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Allergy Red Eyes in Dogs: How to Help Your Dog

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Eyes Allergy in Dogs

It is very common for dogs to experience red eyes as a result of allergies: as a veterinarian during allergy seasons, I see red, allergy eyes in dogs on a weekly basis. There are few things more heart wrenching than seeing your pup with watery, red eyes, squinting at you for help.

Red eyes in dogs can come about due to a number of reasons with one of the main culprits being allergies. In this article, I will describe what allergy red eyes in dogs look like and how you can help your dog.

What red eyes caused by allergies looks like

Allergies in dogs often result in the following clinical signs:

1. Redness and swelling around the eyes:

Swelling around the eyes

2. Watery discharge from the eyes:

Dog's watery and red eyes due to an allergy

3. Frequent blinking or squinting:

Dog Frequent blinking

4. Pawing, rubbing, or scratching eyes:

Dog rubbing and scratching eyes

Cause of red eyes in dogs due to allergies

An allergen is an everyday product that a dog’s immune system recognizes as something bad. When a dog comes in contact with that allergen, the immune system ramps up an overly active response to try to rid the allergen from the body. This reaction tends to actually be worse than anything the actual allergen would do and leads to the signs we see.

In the case of eyes, dogs often come in contact with an allergen in their environment that starts the release of histamine and initiates an immune response that causes swelling, redness, watering, and itchiness.

4 types of allergies often causing red eyes in dogs

Allergens that affect eyes are most likely those that are airborne, though it’s possible for other allergens to cause eye redness if they trigger a body-wide inflammatory response:

1. Seasonal allergies (pollen, grass, mold) – Seasonal allergies can be recognized by seasonal flare-ups that come and go away when certain seasons pass. Because pollen, grass, and mold particulates are present in the air, they easily come into contact with the eyes causing direct irritation and an allergic response.

2. Food allergies – These most often cause gastrointestinal issues along with ear infections and anal gland issues, but they could cause red eyes as well. Elimination diets can help identify food allergen triggers, and it’s important to work under the guidance of a veterinarian for this process.

3. Contact allergies (e.g., dust mites, cleaning products) – These symptoms may only appear when the dog comes into contact with the allergen. This can include sleeping on contaminated bedding, being in a room when a certain cleaning product is used, or being around fragrance diffusers. Avoidance is key to resolving an allergic response to these allergens.

4. Environmental allergies (e.g., dust, smoke, perfumes) – Dogs can be allergic to various environmental irritants just like people can. Identifying the cause involves recalling anything that happened or any products used prior to an episode of allergic eye redness; minimizing or eliminating chance of exposure is recommended.

How to help your dog

Of course it’s concerning when you notice your dog’s eyes are red, so here are some steps you can take to improve their comfort while you wait for a vet visit:

1. Flush your dog’s eyes with a sterile saline solution and wipe with a damp washcloth to remove as many irritants as possible

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2. Apply a warm compress over the eyes.

3. Consider cleaning the home environment to reduce the presence of airborne allergens.

Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.

4. Wash bedding regularly.

5. Avoid exposing your dog to known allergens whenever possible.

6. Administer any prescribed allergy medications as directed by your vet.

Because eyes are so sensitive and easily damaged, we don’t recommend starting any medical treatments at home without veterinary guidance.

Do not try to administer eye drops or medications previously prescribed for your pet, without consulting with the prescribing veterinarian first. Some medications contain anti-inflammatory medications which, while helpful for some conditions, can cause serious eye damage if administered for other conditions where an anti-inflammatory isn’t appropriate.

When your dog’s red eyes are a sign that you need to see the vet

Eye redness is concerning enough on it’s own, but it’s especially worrisome (and warrants a visit to the vet) if you see any of these signs:

  • Your dog’s symptoms worsen or don’t improve within a day or two
  • There’s a change in your dog’s behavior or appetite
  • There is significant discharge that is anything other than clear
  • Your dog is unable to open their eyes or seems painful in any way
  • Your dog is showing other signs of illness or discomfort

Treatment options

Treatment for red eyes from allergies will usually start with an allergy medication such as antihistamines (Benadryl, Zyrtec, etc). However while the underlying allergy is being treated, the eyes may need additional treatment too:

  • Eye cleansers or rinses to remove physical irritants
  • Artificial tears ointment or drops to maintain healthy hydration
  • Antibiotic eye medications that may also contain anti-inflammatories

Would a vet be able to help over a video call?

Video calls with a vet can be a useful and time-saving tool to assess the severity of the issue and provide initial guidance. It’s possible though, that diagnostic tests will be necessary to determine the cause of your dog’s red eyes and these will not be possible through a video call. If you do opt for a video call, just know that the veterinarian may still recommend an in-person visit for a comprehensive evaluation.

WATCH: 3 Important Tips To Care For an Old Dog [VET VIDEO]

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I differentiate red eyes due to allergies from other eye conditions?

It’s possible for red eyes to be caused by conditions other than allergies. Your veterinarian will be able to help figure out the reason behind these signs. Eye redness caused by other conditions might cause these signs:

  • Severe eye discharge that is white or discolored green or yellow
  • Inability to open eyes or difficulty opening eyes
  • Redness affecting just one eye, instead of both eyes

Are there specific dog breeds more prone to red eyes or allergies?

Certain dog breeds may be more prone to allergies, which may mean they’re at increased likelihood for developing red eyes secondary to allergies. These breeds may include:

  • Bulldogs (English, French, and American bulldogs)
  • Retrievers (Goldens, Labradors, and others)
  • Terriers (West Highland White, Scotties, and even Bull terriers)

Can red eyes due to allergies be cured completely?

While there’s no definitive cure for allergies, managing the symptoms and avoiding triggers can greatly improve your dog’s quality of life. Allergy management is possible when you get your dog’s veterinarian involved – there are numerous medication and treatment options that may be successful for your own pet.

What are the potential side effects of allergy medications?

While rare, it’s possible for there to be side effects with allergy medications. The most common side effects with over-the-counter products include drowsiness, increased thirst, and gastrointestinal upset. If your dog’s allergies are severe enough to warrant veterinarian-only prescription medications, there may be other potential side effects which you can discuss with the prescribing vet.

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  • Dr Chyrle Bonk, Veterinarian

    Dr. Chyrle Bonk received her Master in Animal Science from the University of Idaho and her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from Oregon State University in 2010. She has over 10 years of experience in small animal veterinary practice, working for a veterinary clinic in Idaho.

  • Kate Howard, Vet Tech

    Kate Howard lives in Upstate New York, and received her degree in Veterinary Technology from Alfred State College of Technology in 2010. She has been a veterinary technician for 13+ years, and spent her career working primarily in general practice and veterinary emergency care. Kate has 3 dogs, a cat, and keeps a small flock of backyard poultry.

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