5 Signs Your Pet Should See the Vet for Eye Trouble

Red, inflamed or swollen eyes? Each of these symptoms can be caused by different ailments.

If you think something’s wrong, don’t wait — get it checked out. By: deanwissing

Whose heart doesn’t melt when his or her dog looks up with loving puppy-dog eyes?

But what if one day your pet looks at you adoringly, and something isn’t quite right? Perhaps he’s squinting or an eye is swollen or puffy. What should you do? Is it OK to wait and see what happens, or should you see the veterinarian right away?

Let’s take a look at 5 warning signs that all is not well.


1. The Red Eye

The white of the eye should be pristine white, with the odd lazy blood vessel meandering across the surface. If you’re not sure what this looks like, check out your own eye in the mirror.

Red eyes are not normal. Gently lift the upper eyelid to check, and you’ll see anything from a rosy pink to a livid red. As a rule of thumb, the angrier the eye looks, the more urgently it needs checking.

Causes of red eye range from irritation and infection to a condition called glaucoma.

  • Glaucoma: Pressure builds within the eye (like blowing too much air into a balloon). The most common cause is a problem within the eye and is often breed related (Basset Hounds, American Cocker Spaniels, terriers and Arctic breeds are at greatest risk). The pressure can damage the retina and cause blindness, so swift action is essential.
  • Conjunctivitis: Infection causes reddening of the eye. Sometimes the problem can be self-limiting, but — especially if there is a sticky yellow-green discharge — see a vet.

2. The Sticky Eye

It’s OK to have white gloop in the corner of an eye first thing in the morning. Just wipe this away with a clean, damp cotton wool. Also, rust-colored gloop is fine. This is normal gloop that’s been exposed to the air for a while and oxidized (like when you cut an apple in half and it goes brown).

What isn’t normal is a thick, yellow-green discharge from one or both eyes. This is commonly a sign of infection. Have the vet check the eye because some infections need antibiotics, while others can occur as a complication of another problem that needs attention.

If your cat or dog has a sticky eye, keep the eye clean. Wipe the muck away regularly with clean cotton wool on each side.

Among other breeds, the Cocker Spaniel is prone to developing glaucoma. By: kmonojo

3. The Swollen Eye

If there’s something odd about your pet’s face, compare one eyelid with the other to see if one side is swollen.


Eyelid swelling can be the result of an allergy, trauma (a branch catching the dog in the eye) or infection (such as a cat fight abscess). In the first instance, it’s best to seek vet attention, because the eyeball needs checking to make sure it wasn’t damaged when the branch hit or the cat fight happened.

4. The Dull Eye

Is the eye lackluster? A normal eye is bright, and you can see reflections on the surface. But sometimes the surface is dull and reflections aren’t clear, or those images are broken up or haphazard.

The most common reasons for this are either a dry eye or a corneal ulcer:

  • Dry eye: Our eyes are kept comfortable by the production of tear fluid. A pet with dry eye fails to produce enough tear fluid, which leads to the surface drying out. One consequence is a dull surface, and another is the eye tries to protect itself by producing a thick, glue-like discharge. In the long term, scar tissue forms, impairing the vision, so a vet check is necessary to prevent this.
  • Corneal ulcer: This is like a burst blister on the surface of the eye. In some cases, it heals on its own, but other times it can be dangerous and cause perforation of the eye. Play it safe and get a professional opinion from your vet.

Here’s more information on managing dry eye in your dog:

5. The Closed Eye

A closed eye is painful: Just think of the last time you had grit in your eye. The pain might be due to a corneal ulcer, a knock to the eye or a foreign body.

  • Foreign body: This can be anything from dust to a grass seed or even a twig. When our pets are sniffing around, it’s not uncommon to get something lodged behind the eyelids.

Your vet will put drops of local anesthetic into the eye to get a better look and remove the object.

Bottom line? Don’t take risks with eyes. If in doubt, get that sore eye checked out.


This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Nov. 2, 2018.