Joseph wrote in with this question about his dog’s eyelid being swollen:
“A few days ago I noticed my dog’s eyelid was 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?”
Thanks for writing in with this question. 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.
Inhalant (pollen) allergies account for the vast majority of eyelid swelling 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.
Allergies Most Common Cause of Eyelid Swelling in Dogs
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.
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 allergic to tree pollen in the spring and grass/weed pollen that’s more prevalent in the fall.
Eye allergy symptoms usually start 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.
Eyelid Infections in Dogs
Eyelid infections seldom occur without an underlying allergy. Secondary staph infection can occur on the eyelid when inflammation from allergies goes uncheck 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 on their eyelids squint and don’t want you to touch the area.
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.
Autoimmune Disease and Drug Eruptions
The tissues 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 is 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 skin after a dog has taken oral medication.
Styes and Other Eyelid 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 eyelid 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.
How I Treat Dogs with Eyelid Swelling as a Veterinarian
I would say I see ten dogs with eyelid swelling 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 eyelid swelling in my client’s dogs.
Dogs with a history of allergic disease or other symptoms like scratching and face rubbing support a diagnosis of allergic eyelid swelling. Depending on how severe the swelling is, I treat them with eye drops or ointment with a steroid plus or minus an antibiotic/antifungal ingredient. 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.
For dogs that have more severe swelling and fur loss, I sometimes prescribe an oral antibiotic known to be effective against common skin organisms. If they have other allergy problems, I’ll recommend frequent bathing as the first line of defense.
Most dogs 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.
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:
- Use a warm, wet washcloth compress on the eye (gently-don’t rub!) twice a day.
- Use saline eyewash to flush the eye and the eyelid. Do not use contact solution!
- 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.
- Eyebright herbal eyewash for conjunctivitis: steep 1 tea bag or 1/2 teaspoon of powder 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.
If the dog stops eating, seems in pain, has a cloudy or squinty eye he needs to see a vet immediately.
Hope your dog is feeling better soon!
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