cosmetic reasons.
Dogs generally adjust to life with one eye very easily, but every pet is different.
In this video, a veterinarian examines a dog who has an eye that has partially popped out:
Home Care After Treatment
Your dog will have the dreaded cone of shame, but this is necessary to reduce pawing at or rubbing of the eye. Do not allow the collar to be removed unless you can provide direct supervision during the time the face is exposed.
- Apply all ointments and antibiotics as prescribed, and pay special attention to the sutures (if present).
- Look for bleeding, discharge or swelling, and notify your vet if this occurs.
- Check the dog’s temperature to spot a fever, and call the vet if fever is present.
- Follow your vet’s orders, and do not miss the follow-up visit to examine the dog’s progress or remove the sutures.
Discuss with your vet ways to prevent this condition in the future. Dogs with small faces or large eyes may have their eyelid openings made smaller through surgery to prevent recurrence.
This pet health content was reviewed for accuracy by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed and updated Oct. 13, 2018.