One morning last summer I discovered an unsettling green discharge in the corner of my dog, baby, right eye. I spend most of the day thinking, researching, and writing about the health and behavioral issues of other dog owners. Oddly enough, this means that I often take the hardiness and wellbeing of my own dog for granted. With multiple heartbeats, I experienced the same mix of indecision and panic that I believe leads most dog owners to use their own human eye drops as eye drops for dogs.
I’ve written enough about dog eyes to realize that the green hue of the mud that builds up in baby’s eyes should be cause for concern. I didn’t know what the problem was, but instinctively I marched to see what over-the-counter eye wash I might have to try to deal with it. Should I reach for Visine or any human eye wash or ointment that I may have on hand? Can human eye drops be used as eye drops for dogs?
A simple solution for simple problems with the dog’s eye
By the time you read this, we have both reminded ourselves that Google can be our friend and ally. After reading through a number of trusted websites, I found the same solution: a simple, no-frills saline solution applied with nothing more complex than cotton balls. Over the course of a few days, baby’s right eye cleared up and the sleep that accumulated in the corner of her eye turned its usual white tint. No medicated eye drops were needed.
Easiest or most convenient choice, the OTC medical eye drops and ointments you keep at home aren’t the best things to use as dog eye drops! In fact, using these as eye drops for dogs can worsen existing problems or create new ones that may ultimately cost you more at the veterinarian’s office or cause unnecessary additional pain to your dog. Let’s look at three of the most common dog eye problems that you may need to use dog eye drops for:
- Dog eye infection
- Conjunctivitis (also known as pink eye) in dogs
- Dog eye allergies
1. Treatment of a dog eye infection
Minor eye infections in dogs can occur for a number of reasons. My dog does not have long hair on its head and there was no eyelid prolapse so I was able to rule out hair as a potential irritant as well as cherry eye. It was a hot and dry summer and there was a lot of loose sand in the park when we hiked. Any kind of foreign object, except for a stray piece of dust that blows in and gets caught in your eye, could have caused your eyes to create a green discharge.
Couldn’t you just use your simple over-the-counter eye drops as eye drops for dogs? Well, the active ingredient in Visine is tetrahydozoline hydrochloride, which narrows the blood vessels in the eye. If your goal is to remove a bit of moving dirt from your dog’s eye, then medication of any kind is not required. Do not use human eye treatments unless certified by a veterinarian. Even if you have about half an hour to spare, you can even make your own saline solution for a real home remedy!
2. Conjunctivitis in dogs
Baby’s eyes are always a little red or pink when they first wake up after a long nap or the first time in the morning. Hence, this is usually nothing to worry about. The most common form of pink eye in dogs is serous conjunctivitis, also known as “dry eye”. Much like – and often a cause of – the type of eye infection described above, it is an environmental irritant that prevents a dog’s eye from producing the tears it needs to flush out naturally. There was no swelling or inflammation in baby’s eye, and the greenish goosebumps didn’t match the pink eye.
You might be tempted, like me, to get your own over-the-counter eye drops out of instinct or habit. According to Dr. Kathryn Primm, however, “did nothing to determine the cause of the dog’s eye discomfort”. Basic saline and cotton balls, which you can get at the nearest drugstore for $ 4 to 5 total, are a safe and reliable tentative approach. If symptoms persist, the discharge will take on the look or smell of pus, and you will notice that your dog is scratching his face frequently. Before turning to medical eye drops for dogs – or any detergent or ointment of any kind – seek advice from a veterinarian.
3. Dealing with dog eye allergies
Dr. Eric Barchas, a Dogster-based veterinarian, wrote, “Allergies aren’t a particularly common cause of eye problems in dogs.” Even so, they can occur and, like my own dog’s eye health problem, are most common during the summer months. Like the two conditions described above, inflammation, redness, and watery discharge in one or both of a dog’s eyes can be the result of an environmental allergen or irritant.
Dr. Barchas also notes that the vast majority of dog allergies are primarily caused by fleas and secondarily manifested in irritated skin and relentless scratching. Have you started using a different type of cleaner around the house? Have you just switched to a fragrant cat litter in a room your dog also spends time in? Have you just given your dog a bath with a new shampoo? In dogs dealing with a new eye problem, try to rule out external causes before potentially causing the dog additional trouble with medicated eye drops or detergents.
Bottom line: do not use your eye drops as eye drops for dogs and contact a veterinarian if you have any questions!
After writing about dog health issues for three years, I learned two essential things that every dog owner should internalize as soon as possible: Take a moment each day to really look at your dog. I’ve done so much work on digestive problems in dogs during one stretch that I’ve made a habit of watching baby poop as a barometer of their overall health. It wasn’t until I saw the warning signs of a possible eye infection that I also started a quick check of her eye health every morning.
The second: human drugs, even “baby” or “child” varieties of popular, non-prescription formulas from brand manufacturers, can do more harm than good to our dogs. For minor health issues that last two days or less, there is almost always a simpler, non-medical solution dog owners can turn to. If there’s a long-term problem your dog is dealing with, or if you fear it might develop, your dog’s vet will be happy to suggest the right canine eye drops or dog eye medication – ointments, wipes, antibiotics, or whatever Always be careful – and use it properly, or refer to an ophthalmologist for dogs!
Having trouble giving eye medicines to your dog? You can find tips here >>
Thumbnail: Photography by fotoedu / Thinkstock.
This piece was originally released in 2017.
About the author
Melvin Peña is a writer, editor, and social media manager who spends most of his time in Durham, North Carolina. His interests include his dog baby (of course!), Arts, hiking, urban farming, and karaoke.