Common Canine Eye Conditions


Regular readers of our breed profiles may have noticed that eye problems crop up regularly in the ‘Potential Health Problems’ section. We thought it was worth elaborating on some of the most common canine eye conditions and which breeds they affect most.

close-up image of labrador dog

We all know that monitoring your dog’s health is important. Furthermore, understanding ‘normal’ will help you spot ‘abnormal’ very quickly. For many canine eye conditions, early treatment reduces the chances of long term damage. A healthy eye should be clear and bright, moist without excessive tearing. If you gently pull down the lower eyelid, the inner eyelid should be pink, not red or white. The pupils should be equal sizes and the area around the eyeball should be white.

Symptoms that could point towards one of the common canine eye conditions and need checking by a vet:

  • Excessive tears or not enough tears
  • Discharge, crustiness
  • Redness or bloodshot appearance
  • Swelling or puffiness
  • Cloudiness, change in eye colour
  • Unequal pupils
  • Itchiness
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Trouble with vision, bumping into things.
  • Visible third eyelid


Entropion is a condition in which the eyelid rolls in on itself and the eyelashes are in constant contact with the eye. This causes severe irritation to the eye and needs treating to prevent long term damage to the cornea and even loss of vision. Breeds that are more susceptible than others include Chow Chows, Shar-Peis, Mastiffs, Bull Mastiffs, Rottweilers, Great Danes and St Bernards.  Entropion that is a result of structural abnormalities, whether a characteristic of a breed or some other reason, is usually treated with surgery to prevent reoccurrence. If the condition has occurred as a result of another eye condition, such as conjunctivitis, treating the underlying condition should rectify the entropion.


The opposite of Entropion, in this mainly genetic condition the eyelid rolls back on itself. Trauma to the eye can also occur. Again, some breeds are more susceptible than others, namely Basset Hounds, Bloodhounds, Bull Mastiffs, St Bernards, Newfoundlands and some spaniels. Tearing and conjunctivitis are symptoms of ectropion and vets usually resort to surgery if the conjunctivitis becomes chronic or the cornea is at risk of damage.


The term glaucoma refers to a group of diseases affecting the optic nerve and increasing pressure in the eye. It can be symptomatic of other canine eye conditions such as retinal dysplasia and diabetes. It is difficult to catch early on due to the lack of symptoms in the early stages. Dogs may only have slight irritation of the eyes to start with, which progresses to being red, swollen, sore and cloudy later on. A pressure test diagnoses the condition. Regular check ups at the vet are essential, especially for susceptible breeds, such as those with ‘bulgy’ eyes: Pugs, Boxers and some spaniels. If left untreated glaucoma causes long term damage to the optic nerve resulting in loss of visual field and eventually blindness. Treatment tends to be a mixture of medical and surgical procedures depending on the underlying cause and stage of the disease.


Cataracts are an opacity of the eye lens, giving the appearance of a milky or pearly sheen, almost like a layer of ice in the eye. Generally a genetic condition, cataracts can also be secondary to diabetes mellitus and some nutritional deficiencies. Some breeds are also predisposed to developing cataracts in their early puppyhood. It’s an extensive list including sheepdogs, terriers, German Shepherds, retrievers and Bichon Frise. Surgery is currently the only treatment.


Canine conjunctivitis, the most common canine eye condition, is an inflammatory response to several factors. The conjunctiva, a protective layer on the surface of the eye, can become inflamed due to allergies and irritation (such as entropion). This causes redness, swelling, discharge and discomfort. Depending on the underlying cause, conjunctivitis is usually treated with a combination of anti-inflammatories, anti-histamines, steroids and antibiotics.

Progressional Retinal Atrophy

PRA is a group of genetic diseases of the retina that eventually lead to blindness. There are various forms of PRA, which affect different breeds. Breeds susceptible to PRA include retrievers, sheepdogs and spaniels. The condition usually presents itself in the early stages with night blindness (nyctalopia) and progresses to decreased vision during the day and finally complete blindness. There is no cure.

Corneal Ulcer

Usually caused by an injury or foreign body damaging the epithelial tissues of the cornea, symptoms of corneal ulcer include excessive tearing, swelling, redness and irritation. If the ulceration spreads to deeper tissue or a secondary infection occurs, the condition worsens. In addition, if left untreated it can lead to permanent blindness. If caught early, when the ulcer only affects the surface of the cornea, treatment is usually preventative antibiotics and atropine. If the ulcer has spread further, broad spectrum antibiotics and atropine is necessary. In sever cases treatment may include surgery.

Cherry Eye

The cause of cherry eye, or prolapse of the third eyelid, is unknown. It could be a weakness in the eye tissue that holds the gland in place. However, it does seem to be more common in certain breeds. Shar-Peis, Cocker Spaniels, Boston Terriers, Bulldogs and Beagles all seem to be prone. The condition takes its name from the cherry-like lump caused by the gland appearing in the corner of the eye. Vets treat cherry eye by either replacing the gland, which can lead to reoccurence, or by removing the gland, which can lead to a dry eye.

Potential dog owners should ask breeders if eye checks have been carried out, perhaps under the Kennel Club’s Eye Scheme. Before buying a breed that is prone to eye problems, seeking the advice of a vet might also be a good idea. Zinc is essential for maintaining good eye health, so check that your chosen dog food includes it. All Gilbertson & Page dog foods are nutritionally balanced and contain zinc as well as other vitamins and minerals for optimum canine health.

Always seek the advice of an experienced vet about any concerns you have for your dog’s health.