This article was updated on April 19th, 2023
Watery, red eyes are a common occurrence in nearly every veterinary practice. So much so, that I likely see an average of one squinting dog a day. Weepy, painful eyes in dogs have a wide variety of causes, which also includes a wide variety of eye drop treatments. Not all eye drops are the same, so let’s look at which eye drops are best for which eye issue your dog may be facing.
Why Would a Dog Need Eye Drops?
Before we get into the what, let’s look at why. Eye drops are an important mode of treatment for many eye issues that plague our canine companions. These eye issues can be hard to differentiate as they often show up with the same list of signs.
- Watery eyes
- Squinting, not wanting to open eyes
- Redness or swelling
- Yellow or green discharge
- Rubbing face with paws or on carpet and furniture
Eye issues may affect one or both eyes at the same time. They may also cause enough discomfort to make a dog stop eating and even some lethargy. All of these signs can be caused by dry eye, allergies, infections, or injuries to any part of the eye. Other less common eye problems include tumors, tear production or drainage issues, and glaucoma.
Always see your veterinarian if your dog is experiencing any eye issues. They will be able to diagnose the cause of their discomfort in order to properly treat it. Not treating eye issues can lead to permanent damage to the eye and a dog’s vision.
The Best Eye Drops for Dogs
Dog owners should always consult with a veterinarian before giving any eye medication to their dog, even if that medication is available over the counter. That being said, eye drops for dogs fall into two categories: medicated and unmedicated.
Medicated eye drops may contain antibiotics, anti-inflammatories including steroids, or medications to decrease pressure within the eye in the case of glaucoma. Medicated eye drops should be prescribed by a veterinarian. Over-the-counter products shouldn’t be used unless under the direction of a veterinarian to ensure that you aren’t doing further damage to the eye.
Unmedicated eye drops typically work by flushing the eye to remove irritants and to help soothe discomfort. This type of eye drop typically works well for mild eye issues but won’t be as effective against specific infections or severe injuries.
Reminder: never give your dog any new medication without first talking to your veterinarian.
Best Eye Drops for Allergies
Eye allergies in dogs can be frustrating to treat. Of course, the best thing to do is remove the allergen from their environment, but let’s just say that’s easier said than done. Mild allergies can be treated at home with over-the-counter eye drops. So, if your dog has watery eyes with clear discharge or redness without squinting or discomfort, speak to your vet and then try one of these eye drops for allergies.
1. Vetricyn Plus Eye Wash
Vetricyn Plus Eye Wash is a safe and non-toxic eye wash that flushes allergens and other irritants from your dog’s eye. This product won’t cause any issues if it is ingested or used on other areas of the body and won’t sting your dog’s eyes.
I recommend to most pet owners to have Vetricyn Plus on hand for any minor eye issues that may come up and especially to those dogs that have chronic eye allergy issues. It’s safe to use consistently to flush eyes and has kept some dogs from needing further prescription medications.
This isn’t a product that is going to help with eye infections or injuries or severe allergies that cause a dog squint. The bottle also may be difficult to use as it’s quite large and has a wide applicator tip.
2. I-DROP Vet Plus Lubricating Eye Drops
If your pup suffers from a lack of tear production or seasonal dry eye due to allergies, I-DROP Vet Plus Lubricating Eye Drops can help restore that tear film to keep his eyes moisturized and lubricated. It contains hyaluronan, which is a long-lasting lubricant to refresh the eye with every blink. The long-lasting side of this product means less frequent applications, which is easier on both you and your dog.
Since this is a long-lasting product, it works best for dogs with chronic dry eye issues, including allergies. It doesn’t do a lot to flush the eyes, which means that if your dog has outdoor allergy issues, it might not be as effective. I’ve used it mostly for indoor allergen issues or dry eye due to decreased tear production.
Now, if your dog’s eye allergies don’t respond to over-the-counter eye drops or if they are already showing moderate to severe discomfort, such as squinting or rubbing their eyes, it’s time to see your veterinarian for some prescription eye allergy medications.
Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.
Most prescriptions eye drops for eye allergies are going to contain an either a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory or a steroid. This is to help decrease the inflammatory response in order to control redness, swelling, and itching associated with allergies. It’s very important that you don’t use a prescription eye drop unless your dog is seen by a veterinarian as they can make some conditions worse.
You may also try oral anti-histamines for your dog’s eye allergies, but be aware that these tend to have a varying effectiveness on dogs. Using an e-collar may help to keep your dog from scratching at their eyes and causing injuries while you try to get their eye allergies under control.
Best Eye Drops for Infections
Eye infections can be a bit more serious than eye allergies. Dogs may have a yellow or greenish discharge, swelling, and redness. They may also be very painful and squinting. Eye infections are best treated by a veterinarian but there are a few over the counter eye drops that you can try if you’re in a pinch. Those include:
1. Terramycin Antibiotic Ointment
Terramycin is a broad spectrum antibiotic that can help fight bacterial eye infections such as conjunctivitis. This product can work well for mild infections or injuries and is often recommended if dog owners can’t get into the vet right away or as a product to have on hand for emergencies.
This is an eye ointment rather than a drop so it does cloud a dog’s vision for a bit while it works its way in. Some pups aren’t going to like this and may squirm or fight you to put it in. To learn more, read our article listing the best antibiotics for dog eye infections.
2. Curicyn Pink Eye Solution
This is another option for over-the-counter treatment of eye infections in dogs. However, this is antibiotic free so it won’t work as well on bacterial infections but may have some benefit for viral infections. Severe infections or injuries won’t respond well to this. It may be a good choice as a first try if you can’t get your dog into a veterinarian for a bit and just want something to help soothe and clean his eyes.
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Most eye infections in dogs are going to require a veterinary prescription eye drop. This is because bacteria in the eye can be hard to clear without proper antibiotics and can get worse very quickly without treatment. Also, eye injuries that cause abrasions to the eye should be seen by a veterinarian for prescription treatment to ensure that it doesn’t cause any lasting damage.
If you can’t get your pup to the vet right away when you suspect an eye infection, you can try one of these products as well as flushing the eye with an eye cleaner or sterile saline solution. This will just help remove irritants, soothe, and moisturize. Sometimes a cold pack over the eye will help relieve discomfort as well.
When Should You See a Veterinarian about Your Dog’s Eye Issues?
It’s important to contact your vet any time there is something wrong with your dog’s eyes. That’s because eye issues can get serious very quickly and you want to stay ahead of the problem. However, mild issues can often be handled at home with veterinary supervision using some of the products listed above.
More serious issues should see a vet right away. If your dog is squinting or rubbing their eyes or if they have yellow or green discharge, see your vet. Any bluing or redness to the eyeball itself can indicate damage to cornea and should see a vet. If you’ve been treating a mild issue for than 2-3 days without any improvement, see your vet.
They will be able to properly diagnose the cause of your dog’s eye problems through an exam, eye staining and even sample taking. Vets have specialized tools for viewing the entire eye that may show issues that you didn’t realize were there. They will also be able to prescribe more potent medications for handling the more severe issues.
Always contact your vet before using any eye drops on your dog to make sure your diagnosis is correct and the medication is safe. Chronic allergies, eye infections, dry eye or eye injuries can cause permanent damage to the eye and even blindness if not treated properly.
4 Steps to Apply Eye Medication in Dogs
While it may at first seem like an easy thing, applying eye medication to dogs can sometimes get tricky. It’s important to enlist help from others if you can.
1. Give your dog lots of praise and pets, especially around the face to get them used to handling.
2. Have someone else, if you can, hold his head. With one hand hold the eye drops or eye ointment and spread his eyelids with your other hand.
If you don’t have extra help. Position yourself behind your and lightly straddle them to help control their body. Hook one arm under your dog’s chin and curl your hand around to hold the eyelids open with your fingers. Apply the drops or ointment with the other hand.
3. Hold the eye dropper about an inch above the eye. Then squeeze to apply the recommended number of drops. For eye ointment, spread the eye lids and hold the tube ½” above the eye. Squeeze the tube and place a ribbon of ointment from one corner across the eye to the other corner. Close your dog’s eyelids to help spread the ointment.
4. Reward with lots of praise or a treat!
Can I use over-the-counter human eye drops for my dog’s allergies?
Human eyes and dog eyes are very similar, but using eye medication meant for humans shouldn’t be done unless recommended by your veterinarian.
Can I use Refresh eye drops on my dog?
Refresh eye drops are considered safe to use in dogs that have dry eyes. However, speak with your veterinarian first to make sure you have the proper diagnosis of their eye condition.
My dog won’t let me put eye drops in, what can I do?
Not every dog is going to willingly let you put drops in their eyes, especially if they are really painful. Speak to your veterinarian about alternative treatments to help clear up their eye issues. Some eye conditions may respond to sprays, oral treatments, or surgeries if eye drops aren’t an option.