Dry Eye in Dogs: When Tears Run Dry

Dry eye in dogs medically known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) or canine dry eye syndrome, is a common eye disorder that affects dogs. Just as in humans, dogs can experience discomfort and potential complications when their eyes don’t produce enough tears to moisten the eye surface. 

The significant effect of dry eye in dogs is poor tear production which causes dryness in the cornea and conjunctiva.

Identification of Dry eye in dogs and its treatment is very important because it can affect the dog’s eye health very badly and disturb the overall health of the dog.

A dry eye can cause higher levels of discomfort and pain for dogs. The lack of proper lubrication on the eye’s surface can lead to irritation, redness, inflammation, and a gritty or uncomfortable sensation.

The cornea is particularly vulnerable to dryness. if there is no sufficient tear formation in the eyes it can damage the cornea and causes ulcers erosions and other bad effects. These can be painful and may even lead to vision loss if left untreated.

Tears work as a natural pathogen killer of the eyes. the eyes and also work for cleaning and removing dust particles .. Without enough tears, the eyes become more susceptible to infections, which can further exacerbate discomfort and damage.

Chronic dry eye in dogs can ultimately lead to vision impairment or blindness if the condition is not managed effectively. The long-term lack of proper lubrication and exposure to inflammation can result in irreversible damage to the eye’s structures.

A dry eye in dogs maybe develops due to some other health issues like autoimmune disorders. If you start the treatment of dry eye in dogs it can solve other problems of dog health related to the dry eye in dogs.

The discomfort caused by dry eye in dogs can significantly impact a dog’s quality of life. Dogs with untreated dry eyes may exhibit signs of discomfort, such as excessive rubbing of the eyes, squinting, blinking, and even behavioral changes due to their discomfort.

Dry Eye in Dogs (Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca)

Dry eye, also known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) or canine dry eye syndrome, is a condition where a dog’s eyes do not produce enough tears to maintain proper moisture and lubrication on the surface of the eye. Tears are very important for the overall health of the dog eye they provide moisture to the eye provide nutrition to the eye also provide oxygen, remove pathogens from the eye,, and also save from dry eye in dogs.

Role of Tears in Maintaining Eye Health

Tears serve several crucial functions in the eye:

Moisture and Lubrication: Tears create a thin film that covers the cornea and conjunctiva, preventing them from drying out. The moisture present  in the eye is very important it helps to maintain the structure of the cornea and also save eyelids to move friction-free on the surface of the eye 

Nutrition and Oxygen: Tears contain essential nutrients and oxygen that nourish the cells on the surface of the eye, particularly the cornea. A lack of tears can lead to inadequate nourishment and potential damage to the corneal cells.

Protection: Tears help wash away debris, dust, and potential pathogens that come into contact with the eye. This protective function helps prevent infections and irritations.

Causes of Dry Eye in Dogs

Dry eye in dogs can have various underlying causes, including:

Genetics: Certain dog breeds are more prone to developing dry eye due to genetics. Breeds such as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Shih Tzus, Bulldogs, and Pugs have a higher risk of developing the condition.

Autoimmune Disorders: In some cases, the immune system may mistakenly attack and damage the tear-producing glands, reducing tear production. This can be a result of autoimmune disorders where the body’s immune response targets its tissues.

Medications: Certain medications, such as some antihistamines, can affect tear production. Dogs on long-term medication regimens might be at an increased risk of developing dry eye.

Infections or Inflammation: Chronic eye infections or inflammations can damage tear-producing glands, leading to reduced tear production over time.

Aging: As dogs age, the efficiency of their tear glands may decrease, making them more susceptible to dry eye.

Other Health Conditions: Underlying health issues, such as hormonal imbalances or neurological disorders, can affect tear production and contribute to dry eye.

Environmental Factors: Dry and dusty environments can contribute to the development of the dry eye in dogs, particularly if they are already predisposed to the condition.

Signs and Symptoms of Dry Eye in Dogs

Dry eye in dogs can manifest through various signs and symptoms, which may range in severity. Common signs of dry eye include:

Redness and Irritation: The eyes may appear red and inflamed due to the lack of proper lubrication and increased sensitivity.

Excessive Blinking and Squinting: Dogs with dry eyes may blink and squint more frequently than usual in an attempt to relieve discomfort.

Thick or Stringy Discharge: The eyes may produce a thick, stringy, or mucoid discharge. This discharge can accumulate around the corners of the eyes and cause further irritation.

Cloudy or Hazy Cornea: In more severe cases, the cornea can become cloudy or hazy due to drying and damage. This can impact the dog’s vision.

Rubbing or Pawing at the Eyes: Dogs experiencing discomfort may rub or paw at their eyes to alleviate irritation. This extra rubbing of the eye can cause severe damage to the surface of the cornea

Avoiding Bright Light: Dogs with dry eyes may be sensitive to light (photophobia) and may avoid bright environments.

Change in Eye Appearance: The eyes might appear dull or lackluster due to the absence of the normal glisten associated with a healthy tear film.

Conjunctivitis: Inflammation of the conjunctiva (conjunctivitis) is often seen in conjunction with dry eye due to irritation and lack of proper lubrication.

Differentiating Dry Eye from Other Eye Conditions

Several eye conditions can present with similar signs, making it important to differentiate dry eye from other issues. Here’s how to distinguish dry eye from some common eye conditions:

Conjunctivitis: Both dry eye and conjunctivitis can lead to redness and discharge. However, conjunctivitis often produces a more watery discharge, while dry eye is associated with a thicker, stringy discharge.

Corneal Ulcers: Corneal ulcers can cause redness, squinting, and discharge, similar to dry eye. However, ulcers often come with more intense pain, and the dog may be excessively pawing at the eye due to severe discomfort.

Allergies: Allergic reactions can result in redness, itching, and discharge. However, allergic reactions tend to affect both eyes simultaneously, whereas dry eyes might affect one eye more than the other.

Foreign Bodies: Foreign objects in the eye can cause irritation, redness, and squinting. However, this is typically a sudden onset issue, while dry eye tends to be a chronic condition.

Glaucoma: Glaucoma can cause redness, cloudiness, and discomfort. However, glaucoma often leads to increased eye pressure and a dilated pupil, which are not typical of dry eye.

Corneal Abrasions: Corneal scratches or abrasions can cause similar symptoms to dry eye, including redness and squinting. However, abrasions often cause more intense pain and might be caused by a known traumatic event.

Importance of Early Diagnosis and Professional

Veterinary Care

Early diagnosis and professional veterinary care are crucial when it comes to dry eye in dogs. diagnosis allows for timely intervention and treatment, which can alleviate discomfort, prevent further eye damage, and maintain the dog’s overall ocular health. Left untreated, dry eye can lead to corneal ulcers, vision impairment, and a decreased quality of life for the dog. A veterinarian’s expertise is essential for accurately diagnosing dry eye and ensuring the best possible outcomes.

Diagnostic Tests for Dry Eye

Veterinarians use various diagnostic tests to confirm the presence and severity of dry eye in dogs. 

Schirmer Tear Test (STT): This test measures the amount of tear production. A small strip of filter paper is placed in the lower eyelid, and the length of wetting over a specified period (usually one minute) is measured. A lower-than-normal result indicates decreased tear production, which is a key characteristic of dry eye in dogs.

Fluorescein Staining: Fluorescein is a dye that is applied to the eye’s surface. It can reveal corneal damage or ulcers by staining any areas where the protective tear film is compromised. Corneal ulcers are often associated with dry eye and can be identified using this test.

Schirmer Tear Test with Anesthesia: Sometimes, tear production may decrease due to discomfort from the STT itself. In this case, the veterinarian may use a local anesthetic during the test to get a more accurate assessment of the dog’s baseline tear production.

Rose Bengal Staining: Similar to fluorescein staining, Rose Bengal is another dye that can reveal damaged or devitalized corneal cells, which can be indicative of dry eye in dogs.

Involvement of a Veterinarian in Diagnosing Dry Eye

Accurate diagnosis of dry eye in dogs requires the expertise of a veterinarian. Here’s how a veterinarian is involved in the diagnostic process:

Clinical Examination: The veterinarian will conduct a comprehensive eye examination, looking for signs of redness, discharge, corneal damage, and other indications of dry eye.

Patient History: The veterinarian will ask about the dog’s medical history, any medications being taken, and the duration and progression of symptoms.

Diagnostic Tests: Based on the clinical findings, the veterinarian may perform tests such as the Schirmer tear test and fluorescein staining to assess tear production and identify any corneal damage.

Interpretation: the doctor reads the results of tests very carefully he also keeps in mind the symptoms and previous history of the dog.

Treatment Plan: If dry eye is diagnosed, the veterinarian will develop a tailored treatment plan that may include topical medications, artificial tears, and potentially systemic medications to stimulate tear production.

Ongoing Monitoring: Regular follow-up visits are essential to monitor the dog’s response to treatment and make any necessary adjustments.

Potential Consequences of Untreated Dry Eye

on a Dog’s Eye Health

Untreated dry eye in dogs can have serious and potentially irreversible consequences on their eye health.

Corneal Damage: The lack of sufficient tears to keep the cornea moist can lead to dryness, irritation, and damage to the corneal cells. This condition can cause severe results including corneal ulcers and trauma. Corneal damage can be painful and may lead to vision impairment or even blindness if left untreated.

Chronic Discomfort: Dogs with dry eye experience ongoing discomfort due to the sensation of dryness, irritation, and inflammation on the eye’s surface. You can observe significant changes in the behavior of dog due to the feeling of distress.

Decreased Quality of Life: Chronic discomfort can significantly impact a dog’s quality of life. Affected dogs may show signs of restlessness, increased blinking, and squinting, and may even withdraw from social interactions due to their discomfort.

Secondary Infections: The lack of adequate tears reduces the eye’s natural defense mechanism against pathogens. This makes the eyes more susceptible to infections, which can further worsen the discomfort and damage.

Vision Impairment: Over time, untreated dry eye can lead to scarring and damage to the cornea, potentially leading to vision impairment or even permanent loss of vision.

Correlation Between Dry Eye and Discomfort/Pain in Dogs

A dry eye in dogs is strongly associated with discomfort and pain. The eyes rely on a healthy tear film to maintain their moisture, lubrication, and protection. When this tear film is compromised, the eye’s surface becomes dry and susceptible to irritation. The sensation of dryness, combined with the resulting inflammation, can cause significant discomfort for dogs. They may show behavioral signs such as excessive blinking, squinting, rubbing or pawing at their eyes, and avoiding bright light. 

Secondary Complications like Corneal Ulcers and Infections

Untreated dry eye can lead to various secondary complications, further exacerbating the condition and causing additional problems:

Corneal Ulcers: Dry eye creates an environment where the cornea is more vulnerable to injury. The lack of proper lubrication and nourishment can lead to the development of corneal ulcers, which are painful and can be slow to heal.

Bacterial Infections: The reduced tear flow and compromised ocular surface can create an environment conducive to bacterial growth. This increases the risk of bacterial infections, which can cause additional discomfort and require specific treatment.

Conjunctivitis: The inflammation associated with dry eye can extend to the conjunctiva, leading to chronic conjunctivitis. This can exacerbate discomfort and contribute to the overall irritation in the eye.

Keratitis: Keratitis refers to inflammation of the cornea. Chronic dry eye can contribute to keratitis due to ongoing irritation and potential damage to the cornea.

Treatment Options

Treating dry eye in dogs involves a combination of strategies aimed at increasing tear production, maintaining ocular health, and alleviating discomfort.

Artificial Tears: These are lubricating eye drops that can help replace the missing natural tears and provide relief from dryness and discomfort. They are often used multiple times a day to keep the eyes moist.

Ointments: Eye ointments provide longer-lasting lubrication compared to drops. They are typically applied less frequently and are useful, especially during the night when tear production naturally decreases.

Cyclosporine Eye Drops: Cyclosporine is a medication that helps suppress the immune response that can damage tear-producing glands. It helps improve tear production and reduce inflammation.

Tacrolimus Eye Drops: Similar to cyclosporine, tacrolimus is an immunosuppressive medication that can be used to increase tear production and reduce inflammation.

Prescription Antibiotics: If secondary infections are present due to the compromised ocular surface, antibiotics may be prescribed to address the infection.

Prescription Medications and Their Role in Stimulating Tear Production

dry eye in dogs

Prescription medications play a crucial role in treating dry eye by addressing the underlying causes and stimulating tear production. Cyclosporine and tacrolimus are often prescribed for this purpose:

Cyclosporine: This medication helps suppress the immune response that can damage the tear-producing glands. It promotes tear production and reduces inflammation, helping to improve overall eye health and comfort.

Tacrolimus: Similar to cyclosporine, tacrolimus also suppresses the immune response and can stimulate tear production. It’s used in cases where cyclosporine might not be effective or tolerated.

These medications usually require consistent use over time, and it may take several weeks to observe significant improvements in tear production and ocular comfort.

Surgical Options for Dry Eye in Dogs

In some severe cases of dry eye that do not respond well to medical treatment, surgical options may be considered:

Parotid Duct Transposition: This surgical procedure involves redirecting a duct from a salivary gland to the eye to provide additional moisture. Saliva serves as a substitute for tears and can help keep the eye moist.

Conjunctival Grafts: In cases where corneal damage is severe, conjunctival grafts can be used to cover and protect the cornea. This can help manage pain and promote healing.

Canine Amniotic Membrane Transplantation: The amniotic membrane is a tissue that can be transplanted onto the cornea to promote healing and reduce inflammation. It can be beneficial in severe cases of corneal ulcers.

It’s important to note that surgical options are typically reserved for cases where other treatments have not been successful or when there is significant corneal damage.

Importance of Consistent Eye Care Routine for Affected Dogs

Maintaining a consistent eye care routine is crucial for dogs with dry eyes. Regular care helps alleviate discomfort, prevent complications, and maintain the overall health of their eyes. A well-structured routine can also help pet owners monitor their dog’s condition and response to treatment. Consistent care can greatly enhance the dog’s comfort and quality of life.

Tips for Administering Eye Drops and Medications

Administering eye drops and medications can be challenging, but with patience and practice, it can become easier. Here are some tips:

Prepare: Gather all necessary supplies, including medication, eye drops, tissues, and any other items you might need.

Calm Environment: Choose a quiet and comfortable area for the administration. Calm surroundings can help reduce stress for both you and your dog.

Positive Reinforcement: Reward your dog with treats, praise, or a favorite activity after successful administration to create a positive association.

Restraint: If needed, gently restrain your dog by having someone hold them or by wrapping them in a towel to prevent sudden movements.

Hold the Head: Gently hold your dog’s head steady with one hand while using the other hand to administer the drops or ointment.

Avoid Contact: Be careful not to touch the dropper or applicator to the eye, as this can contaminate the medication.

Tilt-Head Back: Gently tilt your dog’s head back and create a small pocket between the lower eyelid and the eye. Administer the prescribed number of drops or the recommended amount of ointment into this pocket.

Close the Eye: After administration, gently close the eyelid and massage it lightly to distribute the medication.

Environmental Factors That Can Exacerbate Dry Eye and How to Manage Them

Manage Them:

Environmental factors can contribute to dry eye in dogs symptoms and discomfort. Here’s how to manage them:

Humidification: Using a humidifier in the home can help maintain a more comfortable moisture level in the air, which can benefit your dog’s eyes.

Avoid Irritants: Smoke, dust, and strong drafts can exacerbate dry eye symptoms. Keep your dog away from smoke and dust, and ensure they have a comfortable, draft-free environment.

Protect from Wind and Sun: Wind and direct sunlight can worsen dry eye symptoms. When outdoors, consider using protective goggles or sunglasses for your dog to shield their eyes from these elements.

Regular Grooming: Keep the area around your dog’s eyes clean and free from debris. Trim long hair around the eyes to prevent it from irritating.

Regular Vet Visits: Regular veterinary check-ups are important for monitoring your dog’s dry eye condition and making any necessary adjustments to the treatment plan.

Diet and Hydration: Ensure your dog has a well-balanced diet and access to fresh water. Adequate hydration can contribute to overall eye health.

Preventive Measures

Breeds More Susceptible to Dry Eye and Their Characteristics

Certain dog breeds are more predisposed to developing dry eye due to genetics. Some of these breeds include:

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel: These dogs often have large, prominent eyes that are more susceptible to dryness and irritation.

Shih Tzu: Their prominent eyes and facial structure can contribute to decreased tear production.

Bulldogs: Breeds with facial wrinkles, like Bulldogs, can have blocked tear ducts and reduced tear production.

Pugs: Similar to Bulldogs, Pugs’ facial anatomy can lead to decreased tear production.

Breeding Practices and the Role of Genetics in Dry Eye Risk:

There is a big role of genes in developing dry eye in dogs. Breeding practices, such as breeding dogs with a history of dry eye, can perpetuate the condition in certain breeds. If both parent dogs are carriers of genes associated with dry eye in dogs, the likelihood of their offspring inheriting the condition increases.

Ways to Prevent Dry Eye Through Responsible Breeding and Proper Care

Preventing dry eye in dogs involves both responsible breeding practices and proper care for dogs:

Responsible Breeding:

Health Testing: Before breeding, ensure that both parent dogs undergo thorough health screenings, including eye exams. Eliminating dogs with a history of dry eye or genetic predisposition can reduce the risk of passing on the condition to their offspring.

Avoiding Carrier-to-Carrier Mating: Breeding two dogs that are carriers of the genes associated with dry eye increases the risk of producing affected puppies. Responsible breeders should avoid such pairings.

Consultation with Veterinarians: Consult with veterinarians who specialize in genetics and breed-specific health issues to make informed breeding decisions.

Proper Care

Regular Veterinary Check-ups: Regular veterinary visits allow for early detection and management of any potential eye issues, including dry eye.

Eye Hygiene: Keep the area around your dog’s eyes clean and free from debris. Regular grooming can prevent irritation and infection.

Environmental Factors Minimize exposure to irritants such as smoke, dust, and drafts, which can exacerbate dry eye symptoms.

Nutrition and Hydration: Provide a well-balanced diet and ensure your dog has access to fresh water. Proper hydration is essential for tear production.

Supplements: Some dogs may benefit from omega-3 fatty acid supplements, which can support overall eye health.
Regular Exercise: Regular exercise promotes blood circulation, which can contribute to ocular health.

When to Consult a Veterinarian

Consulting a veterinarian concerning eye symptoms in your pets is crucial. Eyes are sensitive organs, and any issues should be addressed promptly to ensure the well-being of your furry friend. Here are some situations when you should seek veterinary assistance:

Eye Discharge: If you notice any unusual discharge from your pet’s eyes, such as pus, mucus, or excessive tearing, it could indicate an infection, allergies, or other underlying issues.

Redness or Swelling: Redness or swelling around the eyes could be a sign of inflammation, injury, or infection. This should be evaluated by a veterinarian to determine the cause and appropriate treatment.

Cloudiness or Change in Appearance: Cloudy eyes, a change in the appearance of the cornea, or any changes in the eye’s structure should be examined by a veterinarian. These could be indicative of cataracts, glaucoma, or other serious conditions.

Squinting or Blinking: If your pet is constantly squinting, blinking excessively, or keeping the eyes partially closed, there might be discomfort or pain. These signs could point to issues like corneal ulcers or foreign bodies in the eye.

Changes in Behavior: Behavioral changes such as increased sensitivity to light, rubbing or pawing at the eyes, or avoiding activities they usually enjoy might indicate eye problems.

Vision Changes: If you notice your pet bumping into things, missing treats, or displaying any other signs of impaired vision, it’s essential to have their eyes checked by a vet.

High-Risk Breeds: Certain dog breeds are more prone to specific eye conditions due to their genetics. Breeds like Bulldogs, Pugs, and Shih Tzus are more susceptible to eye problems, and regular check-ups can help catch issues early.

Foreign Objects: If you suspect a foreign object has entered your pet’s eye, do not attempt to remove it yourself. Seek professional help to prevent further damage.

Conjunctivitis: If your pet’s eyes appear red, swollen, and have a discharge, they might have conjunctivitis (pink eye), which requires medical attention.

Routine Eye Check-ups: Just like humans, pets also benefit from regular eye examinations. These check-ups can help catch potential problems before they become severe.


Any signs of eye discomfort, such as unusual discharge, redness, swelling, squinting, or changes in behavior. Early detection of dry eye in dogs can prevent the escalation of potential issues.

Regular eye check-ups are particularly crucial for breeds prone to eye problems. Routine examinations can detect and address issues in their early stages, leading to better outcomes.

Understandably, pets might fear vet visits. Gradual exposure, positive reinforcement, and patience can help reduce their anxiety and make the experience less stressful for them.

Among various eye conditions, dry eye in dogs (keratoconjunctivitis sicca) deserves special attention. Recognizing the signs—such as excessive tearing, redness, and thick discharge—is crucial. A dry eye can lead to discomfort, corneal ulcers, and vision impairment if left untreated.

As responsible pet owners, we must provide our furry companions with the best care possible. Regular monitoring of their eye health, understanding breed-specific risks, and seeking professional help when needed are essential components of responsible dog ownership.

While we can observe our pets closely, only veterinarians possess the expertise to accurately diagnose and treat eye problems. If you suspect any issues with your dog’s eyes, seeking professional help promptly is the best course of action.

In caring for our beloved dogs, their eye health should never be overlooked. By staying informed, proactive, and responsive to their needs, we can ensure that they lead happy, healthy lives. Remember, a veterinarian’s guidance is invaluable when it comes to preserving our pets’ vision and overall well-being.

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