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What Is Eye Discharge In Dogs And What Causes Dog Eye Boogers, Goop, Gunk, Mucus Or Crusties?

Does your dog ever get eye gunk or, as they're more casually known, eye boogers? Ours do. We wipe our dogs eye discharge (the formal term) daily, sometimes multiple times a day. If you've ever wondered what they are and why dogs get eye boogers, we've got the answers here.

What Are Dog Eye Boogers, Discharge, Goop, Gunk, Mucus Or Crusties?

Just like humans, dogs produce tears to protect and clean their eyes. This can lead to an accumulation of gunk - or discharge - in or around the eye. The texture of this discharge can range from slimy and goopy to dry and crusty. Normal colors of gunk are clear to light gray to reddish-brown (thanks to a pigment in dog tears called porphyrin that turns that color with extended exposure to air). Abnormal colors for discharge are usually white, gray, yellow or green and can indicate an underlying issue that should be checked out by a vet.

Why Do Dogs Get Eye Boogers And What Causes Eye Discharge In Dogs?

1. Dirt And Debris

The most common reason for dog eye discharge is dirt or debris, which naturally get into your dog's eye over the course of the day. Your dog's body responds to these irritants by using tears to clean the eye's surface. With every blink, your dog releases tears through ducts in the inner corner of each eye. This can lead to eye gunk, which is often made up of dried tears, dead cells, dust, dirt, mucus, oil and other irritants.

Color of this eye discharge: Clear, light gray or slightly reddish-brown.

How to treat: Remove discharge gently with a towel (warm, damp cloth towels work great; avoid using anything that may rip or leave behind little bits and pieces).

2. Allergies

Many dogs have allergies and when a dog is allergic to something (such as grass, pollen, dust, etc.), their body will react to it. One possible natural response is eye discharge. Other signs include itchy eyes, rubbing or pawing at their eye, squinting, blinking excessive scratching and irritated skin.

Characteristics of eye discharge: Clear, light gray or slightly reddish-brown.

How to treat: Consult your vet for the best treatment. They may prescribe antihistamines or suggest a sterile eye wash.

3. Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)

Humans aren't the only ones who can get Pink Eye, dogs can too. Conjunctivitis is an infection of the tissue covering the front of the eyeball and eyelids. It can be caused by viral or bacterial infections, inflammation from allergies or environmental pollutants, injury to the eye, abnormalities of the eyelid or tear duct and more. Signs of conjunctivitis in dogs include watery or yellow/green pus-like discharge; redness or swelling in and around the eyes; mucus or extra crusty gunk in or around the eye; excessive blinking, squinting or keeping eyes closed; and pawing or rubbing the eyes. Conjunctivitis can affect one or both your dog's eyes and is transmittable to humans (so wash your hands after touching your dog if you think they have it).

Characteristics of eye discharge: Clear or yellow/green, watery or pus-like.

How to treat: Treatment requires vet care and depends on the cause of conjunctivitis. Common treatments include antibiotics, saline washes, pain medication, antihistamines, surgery (for abnormalities or defects), and other medications.

4. Canine dry eye

The formal term for canine dry eye is Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), which is a condition where dogs cannot naturally produce enough tears. It can be caused by infections (such as distemper), tear duct issues (such as clogging, infection or injury), hypothyroidism, immune disorders, antibiotics and anesthesia. Limited tear production can be harmful, as it results in the inability to clear out irritants or protect the eye. Dogs with dry eyes are at higher risk for infections and, if severe cases are left untreated, Corneal ulcers and loss of vision or blindness can occur. Symptoms include eye itchiness, redness, discharge that is sticky and white/gray or yellowish, mucus, irritation, inflammation, swelling, excessive blinking or squinting and keeping eyes closed. Both eyes are usually affected but one can be worse than the other.

Characteristics of eye discharge: White, gray or yellowish and sticky.

How to treat: Treatment requires vet care and depends on the severity of the KCS. Vets can perform a procedure called “Schirmer Tear Test” to investigate whether or not the condition is, in fact, KCS. Common treatments range from artificial tears for mild cases to surgery in more severe cases. Other treatments include immunosuppressant medicine for immune disorders and antibiotics for secondary infections.

5. Epiphora

Epiphora is essentially the opposite of KCS, where a dog produces an excess of tears. It can range from mild to severe and is typically a symptom of an underlying condition. Some causes include allergies, irritants or inflammation, infections, tear duct issues, eye pain, corneal ulcers or inuries, eyelash or eyelid abnormalities, glaucoma tumors and more. Signs are overly wet or teary eyes, reddish-brown tear stains, eye redness and pain, skin irritation or infection and smelly odor or fur. Epiphora is more noticeable in breeds with lighter fur but for those with darker fur, look for excessive eye wetness that wipes away reddish-brown. Also, the condition is more common in brachycephalic and flat-faced breeds

Characteristics of eye discharge: Clear, light gray or slightly reddish-brown.

How to treat: Treatment requires vet care and depends on the underlying cause. Your vet will work to figure out what's going on and may prescribe antibiotics, steroids or surgery (for example, for the tear ducts).

6. Eye Injury

When we get poked in the eye, it typically begins to water. Similarly, a dog's eye will water from trauma. Eye injuries can range from scratches, to stuck foreign bodies, chemical or pollutant exposure and beyond. Dogs can be quite clumsy and rambunctious, which can lead to eye injuries. Signs of an eye injury include changes in discharge; a visible foreign object; scratching, rubbing or pawing at the face or eyes; and blood or redness.

Characteristics of eye discharge: Clear, reddish-brown or yellowish.

How to treat: Treatment requires vet care. Avoid removing any foreign object, rather taking your dog to a vet immediately to have it removed.

7. Anatomical Abnormalities

Anatomical abnormalities and genetic conditions of parts of the eye can lead to discharge. For example, there's a genetic eyelid deformity in dogs that causes eyelashes to grow at the wrong angles. The condition is called entropion or ectropion, depending on what direction the eyelashes grow. Entropion means part of the eyelid is folded inward, causing the lashes to rub the cornea. If untreated, the condition can pierce the cornea or cause corneal ulcers and potentially eventual vision loss or blindness. Ectropion is when the eyelids roll outward, leaving the eye more exposed to irritants, injury and dryness. Signs of entropion or ectropion include excessive discharge or mucus, squinting and eye irritation.

Characteristics of eye discharge: Excessive tears or mucus-like discharge.

How to treat: Treatment requires vet care and corrective surgery (which are typically pretty simple when done at a young age). Your regular vet may suggest seeing a veterinary ophthalmologist

8. Specific Breeds

Some breeds just naturally have more eye discharge. One group are those with bulging eyes due to shallow eye-sockets (like Pugs, Boston Terriers, French Bulldogs and Chihuahuas). These breeds have eyes that are more exposed and thus susceptible to scratches or catching irritants. Another group includes dogs with excess loose skin (such as Bloodhounds, English Bulldogs, Shar Peis and Mastiffs). These breeds are more prone to ectropion, cherry eye and other issues. A third group that may have eye problems are breeds with long or wiry coats that aren't groomed properly. This can result in fur hanging in the eye, leading to irritation and tearing.

Characteristics of eye discharge: Clear, light gray or slightly reddish-brown.

How to treat: Treatment ranges from simple removal of discharge to proper grooming to vet care. To remove discharge, gently use a towel (warm, damp cloth towels work great; avoid using anything that may rip or leave behind little bits and pieces). Dogs that are not properly groomed simply need the fur around their eyes and face cut to an appropriate length and properly maintained. More anatomical conditions require vet care and may involve antibiotics, steroids or (most likely) surgery.

9. Corneal Ulcers

Ulcers on the cornea (the eye's clear, protective outer layer), whether superficial or deep, can cause eye discharge and pain. Causes can include trauma or injury, foreign objects in the eye, KCS or insufficient tears or other diseases. Signs include eye watering and discharge, redness or cloudiness, films, sensitivity as well as squinting, rubbing or pawing the eye.

Characteristics of eye discharge: Clear, white, yellow or green and thick mucus-like.

How to treat: Treatment requires vet care and may involve antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, steroids or surgery.

10. Glaucoma

Glaucoma is another condition that can affect both dogs and humans. It causes inadequate drainage of eye fluids, which increases pressure in the eye. Excessive tearing is one way the body attempts to counteract the pressure. Dogs can have primary or secondary glaucoma. The former is when the eye isn't able to drain, which causes a backup of fluid in the eye. The latter is caused by a condition that blocks drainage such as trauma, inflammation or cancer. Symptoms of glaucoma include eye bulging, excessive blinking, clouded eyes, tearing, increased eye pressure, dilated pupils, pain and potentially vision loss or blindness. Senior dogs as well as certain breeds are more prone to the condition, such as Poodles, Cocker Spaniels and Chow Chows

Characteristics of eye discharge: Clear or pale yellow and watery.

How to treat: Treatment requires vet care and depends on the underlying cause. Your vet will work to figure out what's going on and may prescribe antibiotics, steroids or surgery (for example, for the tear ducts).

Looking For A Dog Eye Discharge Home Remedy? Here's How To Help Dogs With Eye Boogers And Dog Eye Boogers Treatment Options

There are some ways to help your dog with their normal eye gunk. These include:

  1. Make sure your dog isn't irritated by the shampoo, soap, grooming treatments and topical medicines (like those for fleas) you use. And always make sure to keep these out of their eyes.
  2. Avoid excessively dusty areas.
  3. Wipe your dog's face and eyes with a damp towel after playing outside or at the dog park.
  4. Keep fur around the eyes trimmed for dogs with long, wiry or fluffy hair.
  5. Use eye wipes and tear stain remover made for pets (or babies) to remove tears, tear stains and other debris.
  6. Remove eye boogers with a pet "eye comb," which is specifically created to easily do this safely and efficiently.
  7. Use pet eye drops or eyewash (which are not toxic or irritating) to keep your dog's eyes lubricated, flush out any irritants and soothe irritation.
  8. Pay attention to your dog's eye health and keep an eye out for any changes.

When To See A Vet

Eye discharge is normal for dogs, but look for these signs to know if there's reason to bring your dog to the vet as soon as possible:

  • Excessively watery, dry or mucus-filled eyes
  • Changes in discharge amount, consistency or color
  • Pawing at, rubbing or scratching eyes
  • Excessive blinking
  • Squinting or keeping eyes closed
  • Eye redness or visible blood
  • Visible foreign object in the eye

If you notice any changes in your dog's eye discharge, especially if it lasts for more than a few days, contact your vet as soon as possible. The sooner you act, the better chance to minimize any damage to your dogs eyes or eyesight.

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