Eye Inflammation (Blepharitis) in Dogs

Written by Small Door's medical experts

Blepharitis refers to inflammation of the eyelids and the tissues in and around the eye. It can be a painful condition and, if not diagnosed and treated properly, can result in vision problems.

In This Article

What is blepharitis in dogs?

Blepharitis in dogs means inflammation of the eyelid and skin surrounding the eye. Commonly with blepharitis, a dog will rub or scratch at its face or eyelids due to irritation. This can lead to secondary inflammation of the inner surface of the eyelid called palpebral conjunctiva.

Signs & symptoms of blepharitis in dogs

Blepharitis can affect one or both eyes, causing the eyelid(s) to become red and swollen. This in turn causes the dog to scratch or rub the eye to find relief.

There may be changes to the appearance of the eyelids and the skin and external tissues around the eyes. Uncontrolled blinking or squinting, known as blepharospasms, can also occur.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Redness of the sclera (the white part of the eye)

  • Conjunctival inflammation

  • Swollen eyelids

  • Flaky or scaly skin around the eyes

  • Loss of pigmentation around the eyes

  • Pain in the eye area

  • Eye discharge

If your dog displays any of the above symptoms, contact your veterinarian immediately.

How did my dog get blepharitis?

Although sometimes the cause may be unknown, there are many well-known factors for eye irritation that can lead to blepharitis. Some of the more common causes include:

  • Allergies: Adverse reactions to a specific food, inhalant, medication, environmental factors, or an insect bite (these are the most common causes)

  • Congenital abnormalities: Blepharitis is more common in breeds with excessive facial skin folds and other features such as eyelashes that grow inward or through the eyelid

  • Infections: Staph or strep bacterial infections

  • Tumors: Mast cell tumors, sebaceous adenomas, and adenocarcinomas

  • Other inflammatory disorders: Traumatic injuries to the eye, parasite infections, viral infections, and eye diseases

When the vet is unable to pinpoint an underlying cause, it is known as “idiopathic blepharitis”.

What dog breeds are prone to getting eye inflammation?

Blepharitis can affect any dog at any age, but there are certain breeds that are at a higher risk, including those with prominent facial folds, long and narrow muzzles, or short flat faces. Specific breeds that are more prone to developing blepharitis include: 

  • Chinese Shar-Pei

  • Chow Chow

  • Shih Tzu

  • Pekingese

  • English Bulldog

  • Pug

  • Poodle

  • Lhasa Apso

  • Golden Retriever

  • Labrador Retriever

  • Rottweiler

Diagnosing blepharitis in dogs

The first thing your vet will do is gather a complete medical history, including the symptoms and any possible incidents that may have brought on the condition.

Next, your dog will receive a full medical examination, along with a biochemistry profile, urinalysis, and complete blood count. An eye exam will help determine the severity of the condition and the degree of involvement of the eyelid. A Schirmer Tear Test may also be performed to assess tear production in the eye, along with a collection of cells or secretions to look for evidence of bacteria, fungi, or mites.

If your vet suspects an allergen is causing the inflammation, further testing will be done to try to isolate the specific allergen.

If a tumor is the suspected cause, a biopsy will determine the nature of the tumor and best course of treatment.

If no specific cause is found, additional blood work may be required to find evidence of systemic disease. The eye is comprised of many different types of tissue, which makes it susceptible to a wide variety of diseases, but also allows it to provide important clues about what is going on inside the body.

If you suspect your dog has blepharitis, have him examined as soon as possible, so your vet can run the tests necessary to determine the underlying cause and best course of action.

Treatment for blepharitis in dogs

The course of treatment will depend on the underlying cause. If none is found, you may be instructed to simply apply warm compresses to the eye several times a day. A short course of pain medications or anti-inflammatories may also be prescribed.

If an eye abnormality or tumor is detected, surgery may be the best course of treatment. Most canine tumors turn out to be completely benign; when they are removed, the dog should recover completely.

In cases of inflammation due to a fungus, bacteria, or parasite, your vet will prescribe medication. These may include eye drops or a topical ointment to help cure the infection, treat the inflammation, and reduce your dog’s pain and discomfort.

If an allergen is the underlying cause, especially in cases of food allergies, a new diet plan could be prescribed.

Additionally, home remedies can be helpful in alleviating the progression and severity, especially if they’re applied early on.

However, always check with your veterinarian before applying any home remedies or over-the-counter products to your pet’s eyes.

First, wash out the eye to try to remove any dirt or debris that may be trapped in it. If your dog allows you to continue, try the following:

  • Mix lukewarm water (preferably bottled) with a half-teaspoon of salt. Gently splash onto the affected eye and clean with a cotton pad, removing any debris or discharge.

  • Apply cooled chamomile tea to a cotton ball and clean the affected eye. Always make the tea is completely cooled, as the eye area will be extremely sensitive.

  • If you think the blepharitis is due to an allergy, try giving an antihistamine like Benadryl to reduce the inflammation.While Benadryl is safe for pets, it should not be given to dogs with high blood pressure, glaucoma, or cardiovascular disease.

Always check with your veterinarian before administering any type of medication.

Is there a cure for blepharitis in dogs?

In most cases, blepharitis will resolve with appropriate treatment. However, if allergies are the underlying cause, your dog may have flare-ups of blepharitis until the allergies are under control.

Is eye inflammation in dogs contagious for humans or other pets?

Blepharitis is a condition that does affect humans and is closely linked to conjunctivitis (although the two are completely separate conditions and are treated differently). However, humans and other animals are not at great risk of catching blepharitis from an infected dog.

What is the cost of treating blepharitis in dogs?

The cost depends on the diagnostic tests conducted as well as the particular course of treatment; the initial exam and any follow-up visits will also contribute to the overall cost. At-home remedies are much less expensive than prescribed medication, while the cost of surgery is much higher. However, as mentioned above, always check with your veterinarian before trying any at-home remedies or OTC medications.

Recovery and management of eye inflammation in dogs

A dog’s prognosis depends on the cause of the blepharitis. If the underlying reason is a congenital abnormality that can be corrected with surgery, the prognosis is excellent. Similarly, if a tumor causing blepharitis is surgically removed, chances for a full recovery are good. If the blepharitis is caused by allergens, it can be controlled but often not “cured,” in that your dog may have flare-ups of blepharitis when her allergies are not under control.

When antibiotics are administered to a dog, an improvement should be noticeable within the first few weeks. Some dogs will respond better to certain treatments than others, so it’s important to find the right one to help manage the condition.

Preventing blepharitis in dogs

If the blepharitis is the result of a hereditary abnormality, it’s best not to breed and risk passing the condition on to the next generation. If it’s allergy-related, try to eliminate the irritant to prevent future outbreaks. For food-related allergies, your veterinarian will prescribe a change in diet; make sure your dog doesn’t stray outside the recommended diet.

Is there a vaccine for blepharitis in dogs?

There is no vaccine for blepharitis.

Summary of blepharitis in dogs

Eye inflammation in dogs, also known as blepharitis, is a painful condition where the eye becomes reddened and swollen, usually as a result of allergies, an infection, injury, tumor or congenital abnormality. Other symptoms include rubbing, scratching, flaky skin and eye discharge. If not diagnosed and treated properly, it can result in vision problems. It’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of blepharitis, and act quickly should any of them present themselves in your own dog.

For more information about allergy testing and treatment at Small Door, check out our Allergies & Dermatology page.

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