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A reader wrote in with this question:

“I just noticed my dog’s eyelid looks swollen. It’s red on the back corner and some of the fur is missing. It doesn’t seem to bother him as much as it bothers me! Is it pink eye?”

Dog's Eyelid Is Swollen

First, it’s important to distinguish between a swollen eye vs. a swollen eyelid. Sometimes it’s tough to see the difference at home. You can look at both eyeballs and see if they are the same size. If they are, you’re probably seeing eye lid swelling rather than eye ball swelling.

Allergic conjunctivitis is the most common cause of pinkish eyes, swollen eyelids and blepharitis in dogs. Because it causes eye redness and discharge, people mistakenly call it pink eye which is a different problem caused by bacteria.

Symptoms

The medical term for this condition is blepharitis. Symptoms may affect one or both eyes. Please note that eye allergies don’t normally cause much squinting or other signs of illness such as poor appetite or lethargy.

  • Increased mucus discharge (green, yellow or white)
  • Increased tearing
  • Wetness around eyes
  • Pink appearance over the “whites” of the eyes
  • Pinkish, slightly swollen eyelids
  • Hair loss arounds eyes
  • Small sores or scabs near lid margins
  • Rubbing the eye with a paw or on furniture

Top 10 Causes of Blepharitis in Dogs

Allergic Reaction

Pollen allergies are common in dogs. Trees, grass and weeds release microscopic pollen that lands on a dog’s body or is inhaled. The dog’s immune system thinks the pollen is a dangerous invader and creates inflammation in an attempt to protect the body.

Some allergic dogs have more skin symptoms and others have more eye symptoms. 

My dog has skin symptoms in the spring and eye allergy symptoms in the fall. My guess is that he’s allergic to tree pollen in the spring and grass/weed pollen that’s more prevalent in the fall.

dog's eye with swelling of eyelid tissue [dog eye swollen]
My dog’s crusty, swollen eyelid due to allergies. He also has a benign eyelid tumor.

Symptoms usually start with increased tear and mucus production. You might notice your dog has a big green “eye booger” in the morning. 

If you gently lift your dog’s upper lid, the tissue over the white part of his eye might be pink and a bit swollen. 

Severely affected dogs will often have swollen, red, painful eyelids. Excessive liquid spills out onto the face and makes the problem worse. That’s why it’s important to clean any secretions from your dog’s face once or twice a day with a warm, wet washcloth.

Topical products such as shampoo can also cause a reaction around the eye area. Finally, bee, wasp and hornet stings to the face are common causes of eyelid edema in dogs.

Autoimmune Disease

Sometimes a dog’s immune system attacks its own cells. Autoimmune diseases that cause swollen eyelids include discoid lupus erythematosus, pemphigus foliaceous, and uveodermatologic syndrome.

Bacterial Infection

Eyelid infections seldom occur without an underlying allergy. A secondary staph infection can occur when inflammation from allergies goes unchecked for several days.

You may notice the fur falling out around the eye. Sometimes small cracks appear at the eyelid margin. Many dogs with skin infection around their eyes squint and don’t want you to touch the area.

Drug Eruptions

Drug eruptions are caused by an adverse reaction in the skin to a drug. It may occur in an area where topical medication is applied. A less common occurrence is a skin reaction to oral medication. 

Dry Eye

Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) is a disease caused by an autoimmune attack of a dog’s tear glands. The result is decreased tear production or “dry eye.” Advanced cases of KCS often have swollen lids with lots of gummy mucus.  

Fungal Infections

Dermatophytes are a type of fungus that lives in the skin of dogs. Also known as ringworm, these fungi are present in the soil and on the skin of infected dogs. Swelling could result if the infection involves the eye area. 

Parasites

Demodex mange mites are microscopic parasites that live in a dog’s hair follicles. Occasionally, we see them clustered in the skin around the eyes. The symptoms of a Demodex infection are hair loss, red skin, scabs and swelling. These parasites are not contagious to humans or other pets.

Styes and Other Bumps

Dogs can get styes just like humans. A stye happens when the glands around the eyelid become infected resulting in a nodule, usually at the lid margin. The nodule may be inflamed and painful.

Styes are sometimes confused with a common tumor found on a dog’s eyelid margins. These warty-looking bumps are caused by a benign tumor called Meibomian gland adenoma. Adenomas are common in dogs over the age of five.

Tooth Root Abscess

I’ve had a few clients who described their dogs having a swollen eyelid when actually, the swelling was under the eye. Dental disease and tooth root abscesses are common causes of swelling under the eye.

The roots of a dog’s upper teeth extend into the upper jaw bone. If an abscess forms around the root, it will break out through the skin on the muzzle.

Viruses

Some canine upper respiratory viruses affect a dog’s eyes and eyelids. For example, Canine Distemper Virus can cause conjunctivitis. There are almost always other symptoms present including nasal discharge, coughing, sneezing, fever, etc.

Short-Term Home Care

It’s very important to see your veterinarian to get a proper diagnosis and specific treatment. Until you can make it to the clinic, you can try some gentle home remedies to make your pup comfortable:

  1. Use saline eyewash to flush the eye and the surrounding tissue 2-3 times a day. Do not use contact lens solution! 
  2. Use a warm, wet washcloth compress on the affected area for 5-10 minutes twice a day. Be gentle-don’t rub!
  3. Plain over-the-counter artificial tear solution or ointment applied twice a day may soothe irritation. 
  4. Keep the dog indoors to minimize exposure to pollen and dust.
  5. Use an E-collar to keep your pup from rubbing his eye. He could inadvertently cause a scratch on his cornea from rubbing it too aggressively.

Human Eye Drops for Allergic Conjunctivitis? 

There are several different kinds of over-the-counter antihistamine drops made for humans. Nearly all of them have ingredients that “get the red out” by causing blood vessel constriction. That kind of medicine is not ideal for dogs.

Unless you clear it with your vet first, don’t use human medication for your dog’s conjunctivitis/blepharitis. And don’t apply leftover prescription medication even if it was prescribed for your dog. It could do more harm than good.

If your dog has the same problem every year, ask your vet to recommend an eye drop you can buy without a prescription. 

Veterinary Consult

If your dog stops eating, seems in pain, or has a cloudy or squinty eye he needs to see a vet immediately. 

Let’s talk about what to expect when you take your pup to the vet… 

In addition to reviewing your pup’s history and performing a physical exam, your vet can do some specific diagnostic tests. Eye tests may include

  • Schirmer Tear Test for KCS
  • Fluorescein stain test for corneal abrasions (scratches)
  • Intraocular pressure check for glaucoma and uveitis

If your pet has signs of inflammation inside his eye, the vet might recommend running blood tests. In more complicated cases, referral to a veterinary ophthalmologist is often a good option.

If your dog is squinting, has a cloudy eye, or the symptoms are getting worse you need to see a vet right away. You can’t play around with the eyes! Don’t be tempted to use human antibiotic eye drops on your dog since some combinations could actually make things worse.

Key Points

  • Allergies are by far the most frequent cause of swollen eyelids in dogs.
  • Diagnostic testing should be done to rule out other diseases such as Demodicosis and KCS.
  • First aid care should be limited to saline eye flushes, warm compresses and artificial tears. Don’t apply human medication or leftover pet medication unless directed to do so by your vet.

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