As dog parents most of us spend a lot of time gazing into our furry companions’ eyes. After all, the eyes are the gateway to the soul, right? Well, if the eyes are the gateway then the eyelids are the gatekeepers.
Many of us don’t give a whole lot of thought to our own eyelids, much less our dog’s eyelids. However, a dog’s eyelids serve important functions, and when something goes wrong it can negatively impact a dog’s vision.
Do Dogs Have Eyelids?
All dogs do, in fact, have eyelids. But depending on your dog’s breed, they may not be as pronounced as your own eyelids. Just like in humans, a dog’s eyelids are an extension of the skin. They protect the eyes and keep them healthy.
How Many Eyelids Do Dogs Have?
Here is where dogs and humans differ. Dogs have three eyelids while humans only have two functional eyelids.
A dog’s third eyelid—also called the nictitating membrane—is usually hidden, with only a small portion normally visible. If you look closely into your dog’s eyes, you will see a small triangular segment of his third eyelid at the inner corner of his eyes. The third eyelid is typically black, brown, or (rarely) pink.
The Purpose of Dog Eyelids
Eyelids serve multiple important functions to protect your dog’s eyes. These include:
Protecting your dog’s eyes. Due to the blink reflex, if an object comes near a dog’s eyes, his eyelids will close and prevent the eye from trauma.
Keeping your dog’s eyes lubricated. Eyelids also help to keep dogs’ eyes moist with tears. Every time your dog blinks, the eyelids stimulate more tears to come out and old tears to drain away.
Tear production. A dog’s third eyelid is also responsible for producing tears. Tears contain liquid to keep the eyes lubricated, but they also contain important proteins called immunoglobulins which are part of the immune system’s defense in protecting the eyes from infections.
Dog Eyelid Problems
Abnormalities and diseases affecting the eyelids are fairly common in dogs. The following symptoms can signal an issue with your dog’s eyelids:
- Excessive tearing
- Changes in color
Common dog eyelid problems include:
Entropion is a condition in which part or parts of a dog’s eyelids roll inwards. This causes the outer-haired portion of the eyelids to contact the surface of the eye and leads to irritation. Entropion often causes excessive tearing, eye redness and squinting. The condition makes dogs more prone to corneal ulcers, corneal scarring and dry eye.
Most of the time entropion is due to abnormal eyelid shape and commonly occurs in many breeds including English Bulldogs, Labradors, and Golden Retrievers. Sometimes entropion may be temporary when it is caused by eyelid muscle spasms due to some other painful eye condition.
Treatment for entropion involves surgery in breed-related cases and treating the underlying eye condition in cases of spastic entropion.
Ectropion is the opposite of entropion, where a dog’s eyelids turn inside-out. It looks like a dog’s eyelids are sagging.
Some breeds, such as the Cocker Spaniel and Basset Hound have ectropion as part of their breed standard conformation. Ectropion may also be secondary to trauma of the eyelid or previous eyelid surgery. While it’s not as dangerous as entropion, this condition may cause dry eye, keratitis (inflammation of the cornea) or conjunctivitis (“pink eye”).
When necessary, surgery is performed to correct this condition.
Blepharitis means inflammation of the eyelids and it has many different causes in dogs. Blepharitis will cause red, puffy, and often itchy eyelids. Hair loss around the eyelids may occur as well. Styes, or a small bump or bumps in the eyelid, are due to infection of the eyelid glands and are typically treated with warm compresses, as well as topical and sometimes oral antibiotics.
Allergic skin disease is another common cause of blepharitis. Dogs with blepharitis due to allergies will often have signs of inflammation or itchiness on other parts of their bodies. Environmental, food, and contact allergies may be responsible. While allergies are not curable, they can be managed with different medications, foods and/or supplements.
Parasites can also cause blepharitis. The demodex and scabies mites as well as the fungus that causes ringworm can all affect the eyelids of dogs. Oral medications are typically needed to treat these parasites.
Color Changes to the Eyelids
Some dogs may develop black spots around their eyes as they age. Sometimes this may not be concerning if the spots are not raised and not crusted. However, any changes in the color of your dog’s eyelids should prompt a trip to your veterinarian, as dogs can develop melanoma or other cancers of their eyelids.
Dog’s may develop growths or tumors on the margins, or edges, of their eyelids. Depending on the color, shape, and appearance of the growth, your veterinarian may have a good idea if the tumor appears cancerous or not.
However, the only way to know for sure whether or not a growth is or isn’t a concern is to have it tested either by removing the entire thing or a portion of the growth. If an eyelid margin tumor is rubbing your dog’s eye, it can cause pain and other issues and should be surgically removed.
A “cherry eye” in dogs is caused by a prolapse or protrusion of the third eyelid gland. This causes there to be a red mass at the inner corner or one or both eyes. A cherry eye commonly occurs in young dogs, and brachycephalic breeds (breeds with shortened snouts including Bulldogs, Boxers, and Boston Terriers) are at an increased risk.
Most of the time a cherry eye requires surgery to treat. The surgery does have a high risk of failure so it should be performed either by a veterinary ophthalmologist or by a general veterinarian that is well trained in this procedure.
How to Care For Your Dog’s Eyelids
Unless your dog has an issue with his eyes or eyelids, it is best to leave the eyelids alone. Brachycephalic breeds and any dogs with allergies are more prone to developing eyelid irritation and may benefit from having their eyelids wiped clean on a regular basis.
Never use soap or other chemicals near your dog’s eyes, as the products can damage the eyes. Just use water and a cotton ball or soft gauze to gently wipe your dog’s eyelids.
If you notice any abnormalities with your dog’s eyelids, such as swelling, redness, hair loss, discharge, growths, or color changes, it is important to have your dog evaluated by a veterinarian.
Products for Healthy Dog Eyelids
All featured products were chosen at the discretion of the Great Pet Care editorial team and not directly recommended or endorsed by the author of this article. Great Pet Care may make a small affiliate commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Now that you know all about canine eyelids, it’s essential to keep them clean and healthy. General eye care and maintenance ensure your pup’s vision remains strong. A veterinarian or veterinary ophthalmologist should examine your dog’s eyes at least once a year, more if necessary. In the meantime, we’ve rounded up a few of our favorite products for healthy dog eyelids and routine eye care. As with any product used around a dog’s eyes, follow labeling instructions closely.
Eyelids can become irritated from debris or stains around the eyes. A gentle tear stain wipe with non-irritating natural ingredients gently eliminates and prevents this problem. Great Eyes Tear Stain Wipes are designed to eliminate the build-up of residue around the eyes. Because they are made with safe plant-based surfactants, they can also be used around the ears and mouth. Their portability makes them the perfect choice for busy pet parents on the go.
- Safe to use on all dogs over 12 weeks old
- Wipes stay saturated and moist with a gentle shake of the container before each use
- Made in America
- Contains no harmful alcohol, MEA, DEA, sulfates, or parabens
- Eliminates future residue with regular use
- Moms and dads of snow-colored dogs will find them especially useful
Things to Consider
- Avoid direct eye contact with this product
- Multi-dog households may want to purchase more than one container
- After desired results, use wipes weekly to keep fur clean and stain-free
Dogs with dry eyes who require additional lubrication may benefit from Optixcare Dog Eye Lube Plus Lubricating Gel. The product is designed for veterinary use but is now available for pet parents online. Instill one or two drops in your pup’s eyes as needed. The convenient stand-up tube makes it perfect for travel and a staple in your dog’s first aid kit. Always check with your veterinarian before beginning a new eye care regimen.
- Contains carbomer, a special gel that acts like artificial tears
- Made with hyaluron, a super-hydrator that holds one times its weight in water
- Forms a water-like barrier on the eye for protection, moisturization, and comfort
- Professional-grade eye care from the comfort of home
- Protects against ocular oxidative stress and oxidative stress-linked inflammation, which increases with age
- Anti-inflammatory properties help protect the eyes from a variety of conditions
Things to Consider
- If your dog experiences discomfort or irritation of the eye, discontinue use and consult your veterinarian.
- This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
- Does not require a prescription, but consult with your vet before usage to ensure no contraindications.
A saline rinse should be a staple in every pet parent’s first aid kit. Nutri-Vet’s Dog Eye Rinse is a non-irritating ophthalmic solution that gently cleanses the eyes and surrounding tissues. If debris, dirt, dust, pollen, or other foreign materials get in your dog’s eyes, Nutri-Vet’s eye rinse can help. This formula contains boric acid to help fight bacteria. Because veterinarians formulated it, it is high quality and safe for external use.
- Ideal for flushing pollens, ragweed, and dust from eyes
- Reduces irritation in canine eyes after swimming in chlorinated pools or saltwater
- Made in the USA
- Regular use can fight tear stains
- Specially formulated for sensitive eyes
- Removes debris
Things to Consider
- Do not touch the dog’s eyes with the tip of the applicator to maintain sterility
- Consult a veterinarian if redness, irritation, or swelling occurs or persists
- Ease your dog into an eyecare routine
Dogs who suffer from allergies can’t tell us the burning, irritating sensation they feel. Thankfully, Vetericyn Plus Antimicrobial Ophthalmic Gel is a non-irritating solution to stinging, irritated eyes. It contains no alcohol, steroids, or antibiotics and is ideal for pink eye, eyelid inflammation, eye irritations, and allergy relief. The 3-ounce bottle is designed to be safe if licked or ingested and is safe for all animal skin types at all life stages.
- Apply one to two times daily as needed.
- No rinsing necessary
- Use to relieve eyes affected by pollutants, itching, burning, stinging, and contaminants
- Targets scratched or inflamed corneas
- May reduce pink eye symptoms
- Antibiotic-free and veterinarian recommended
Things to Consider
- For severe eye issues, please consult with your veterinarian
- For best results, flush the affected eye with a canine eyewash first
Aging and illness can cause canine eye issues. Ocu-GLO Vision Supplement is designed to slow the progression of age and illness-related eye conditions. Specifically formulated to support canine eyes naturally with grapeseed extract, lutein, and omega-3 fatty acids. Safe and easy to administer in a gel cap form, Ocu-GLO is recommended and used by veterinarians. Always seek veterinary attention for any eye and vision problems.
- Ocu-GLO is available as liquid GelCaps and Snip Caps for small dogs and as liquid GelCaps for medium to large dogs
- Quality seal from the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC)
- Formulated by board-certified veterinary ophthalmologists
- Pharmaceutical-grade ingredients meet the strictest animal supplement manufacturing guidelines
- Helps protect vital cells in the eye at the DNA and protein levels from oxidative damage
Things to Consider
- Not for use with anticoagulants.
- If the condition worsens or does not improve, stop product administration and consult your veterinarian.
- Give the suggested dosage based on your dog’s weight