Common Eye Problems in Cats and Dogs

Common eye problems in cats and dogs | Animed Direct

Cats and dogs can suffer from a wide range of eye problems, from conditions like dry eye, cataracts and cherry eye, to infections and ulcers. The eyes are a very sensitive part of the body, so problems can cause severe discomfort for our pets, which is why it’s so important to get any issues treated quickly before they progress. This blog will go through some of the main signs that your cat or dog has an eye problem, before going into detail about a few of the most common eye conditions for cats and dogs and how they are treated.

Signs Your Cat or Dog Has an Eye Problem

If your cat or dog has an eye problem, you may notice some of the following symptoms:

  • Redness or swelling around the eyes
  • Pawing or rubbing the face
  • Weeping or discharge from the eyes
  • Cloudy looking eyes
  • Blood in the eye
  • A lump in or around the eye
  • A change in size or shape of the pupil
  • Loss of vision
  • Keeping one or both eyes closed
  • Squinting

Any noticeable changes to your cat or dog’s eyes should be checked out by your vet as soon as possible – never wait to see if an eye problem gets better on its own. Leaving your pet without treatment could lead to serious health problems, including painful ulcers and even the loss of an eye in severe cases.

The symptoms described above can be signs of a wide range of eye problems in dogs and cats. We’ll go through some of the most common ones below.

Dry Eye

Dry eye is a condition where the eye doesn’t produce enough tears. Just like us, our pets need tears to lubricate the surface of the eye and get rid of any debris or bacteria that make contact with it.

Dry eye can affect one or both eyes in cats and dogs, and is nearly always caused by a problem with the immune system that causes it to unnecessarily destroy tear glands. Other causes can include infections and side effects of certain medications.

Although any dog can suffer from dry eye, some breeds are particularly prone to the condition. These include Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, American Cocker Spaniels, English Springer Spaniels, West Highland White Terriers, Yorkshire Terriers, Shih Tzus, Pugs and Bulldogs.

Dry eye in dogs and cats can be extremely painful, and the earlier it’s spotted and treated the better. If left, it can soon lead to other eye problems like ulcers, conjunctivitis and scarring.

Cats and dogs with dry eye may produce a sticky yellowish discharge, and have a noticeable lack of shine in their eyes, which appear dull and cloudy. Their eyes may also appear red and irritated.

Your vet will be able to confirm a diagnosis of dry eye by doing a Schirmer Tear Test (STT). This involves placing a tiny strip of paper between your dog’s eyelid and eye to measure the amount of tears produced by each eye.

Treatment for Dry Eye in Dogs and Cats

The treatment of dry eye in dogs and cats aims to prevent further damage to the tear gland tissue, stimulate tear production and replace tear film. Immunosuppressant eye ointment can help to prevent further damage to the tear glands in many pets, while false tears, applied regularly every 1-2 hours at first, are needed to replace the tears your cat or dog can’t produce.

While treating dry eye, it’s important to make sure your cat or dog’s eyes stay clean so they don’t get infected. You can clean your pets eyes by wetting a cotton pad in warm water and holding it against their eye for a few seconds to loosen any dried discharge before wiping it away. This will usually need to be done at least twice a day.

If medication doesn’t help, your vet might recommend a surgical procedure where one of the tubes that normally carries saliva into the mouth is redirected into the eye. This way, saliva keeps the eye moist instead of tears. This is usually a last resort however.

Sometimes cats and dogs might develop an infection as a result of dry eye, and may need antibiotic eye drops to clear it up.

There are non-prescription eye products available that can help manage dry eye, such as Optixcare. This eye lubrication contains a viscous Carbomer gel which helps it to stay on the cornea for an extended period of time, providing hydration and protection for the eye surface. However, always ask your vet first before you try a treatment.

Cherry Eye

Unlike humans, cats and dogs have a third eyelid that offers extra protection for their eyes. Cherry eye is a condition that causes the tear gland in this third eyelid to swell and go red, protruding from the corner of the eye nearest the nose and causing it to cover part of the eye.

Cherry eye is much more common in dogs, rarely occurring in cats. Breeds like Great Danes, Bulldogs, Saint Bernards, Pugs and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are all more prone to the condition.

For both cats and dogs who suffer from cherry eye, symptoms will usually begin before they are 2 years old. In older pets, cherry eye can sometimes be caused by a tumour.

Treating Cherry Eye in Dogs and Cats

Occasionally cherry eye can go away after a course of medication or steroids prescribed by your vet. However, most often surgery is required to put the affected gland back in its proper location.


Allergies in dogs and cats can cause eye problems. Similar to how hay fever can make our eyes itch in the summer, cats and dogs often experience itchy eyes in response to a range of allergens, whether that be pollen, grass, dust mites, a specific food or parasites.

The itchiness caused by allergies can lead your pet to damage their skin through excessive scratching, which can then become infected and itch even more. For this reason, it’s really important to address the root cause of itchy eyes, so that your cat or dog can avoid the allergen where possible, or be treated to help manage their allergic reactions.

Growths and Tumours

Like anywhere else on the body, lumps can sometimes form on, behind or around a cat or dog’s eye. If you spot a new lump on your pet, it’s important to get it checked out by a vet. They can have lots of different causes and are not necessarily cancerous, but lumps of any kind can cause problems if they are in the eye area.

For more information on cancer in dogs, read our dedicated blog.

Foreign Body in the Eye

We all know the extreme discomfort of getting something stuck in our eye, and it’s no different for our pets. Sometimes the symptoms a cat or dog is showing are the result of a foreign body, like a grass seed for example, being lodged either under the eyelid or stuck on the surface of their eye.

Usually your cat or dog will produce extra tears to help flush the foreign body out of their eye, but sometimes this won’t be enough. Never try to remove something from your pet’s eye yourself as you could damage it and cause an ulcer to develop (see below). Instead take them to your vet as soon as possible to have the object removed safely.

Eye Ulcers

Ulcers are wounds on the surface of the eye.

They can form as a result of an injury, for example if a foreign body has lodged in the eye or the cat or dog has had a fight or accident.

It’s common for dogs to have eyelashes that grow in the wrong place or wrong direction, which can lead to them rubbing on the surface of the eye. Similarly, sometimes the eyelids can turn inwards, known as entropion, which will also rub the eye. Both can lead to ulcers.

Ulcers in cats and dogs can also be caused by infections, dry eye, and other eye conditions.

Treating Eye Ulcers in Cats and Dogs

Ulcers are very painful and need to be treated in order for them to heal. Left untreated they can lead to the loss of an eye.

A buster collar (also known as an Elizabethan collar or pet cone) is usually required as part of the treatment of an eye ulcer. It’s essential that your pet cannot scratch or rub the eye while it heals.

Your vet will likely also prescribe antibiotic eye drops to prevent any infections developing while the eye ulcer heals. Sometimes lubricating drops will also be needed to keep the eye moist and soothe discomfort.

If your pet’s eye ulcer doesn’t heal, or the eye has been particularly badly damaged, your vet may recommend surgery. Grid keratotomy is a minor surgical procedure that involves tiny incisions of the cornea over the ulcerated area which encourages the damaged outer layer to attach to the eye and heal. This procedure is only carried out if your vet diagnoses a special type of ulcer called an indolent ulcer. A debridement, also considered a minor procedure, is where all the damaged tissue on the eye is removed to help a wound heal.

Entropians often require surgical correction to prevent the eye lashes from continuing to rub.


Glaucoma is a very serious condition that causes increased pressure in the eye, due to fluids in the eye being unable to drain properly. It is very painful and can quickly lead to blindness if left untreated.

There are two types of glaucoma, primary and secondary. Some breeds of dog and cat are genetically predisposed to primary glaucoma, which is caused by an inherited problem with the drainage in the otherwise healthy eye. Secondary glaucoma occurs as a result of injury, infection or disease and is the more common of the two in both dogs and cats.

Treatment of Glaucoma

It’s crucial to decrease fluid production and promote drainage in the affected eye(s) to decrease the pressure. Along with medication that will do this, cats and dogs with glaucoma will usually also be prescribed with pain relief.

Often long term medical therapy is also required, and in severe cases, medication must be combined with surgery to decrease the pressure.

Sometimes it might be necessary to remove the eye to relieve the pain for your pet.


Like humans, cats and dogs can experience cataracts, which is where the lens of the eye becomes clouded. This prevents light from reaching the back of the eye which reduces vision.

Cataracts are much less common in cats than in dogs, and it is very common for diabetic dogs to develop cataracts. In other cases, cataracts are usually as a result of another condition such as glaucoma, lens luxation (where the lens comes out of position), or an eye injury.

Treatment of Cataracts

If your pet’s cataracts has been caused by another eye problem, this will first need to be dealt with in order to prevent the cataracts developing further.

The only way to get rid of cataracts is to remove it through surgery. However, many cats and dogs deal with reduced vision so well that surgery is unnecessary.

Retinal Detachment

The retina is a thin layer of cells attached to the back of the eye. If it detaches, it can cause loss of vision. Retinal detachment is common in cats with hyperthyroidism and kidney disease as it’s often caused by high blood pressure.


Also known as pink eye, conjunctivitis is the swelling of the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is a thin mucous membrane that lines the inner surface of the eyelids and covers the eyeball, protecting it from infection and foreign objects.

The most common eye condition in cats, most cats will experience conjunctivitis, at least mildly, in their lifetime. It causes weepy, red and swollen eyes, often with a clear or green discharge from the eye.

Conjunctivitis can be caused by a wide range of things. These include bacterial or viral infections, allergies, foreign bodies trapped in the eye, injuries, parasites, and other eye conditions such as glaucoma and dry eye.

Treating Conjunctivitis in Cats and Dogs

The treatment for conjunctivitis depends on the cause. The underlying cause will need to be addressed, such as removing the foreign body, or prescribing antihistamines or steroids for an allergy. If conjunctivitis is caused by a bacterial infection, your vet will likely prescribe antibiotic eye drops.


Viral and bacterial infections can affect any cat or dog, and will usually result in redness, inflammation and a lot of irritation. If your pet suffers from repeated eye infections, it’s likely that there is an underlying issue causing them, such as some of the conditions discussed above.

Infections are treated with antibiotic eye drops and sometimes tablets. Always complete your pet’s course of antibiotics as this will reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance developing, and help stop the infection from returning.


In severe cases of some of the eye problems discussed above, dogs and cats may require enucleation, which is removal of an eye. This is only a consideration if your pet is unresponsive to treatment and their eye is causing them a lot of pain.

Some conditions, like cataracts, can also lead to blindness.

Luckily cats and dogs tend to cope with blindness very well, using their other excellent senses to help them get around, so it’s still possible for pets to have a good quality of life without their vision. However, getting your cat or dog’s eye problems looked at quickly by a vet can make all the difference when it comes to making a recovery, and avoiding outcomes like this.

How Can I Look After My Cat or Dog’s Eyes at Home?

It’s a good idea to regularly check your cat or dog’s eyes. If you notice any eye problems in your dog or cat, always seek veterinary advice as soon as possible. Eye conditions can develop quickly, so getting them treated quickly will result in the best outcome. Never wait to see if eye problems go away on their own.

Many dogs and cats won’t need their eyes cleaned regularly, but some breeds, particularly flat-faced ones like pugs, bulldogs and Persians are more prone to eye discharge than others, and will benefit from regular eye cleaning. Pets with eye infections will also need to have their eyes cleaned regularly. Check with your vet if you’re not sure how often you should be cleaning your pet’s eyes.

If you do need to clean your cat or dog’s eyes, here’s how to do it:

  • Boil some water to sterilise it and let it cool for a while
  • Dip a cotton wool pad in the warm water – avoid using tissue, paper towels or cotton buds
  • Gently hold the pad to your cat or dog’s closed eye for a few seconds to loosen any dried discharge
  • Slowly and gently wipe the damp cotton wool around your pet’s eye, avoiding the eye itself. It’s best if your pet’s eyes are closed while you do this so you don’t accidentally scratch the eye
  • Use a new cotton pad for the second eye to avoid spreading any bacteria from one to the other

Dogs and cats with white or light coloured coats may get ‘tear stains’, where the fur around their eyes tints brown or red. Tear stains themselves are harmless, but some owners prefer to remove them from a cosmetic point of view. Products like Ocryl Tear Stain Remover & Eye Cleansing Solution can help with the appearance of tear stains on your pet.

Wrapping Up

Looking after our pet’s eyes is really important for making sure they are happy and healthy. Eye problems in cats and dogs can be caused by a wide range of things, and often one condition will lead to or be accompanied by another – ulcers and infections for example are usually caused by another underlying cause. For this reason, always take your cat or dog to the vet if you notice any problems with their eyes, as early treatment can help to stop further issues developing.

Take a look on our website to explore Animed’s full range of ear and eye products for dogs and cats and to search our prescriptions A-Z.

Animed Veterinary Nurse, Beth Walker