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My Dog’s Eyelid Is Swollen–How Can I Help?

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Joseph wrote in with this question because his dog’s eyelid being is swollen:

A few days ago, I noticed my dog’s eyelid is swollen. It’s red on the back corner and some of the fur is missing. It doesn’t seem to bother him. Does he have an infection or pink eye?”

Dog's Eyelid Is Swollen

Dear Joseph,

Thanks for writing in with this question.

First, it’s important to distinguish between a dog with a swollen eye vs. a dog with a swollen eyelid. Sometimes it’s tough to see the difference at home, but you can look at both eyeballs and see if they are the same size. If they are, you’re probably seeing eyelid edema which is much more common than a swollen eye.

Every spring, it seems like I see an increased number of dogs with swollen eyelids in my practice. But eyelid swelling can happen any time of year.

Pollen allergies cause the vast majority of eyelid swelling (blepharitis) in dogs. Allergies peak in the spring and autumn of the year when pollen levels are high. You may see other symptoms like an increase in mucus and tears from one or both eyes, rubbing of the face and ears, increased licking of paws, and scratching the body.

Dogs’ Eyelid Swelling from Allergies

The most common cause of allergies in dogs is pollen inhaled from the air. All sorts of plants are responsible for the unpleasant experience of allergies from tree pollen to grass and weed pollen.

We call this condition allergic conjunctivitis. Many people think their dog has pink eye, but most of the time it’s just allergies.

Some dogs have more of a reaction on the skin of their bodies and for others, the eyes are more affected. I have a dog who has skin allergy symptoms in the spring and eye allergy symptoms in the fall! My guess is that he’s having an allergic reaction 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.

An eye problem stemming from allergies usually starts with increased tear and mucus production. You’ll see your dog has a big green “booger” in the corner of his eye in the morning. His face might be wet from tears overflowing his eyes, too.

If you gently lift your dog’s upper eyelid, you’ll often find his conjunctiva over the white part of his eye is pink or even reddish and a bit swollen. That’s what we vets call allergic conjunctivitis and it’s the most common cause of conjunctivitis in dogs.

When allergic conjunctivitis becomes more severe, that’s when you see swollen, red, painful eyelids. All the extra liquid and mucus coming out of the eye makes the problem worse. That’s why it’s important to clean any secretions from your dog’s eyelids once or twice a day with a warm, wet washcloth.

Other Causes of Eyelid and Eye Irritation

Allergic conjunctivitis is, by far, the most common underlying cause of puffy, red, eyelids there are a few other important causes.

There’s another type of allergic reaction can manifest as eyelid edema. Bee or wasp stings and vaccine reactions might cause swelling of the eyelids, muzzle and other parts of the face.

I’ve also seen it in dogs with an upper respiratory viral infection. These dogs usually have other symptoms like sneezing and coughing.

Advanced cases of keratoconjunctivitis sicca, or dry eye, often have swollen lids with lots of gummy mucus. The eyes of dogs with KCS usually don’t have a lot of liquid tears flowing out onto the face.

Some other diseases that can cause similar clinical signs involving the eyes and surrounding tissue:

Autoimmune Disease and Drug Eruptions

The tissue of the eyes and eyelids have a lot of immune activity to protect them from harm. Sometimes the immune system reacts inappropriately to the dog’s own body. Autoimmune diseases that cause swollen eyelids in dogs include discoid lupus erythematosus, pemphigus foliaceous, and uveodermatologic syndrome.

Drug eruptions are an adverse drug reaction of the skin. It may occur in an area where topical medication is applied-like if you put an ointment in your dog’s eye. Drug eruptions can also show up on the skin after a dog has taken oral medication.

Styes and Other Lumps

Dogs can get styes just like humans. A stye happens when the glands around the eyelid become infected. You’ll see a nodule, usually at the lid margin, but they don’t look warty.

If your dog has a warty-looking lump at the edge of his eyelid, that’s more likely a benign tumor called meibomian gland adenoma. Styes are pretty uncommon in dogs, but meibomian gland adenomas are super common, especially in dogs over the age of five.

Swelling Under a Dog’s Eye

I’ve had a few clients who described their dogs having a swollen eyelid when actually, the swelling was under the eye. The most common cause of swelling under the eye is a tooth root abscess.

It may be hard to believe, but the roots of a dog’s upper teeth extend pretty far and if an abscess forms, it will try to break out through the skin on the muzzle often just below the eye.

Eyelid Infections in Dogs & Best Eyedrops

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

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

One of my dogs gets runny eyes every fall. His eyes look normal, but he has a big goober of eye discharge every morning. This year, it went on so long he developed eyelid swelling, too.I decided to try Vetericyn Plus eyewash for his crusty eyes. The active ingredient is hypochlorous acid, a mild antibacterial agent naturally produced in white blood cells. Click the photo below to see Vetericyn Plus eyewash on Amazon.com.

Vetericyn Plus eye wash

Each morning and evening for about a week, I flushed his eye and surrounding skin with Vetericyn Plus. This had the effect of washing out any pollen from his eyes as well as decreasing the bacteria on his eyelids.

You should NOT use Vetericyn Plus eyewash on a dog’s eye that is cloudy or squinty.

Human Eyedrops for Allergic Conjunctivitis in Dogs

I also used an over-the-counter human allergy eye drop containing ketotifen (the brand I used is Zatidor). One drop in each eye once a day decreased his eye discharge and redness. I applied these eye drops after flushing his eyes with Vetericyn Plus eyewash. Click below to see Zatidor on Amazon.com.

By using these non-prescription ophthalmic products, I was able to heal my dog’s eyelid inflammation without using steroids. Of course, if his eyelid wasn’t healing after a few days, I would have treated him with prescription meds as I describe below. Please, take your dog to see the vet if things aren’t improving!

Less commonly, dogs can develop skin infections from ringworm fungus, yeast, or other kinds of bacteria on their eyelids. Demodex mange mites can cause inflammation around the eyes, too. You’ll need your veterinarian’s help to find out if your dog has one of these uncommon problems.

How I Treat Dogs with Eyelid Swelling as a Veterinarian

I would say I see ten dogs with eyelid inflammation due to allergies for every one that has some other problem. Allergic conjunctivitis and blepharitis (eyelid inflammation) is by far the most common cause of puffy lids in my client’s dogs.

If a dog has a history of allergy symptoms like scratching and face rubbing, it supports a diagnosis of blepharitis from allergies. Depending on how severe the symptoms are, I treat them with eye drops or ointment with a steroid plus or minus an antibiotic/antifungal ingredient.

dog's eyelid is swollen (Shih Tzu)

Checking for Corneal Ulcers

I check to make sure there are no erosions on the front of the eye (corneal ulcers) first by applying a drop of fluorescein stain. If there is an ulcer, steroids must be avoided since it will keep the erosion from healing normally. The dog might need to wear an E-collar for a few days to keep them from rubbing their eyes and making things worse.

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 eyedrops on your dog since some combinations could actually make things worse.

For dogs with more severe swelling and fur loss, I sometimes prescribe an oral antibiotic that is effective against common skin bacteria. If they have other allergy problems, I’ll recommend frequent bathing as the first line of defense.

Most dogs with blepharitis are greatly improved within a few days and have returned to normal within a week or so. If they still have symptoms, I recommend more diagnostics to find out if the problem is caused by one of the less common diseases.

Other Home Remedies for a Dog’s Swollen Eyelid 

Sometimes I have a client who is in a position where they can’t get their dog in to see me right away. If the eyelid swelling is mild, there is no squinting and the dog is acting normal otherwise, I will advise that they can try the following things at home:

  1. Use a warm, wet washcloth compress on the eye (gently-don’t rub!) twice a day.
  2. Use saline eyewash (see product below) to flush the eye and the eyelid. Do not use contact solution! Saline eyewash is the safest thing to use if you’re not sure if your dog has a corneal ulcer.
  3. Make a cup of tea with a green tea bag, remove the bag and let it cool. Use the wet tea bag as an eye compress for 5 minutes twice a day.
  4. Eyebright herbal eyewash for conjunctivitis: steep 1 tea bag or 1/2 teaspoon of dried Eyebright herb in 1 cup of boiled water for 3-5 minutes. Strain through a cloth to remove solids. Allow the tea to cool then use it as an eyewash or compress over the eye.

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

Joseph, I hope your dog is feeling better soon!

–Dr. Thompson


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