Dogs and eye discharge: Types and meaning

Jul 18, 2022

We all know the heart melting magic of puppy dog eyes. But what does it mean when those eyes are clouded with discharge? Similar to human eyes, your dog’s ocular tissues are extremely sensitive. The eye is constantly bathed in tears, which provide oxygen and nourishment to the cornea, the clear layer at the front of the eye. And this steady tide of saline gently sweeps debris from the eye, preventing irritation.

Therefore, a little bit of eye goop (wet) or crust (dried goop) is generally nothing to worry about. Tears normally drain through ducts located at the inner corner of each eye. Your dog may have a small speck of matter there (tears, mucus, dead skin cells, dust) particularly in the morning. Clear discharge may dry to a raw sugar color and texture. If the speck is easy to remove with a warm, damp cloth, it’s likely to be normal.

However, if your dog’s eyes begin producing more discharge than usual and especially if your dog’s eyes seem uncomfortable – signaled by rubbing, squinting, blinking, or sensitivity to light – contact us for a quick check. An in-person veterinary visit may be recommended if the problem is concerning.

What are the types of dog eye discharge?

Green or yellow discharge in dog’s eyes

  • What it looks like: A drop of split pea soup
  • What it could mean: An infection in the eye or elsewhere
  • How it’s treated: It depends upon the diagnosis. For example, if an infection is confirmed or suspected, your vet may prescribe antibiotics.

Yellow or green eye discharge often is a sign of bacterial infection, especially if the eye is also red, and if your dog has other symptoms (itching, sneezing, etc.) The origin of the infection may be in the eye itself, caused by dry eye or an abrasion. The infection can also be systemic, manifesting elsewhere in your dog’s body. So an infection of the respiratory tract often affects the eyes. Talk to Airvet to determine if an in-person vet visit is necessary.

Gray or white discharge in dog’s eyes

  • What it looks like: Mucus
  • What it may mean: Dry eyes (keratoconjunctivitis sicca, or KCS)
  • How it’s treated: It depends upon diagnosis. Your vet may prescribe cyclosporine which is an immunosuppressant used to control atopic dermatitis and related issues.

Keratoconjunctivitis sicca is the result of autoimmune disease, when the body’s natural defenses attack and destroy the glands that produce those protective tears. Because your dog’s eyes are not producing enough tears, the body tries to compensate by moistening the eye with mucus discharge. Then, the eye may become red, painful, ulcerated and even experience abnormal changes in the corneal pigmentation. Untreated KCS is often painful and can unfortunately lead to blindness. Contact Airvet to assess the situation and determine what you should do next.

Red or brown discharge in dog’s eyes

  • What it looks like: A smudge of chocolate syrup
  • What it may mean: Probably nothing.
  • How it’s treated: If it’s purely cosmetic, try an antibiotic-free supplement to prevent staining, for instance.

White and light colored dogs often experience this rather unsightly phenomenon: a dark brown-red stain at the inner corners of the eyes. Although it looks like dried blood, it probably is nothing of the kind. Canine tears contain a pigment called porphyrin that turns brown upon contact with air.

The stain is long-lasting, but does not generally signal a medical condition. To minimize the appearance of the staining, check with Airvet to discuss special supplements for dogs that prevent staining. Look for alcohol-free whitening solutions made for dogs, and use the product on a soft cloth a couple of times a day to wipe the area. Even warm water may help. Ditto for keeping the fur around the eyes clipped short.

Black discharge in dog’s eyes

  • What it looks like: Dry clay or ash
  • What it may mean: Advanced keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS)
  • How it’s treated: See your vet.

An advanced case of keratoconjunctivitis sicca may make itself evident by a cracked, dry appearance of the cornea, along with red, painful inflammation. Untreated, this may cost your dog their eye. To test this out, your vet performs a Schirmer Tear Test, which uses a special paper placed beneath your dog’s eyelid to collect tears. If the paper reveals low levels of moisture, your vet may prescribe life-long eye medication to increase the tear production.

Genetic conditions and dog eye discharge

Keep in mind that certain breeds are prone to eye discharge.

  • Brachycephalic breeds like Pugs and Boxers may have more discharge than other breeds because of their genetically shortened nose and large, round eyes.
  • Poodles and Cockers may be prone to blocked tear ducts, causing spilling and staining.

Entropion and ectropion in dogs

If your dog is pawing or scratching their face, your pet may be experiencing entropion, a condition where the eyelid rolls inward, causing the eyelashes to rub against the cornea. This causes irritation, and can lead to serious inflammation as well as discharge.

By contrast, the opposite condition, called ectropion, is where the inner eyelid turns outward, exposing the sensitive conjunctiva to dust, pollen, bacteria and other environmental hazards. Basset Hounds, Bull Mastiffs, Great Danes, St. Bernards and Spaniels are especially prone to this condition.

Both conditions may be surgically corrected if deemed necessary.

Changes in dog eye discharge

Similarly, with our own eyes, irritants can inflame the underside of the eyelid, resulting in excess “weeping” as the eye attempts to flush out the irritant. A light corneal scratch or other injury may produce a similar result.

Finally, if your dog has persistent eye discomfort or discharge, please reach out to Airvet to discuss the situation. When you use Airvet, you will video chat with a veterinarian who can see your dog’s eye discharge and provide guidance on your dog’s situation. We can help determine whether you need to see a veterinarian in person who can perform a thorough eye exam immediately, or whether the problem is not an urgent one.

Have you downloaded the Airvet app yet? If not, what are you waiting for?