The Low-Down on Dog Eye Discharge: Are Eye Boogers Normal?
From scooping poop on a walk to picking up used puppy pads at home, pet ownership is not always glamorous, but cleaning up after our canine companions comes with the territory.
Along with wiping up drool and scrubbing teeth to combat stinky breath, pet parents may notice their pooch has some eye discharge from time to time. While experienced owners might not bat an eye at first, there are times when dog eye boogers warrant a second glance.
Don't worry—if you keep your own eyes peeled for anything abnormal, you can spot an issue and seek treatment as necessary to protect your pup from more serious eye problems.
Causes of Dog Eye Discharge
"Dog boogers are a normal part of being a dog," says Angelica Dimock, DVM, managing shelter veterinarian at the Animal Humane Society in Minn. "The discharge is made of debris, skin cells, and tears, and are usually tan or brown in color."
Much like the way humans develop "sleep" in the corners of their eyes, dogs' eyes often get a little crusty. A normal dog eye may accumulate brown or "rusty" discharge, and boogies are often more apparent in certain pups.
Poodles especially are prone to watery eyes and tear staining, known as epiphora, says Mike Petty, DVM, past president of the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management and owner of Arbor Pointe Veterinary Hospital in Mich. Droopy-eyed dogs, like bloodhounds, and brachycephalic breeds with smushy faces, such as shih tzus and pugs, may also be more susceptible, Dimock says.
So what happens when your dog's eye discharge looks different than normal?
What the Color of Your Dog's Eye Discharge Means
- Yellow or green dog eye discharge: Boogies with a mucus-y color likely indicate an eye infection and should be examined by your veterinarian.
- White or cloudy dog eye discharge: Dogs with cloudy or white eye discharge likely are experiencing eye inflammation rather than infection—a common culprit is allergies. Eyes might also appear inflamed due to corneal ulcers, dry eye, or a foreign object irritating the eye.
- Red or bloody dog eye discharge: Bloody discharge is never normal and requires immediate veterinary attention. Causes include injury, extreme inflammation, glaucoma, or a tumor, Dimock says.
Of course, when humans think of eye infection, we think pink eye. So, can dogs get pink eye? Typically no—not in the traditional human sense, anyway, Dimock says. Dogs with pink eyes are most likely experiencing another cause of inflammation not linked to the same infection spread between humans, and pink eye is not something typically spread from pup to owner, or vice versa.
Dog Eye Discharge Treatment and Home Remedies
"Home treatment for eye discharge that is causing no discomfort include wiping with a tissue or damp cloth," Dimock says. "OTC drops such as contact solution (sterile saline) can be used as well every 2–4 hours. If using drops, make sure not to touch the tip of the bottle to the eye to prevent contamination."
Never use eye drops prescribed for human use on your dog's eyes, and you should consult with your vet before using a medication previously prescribed to your pup because the problem causing the funky discharge may be different from a prior issue and require another medication or treatment.
If your dog is clearly in pain, or the discharge returns soon after cleaning it and does not seem to be improving after a few days of at-home treatment, it's time to check in with your vet. Pups with painful eye problems may rub their head against the ground, scratch at their eye, blink excessively, or appear unable to open the affected eye. Your vet can prescribe eye drops or other necessary medications for treatment.
How to Put Eye Drops in Your Dog's Eyes
To administer eye drops at home, Dimock recommends making it fun for your dog. Be generous with treats, make sure he knows what a good boy he is, and follow up the ordeal with something he enjoys, like a walk or game of fetch.
Petty suggests facing your pup forward, rather than tilting his head up, for optimal delivery. "If you are right-handed, hold the bottle of drops in your right hand and rest your wrist on top of the dog's head," Petty says. "Never tilt the dog's head up so that they can see the eye drop coming, you should have the dog look forward as you put the drop in. It makes for a slightly smaller target, but I promise the dog will blink each and every time that it sees the drop on its way."
How to Keep Your Dog's Eyes Healthy
The most important thing a pet owner can do to protect their pup is keep their own eyes open for anything out of the ordinary. Remaining vigilant to abnormal dog eye discharge and signs of pain, followed up with a visit to the vet, can prevent more serious issues down the line. If those puppy-dog eyes lose that special sparkle that makes your heart melt, you'll know.