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Dear Dr. Thompson,
Leo my Shih Tzu gets green, goopy eyes really bad every spring. Why does my dog have so many eye boogers??? I don’t know how to clean dog eye boogers safely but it seems like I should do something! How can I get the gunk out without hurting him?
Cleaning your dog’s eye boogers is a somewhat gross responsibility for pet owners. It sounds like a simple enough task but it can be a little tricky–especially if it’s your first time!
You should clean dog eye boogers daily whenever you notice them. Leaving it in place can cause crusting and skin irritation. I will show you a couple of different tricks to comfortably and quickly clean the gunk.
Causes of Green, Black, White & Brown Dog Eye Boogers
Before we get into the details of how to clean dog eye boogers, let’s review the reasons dogs get them in the first place.
Most dog owners assume a dog eye infection or “pink eye” is to blame for excessive eye discharge. This is hardly ever the true cause of an eye booger, pinkish eye membranes or excessive tear production in dogs. In fact, dog eye infections are not all that common.
The most common cause of eye boogers and discharge in dogs is allergic conjunctivitis. It happens because your dog’s immune system is overreacting to something, usually pollen, dust or something even something he’s coming into contact with.
Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KCS) or Dry Eye
Another frequent cause of dog eye discharge is keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) which is the technical term for dry eye.
Dogs get KCS for several reasons, but the most common is that their immune system attacks their tear glands and stops them from making enough tears to lubricate the eye. The tissues around the eye continue to produce mucus which then forms some pretty serious eye gunk.
Your vet can run a Schirmer tear test to see if your dog is producing enough tears. Canine dry eye is a treatable condition.
Corneal Ulcer or Other Inflammation
Eye discharge often increases when there is a source of inflammation in the eye. Causes include a scratch on the surface of the eye (corneal ulcer) and uveitis (inner eye inflammation).
Most dogs with inflammatory conditions will have other symptoms such as squinting, a cloudy eye, lethargy, poor appetite, etc. If you see any symptoms along with eye boogers, please consult your vet!
How Much Eye Discharge Is Normal for a Dog?
It’s pretty normal to see a small ball of mucoid eye discharge in the inner corner of a pet’s eyes occasionally or up to once a day. Normal dogs don’t develop eye redness or hair loss of the skin around their eyes.
Certain environmental conditions like low humidity, high pollen and air pollution can cause a temporary increase in your dog’s eye discharge. But if you need to clean your dog’s eyes more than once a day, I’d consider that an excessive amount of discharge.
Should You Clean Dog Eye Boogers?
Dog owners ask me whether or not they should clean their dog’s eye boogers. The answer is YES, you should clean your dog’s eye discharge before it hardens. If your dog already has sore skin or other symptoms, see your vet before trying to clean the eyes.
I recommend a gentle cleaning whenever you notice eye gunk collecting to prevent further irritation to the skin around the eye. The sooner you do it the less likely a more severe problem will develop.
Certain seasons cause more dog eye booger problems. The worst times occur in the spring and fall of the year when pollen counts are high. I usually recommend symptomatic treatment for dogs who only have mild ocular discharge for a few weeks a year.
If your dog has a lot of eye gunk every day throughout the entire year, you should seek treatment for the underlying problem. Your veterinarian can make a diagnosis and prescribe medication to keep your dog’s eyes healthier.
How to Clean Dog Eye Boogers (Home Remedy)
The basic tools you need to clean dog eye boogers are
- Eyewash solution (not contact lens solution) for the eyes and s soft cloth. OR
- I-LID ’N LASH Vet Wipes Ocular Hygiene Cleanser pads
- Artificial tear ointment (optional)
Here are the steps to cleaning mucoid discharge from your pup’s eye:
- Take your dog to a well-lit area or wear a headlamp.
- Place your thumb on the upper eyelid closer to the inner corner and gently lift the skin toward the dog’s forehead so you can see where the mucus is.
- Take a I-Lid ‘n Lash wipe or a soft tissue moistened with saline eyewash and wipe gently in the inner corner of the eyelid to collect the mucus. Be careful not to rub the surface of the eye.
- If you can’t get the mucus in one or two tries with a tissue, try flushing the eye with eyewash. To do this, gently retract the upper lid as described above. With your other hand, direct a gentle stream of eyewash solution toward the inner corner of the eye where the mucus is collected. Keep flushing until the saline overflows the lower eyelid, carrying the mucus onto the face where you can easily wipe it away.
Cleaning Hard, Crusty Eye Discharge from a Dog’s Eye Area
To clean hardened eye crust from the eyelids and skin below the eye:
- Use saline eyewash solution to wet a very soft, lint-free cloth. You want the cloth to be quite moist. Don’t use tissue or paper towels because they could fall apart and might leave particles behind to irritate the eye.
- Gently hold the wet cloth over the crusty spot for about 3 minutes. Lift the cloth to see if the crust looks like it’s loosened at all. Gently wipe the crust to try to remove some of it. Apply artificial tear ointment to irritated skin to protect it while it heals. Alternatively, try using a Lid n Lash cleaning pad to soften a light crust. These contain gentle cleansers that are safe for the eyes.
- If the crust has not loosened after repeating step 2 a few times, you will probably need to enlist the help of a veterinarian. Severe crusts are painful to remove and often leave dermatitis which needs medical treatment.
- After the crust is removed and your dog has gotten a diagnosis and treatment for his eye problem, be sure to clean the area daily to prevent recurrence of hardened eye discharge.
Preventing Future Eye Booger Problems
If your pup is having chronic eye booger problems, see your vet for help! For mild cases, you can take these steps to minimize the buildup of eye gunk on your pup’s face:
- Keep long hair around eyes trimmed very short.
- Wipe eyelids once or twice a day with I-Lid pads or saline-moistened soft facial tissue.
- Apply OTC artificial tear eye drop or ointment to the eyes and lids daily during bad seasons.
- Flush eyes with saline eyewash once a day to remove allergens and irritants.
Cleaning a Difficult Dog’s Eyes
I’ve seen some dogs who have thick layers of dried eye discharge built up in the fur around their eyes so badly they can’t even see. Dogs get into this condition because they will not allow their owners to wipe their eyes. Dogs are pretty sensitive about their faces and some get so upset they thrash and bite.
If you have this problem, I urge you to get help from a dog trainer and/or your veterinarian. You can train your dog to accept a muzzle so you can clean his eyes regularly before the discharge hardens and causes dermatitis.
When to See Your Veterinarian for Help
Maybe you’re seeing more than just occasional dog eye boogers. Maybe your pup has crusty spots all around his eyes and eyelids. Dogs with long fur tend to collect more junk as it comes out of their eyes and dries into crusts in their hair.
In addition to daily home cleaning, you can ask your groomer to trim the hair around your dog’s eyes. That will make it a lot easier to get your dog’s eye booger wiped off before it hardens into a crust. Sometimes I have people apply artificial tear ointment to the skin around the eyes to protect it from the dampness of chronic eye discharge.
If your dog already has a lot of hardened material around her eye area or if she won’t allow you to clean even mild debris away, get your vet involved.
The veterinarian and medical staff will be able to either soften and remove the crusty fur or sometimes it’s easier to just clip it away. If the dog is very painful, sedation can make the whole process much more comfortable for her.
But don’t try this on your own because it’s really easy to injure the dog’s skin or eyes. Especially if you don’t have an experienced helper.
All dogs have eye boogers but certain health conditions can make the situation much worse. The most common cause for increased eye discharge in dogs is allergic conjunctivitis. If your dog needs eye boogers cleaned from his face more than once a day for a week or so, you should see your veterinarian to make sure there isn’t a more serious underlying problem.
Last update on 2022-11-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API