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Dog Eye Allergies: Symptoms and Treatment Options

Dog in field of dandelions pawing at eye
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Severity: i Low - Medium
Life stage: All

Dog eye allergies are a common issue that can cause discomfort to our canine friends. In this article, you will learn what dog eye allergies are, how dogs get eye allergies, the symptoms, how to treat this problem, and how to prevent it. 

What Are Eye Allergies in Dogs?

Eye allergies in dogs, otherwise known as allergic conjunctivitis, is an inflammatory condition in dogs. Eye allergies are extremely irritating to dogs, just like they are in people, and cause itchy, red, watery eyes. 

Dog eye allergies can be confused with eye infections because they cause almost the same symptoms and are about as equally common in dogs. This can make it difficult to tell whether it is dog eye allergies vs. infection. Eye allergies are often coupled with other allergy symptoms, such as sneezing or itchy skin. Some key differences between dog eye allergies and infections include:

Dog Eye AllergyDog Eye Infection 
Eye allergies usually have clear, watery discharge; can also have white dischargeEye infections have persistent yellow, green, or white eye discharge
Eye allergies are only symptomatic when the dog is exposed to the allergenEye infections have persistent symptoms
Eye allergies often improve with sterile saline eye rinses or antihistaminesEye infections don’t get better with sterile saline eye rinses or antihistamines
Eye allergies may or may not cause squintingEye infections often cause dogs to severely squint
Eye allergies are often seasonalEye infections are random
Eye allergies can cause swollen, red eyelidsEye infections may or may not cause swollen eyelids

These differences may be subtle and hard to differentiate. If your dog is experiencing any kind of eye issues, especially if it is the first time, if your dog doesn’t respond to at-home treatment, or you suspect an eye infection or other issue, then take your dog to the veterinarian for an examination as soon as possible. 

Causes of Dog Eye Allergies

Eye allergies are caused when a dog’s immune system has a hypersensitive response to otherwise innocuous environmental substances. Because the dog is having a reaction, we call these things allergens, and they can include grass pollen, tree pollen, mold, cat dander, dust, insect particles, and more. When the dog comes into contact with an allergen, their immune system recognizes it as a ‘foreign invader’ and mounts an inflammatory response that we see as dog eye allergy symptoms. While any dog can develop eye allergies, dogs that have skin allergies tend to have more problems with eye allergies than other dogs. 

Eye allergies in dogs can also be caused by contact hypersensitivity or certain food ingredients. If your dog is sensitive to a particular laundry detergent or after eating chicken, for example, it can cause itchy, red eyes. 

Symptoms of Dog Eye Allergies

Dog on couch pawing at eye

Dog eye allergies can be simple to spot if you know what you are looking for. If your dog goes outside in the spring or summer and comes back in with red, itchy eyes, then you can often safely assume it is eye allergies. Symptoms of eye allergies in dogs can include:

  • Acute onset of itchy, red, watery eyes
  • Swollen, red eyelids
  • Pawing at eyes
  • Rubbing face on carpet or furniture
  • Increased eye discharge that may be clear, white, or caked on eyelids
  • Yellow or green eye discharge if the eye develops a secondary infection

Remember that dog eye allergies can mimic the symptoms of other eye conditions that are more serious and painful, and can cause blindness. This includes conditions like eye infections, glaucoma, eyelash disorders, dry eye, and corneal ulcers. In addition, infectious conditions like distemper or eye worms can cause itchy, red eyes and ocular discharge. If this is the first time you see ocular signs in your dog, have your dog checked by a veterinarian to rule out other more serious causes of red eyes before assuming it is eye allergies.

Diagnosing Dog Eye Allergies

Veterinarian examines a dog's eyes

A veterinarian will utilize a complete physical examination, ophthalmic examination (of the eye), and eye tests as necessary to diagnose eye allergies in dogs and rule out more serious causes of red eyes. Your vet will also ask you questions about how long the problem has been going on, if it has happened before, if your dog has any problems with skin allergies, etc.

Eye tests that your veterinarian may run include staining the eye to look for corneal ulcers, a Schirmer Tear test to check tear production, and tonometry to check pressure inside the eyes to rule out glaucoma. Other eye tests can include bacterial or viral culture if infection is suspected. 

Dog Eye Allergy Treatment

Veterinarian administers eye drops to a dog

If your dog has mild eye allergies, you can often manage the condition at home by rinsing your dog’s eyes with sterile saline any time they are red. While human over-the-counter eye drops for allergies may be effective in some dogs, it is best to always check with your veterinarian before putting any human eye drops in your dog’s eyes.

If these treatments don’t help, then the problem may not be an eye allergy or your dog may need stronger prescription-strength allergy eye drops for dogs that are available through your veterinarian. In either case, it’s time to call your vet for advice. Your vet may want to run some more tests, chat with you about food allergies, or prescribe some medication that can help. 

Never use steroid eye drops in your dog without the supervision of a veterinarian. These can cause serious side effects that can result in severe pain and blindness if used inappropriately. 

Eye allergies usually clear up on their own when the dog is no longer being exposed to the allergen, but they may appear again in the future if the allergen reappears. It is helpful to put a reminder in your phone for the same time next year so that you can stop eye allergy symptoms before they start. 

How to Prevent Dog Eye Allergies

You can minimize your dog’s eye allergy symptoms by applying an eye lube (ask your vet for a product recommendation) before the dog goes outside and then rinsing their eyes with sterile saline after they come back inside. This will remove any allergens from your dog’s eyes. Antihistamines can also be helpful to prevent allergy symptoms in the first place if you start them before symptoms begin. Ask your veterinarian for a type of antihistamine and dosage to use in your dog.

Related Conditions

  • Infectious conjunctivitis
  • Corneal ulcer
  • Atopy
  • Food allergy