Eye boogers are something that everyone gets from time to time, but what’s the best way to help soften and clean those seen in your dog? This article explores what eye boogers are, what might cause you to see more of them, and the practical things you can do to help your pet.
What are dog eye boogers?
Eye boogers are the nickname given to a type of mucus discharge that is found in the corner of your dog’s eye. They are formed from dried tears that collect and can either be watery, mucus-like, or crusty. Most normal dogs will have a small number of eye boogers occasionally, especially after they first wake up, just like people do.
Tears are there to help form a protective layer over the surface of the eye. This layer keeps the eye moist but also helps act as a barrier to potential infections, as well as washing any specks of dirt or dust away. There are some conditions where tear production becomes affected – this can, in turn, have an impact on the volume of eye boogers present.
Causes of dog eye boogers
A small amount of discharge is quite normal for dogs, but if you notice an increase in the volume, this could be a concern. Color changes can indicate issues too. Most normal eye boogers are clear, gray, or brown – however, they can become green or yellow when an infection is present. Here are some of the most common causes of an increase in eye boogers.
Dogs with underlying allergies can suffer from inflamed and itchy eyes, with an increase in eye-watering too. All of this can lead to an increase in the volume of eye boogers seen. Dogs can have similar allergies to people, such as grass pollens, tree pollens, and house dust mites.
If your veterinarian has first ruled out other possible causes of disease, then allergies may be diagnosed. Treatments include lubricants to keep the eyes comfortable and antihistamines or anti-inflammatories to control the underlying allergic response. Some dogs may show other signs of allergy too, such as excessive sneezing and itchy skin, so tell your vet if you have noticed any of these.
Other conditions can cause your dog’s eyes to be excessively itchy too, such as physical irritations. This could be something in the environment like an increased amount of dust or sand blowing around. Chemicals could also irritate your dog’s eyes, or even more serious problems like eye ulcers if contact with the eye has been made.
Alternatively, there could be an issue with your dog’s eyelids. Entropion is a condition whereby the skin of the eyelid is slightly rolled in, causing hair or eyelashes to rub against the surface of the eye. This condition is seen more commonly in breeds like shar-peis, who have excessive skin folds and wrinkles. Surgical correction is usually required.
Distichiasis is another condition whereby small extra hairs growing on the inside of your dog’s eyelid rub against the eye surface. This can need treatment to remove and destroy the hair follicles, which is performed under high magnification.
An eyelid mass could accidentally start rubbing on your dog’s eye causing issues. This may need surgical removal to rectify.
Some breeds are also more prone to watery eyes, primarily brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds like bulldogs, pugs, boxers, and Cavalier King Charles spaniels. These dogs are also more prone to eye conditions such as ulcers than other breeds.
Both viral and bacterial conjunctivitis can cause similar symptoms. The eye usually becomes irritated and sore due to inflammation of the soft tissues in the eye, the conjunctiva. An increased amount of eye boogers are usually noted, with the discharge sometimes being green or yellow.
Your veterinarian will examine your dog’s eye and check for other issues like ulcers on the cornea (the surface of the dog’s eye) or any foreign bodies in the eye, like grass seeds or pieces of dirt. Treatment will usually be antibiotic eye drops, and possibly anti-inflammatory painkillers if your dog’s eyes are particularly sore.
Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) or “dry eye” is an autoimmune condition that affects your dog’s ability to produce normal tears. The normal tear consistency becomes disturbed causing very mucoid and sticky discharge instead. The surface of the eye becomes drier than usual, leading to secondary problems like infection and eye ulcers.
Your veterinarian can test your dog’s tear function by performing a Schirmer Tear Test, placing small paper strips in the lower part of your dog’s eye to measure the volume of tears he produces over a minute. If this is lower than normal, then dry eye is suspected.
Dry eye is usually treated with a combination of eye drops including immunomodulatory drugs and lubricants, with regular checks needed to make sure things are under control.
How to clean your dog’s eyes
A clean flannel soaked in clean warm water can be used to gently soften and wipe your dog’s eye boogers. If they have become hardened and matted in the fur then using the flannel as a compress can help to moisten and soften them again before gently wiping out.
Canine eye drops
It is always best to discuss eye drops with your veterinarian rather than buying products from pet stores or the internet. Also, never use human products that you have lying around at home on your pet.
Trim around your dog’s eyes
If your dog has long fur, then making sure it is kept out of his eyes by regular trimming should help keep things more comfortable. Tickly hair irritating the eye could cause an increase in booger production.
Use a Q-tip
A clean Q-tip can be moistened in warm water and used to clean near the corner of your dog’s eye. Try not to poke it in the eye itself as this could irritate.
Use a tear stain comb
Useful for dogs that get eye boogers accumulated in the fur near their eyes. This gentle, blunt-ended comb can help as part of your dog’s routine grooming.
Give your dog a bath
The steam and moisture from a warm bath can help soften your dog’s eye boogers, meaning they can be more easily dislodged. Make sure the water isn’t too warm for your dog though and be careful if you are washing your dog’s fur with shampoo – don’t get any near his eyes.
Should you clean your dog’s eyes?
In most cases, you shouldn’t need to clean your dog’s eyes, as they will tend to take care of themselves. But if your dog has an increased frequency of eye boogers then occasional cleaning may be helpful.
What not to do
Fiddling with your dog’s eyes too much can cause irritation and inflammation, so a vicious circle could start if you clean your dog’s eyes excessively. You could inadvertently be contributing to the issue. Certainly never use any chemicals or human products in your dog’s eyes unless your veterinarian has advised you to do so. Always wash your hands before touching anywhere near your dog’s eyes as dirty fingers could cause infection.
How to prevent eye boogers
A small amount of eye boogers is normal, so you will never be able to prevent them altogether. You should get your pet checked out to make sure there are no underlying health issues. In addition, making sure your dog’s vaccinations are up to date and making sure they are housed in a dust-free environment can help.
When to be concerned
Eye boogers are normal in small volumes. If you see any of the following signs then this would be a cause for concern:
- Increased volume of eye boogers (more discharge noted)
- Increased frequency of eye boogers (you wipe them away and they appear again soon after)
- A change in the normal color of your dog’s eye boogers
- Your dog is uncomfortable, rubbing at his eyes and face
- Your dog is holding his eye shut
- The whites of the eyes seem bloodshot
- Cloudiness of the eye
- Other symptoms like sneezing or discharge from the nose
When to take your dog to the vet
If you see any of the signs in the previous section then make sure you take your dog to the veterinarian to get them checked out. An urgent appointment is advised if your dog is holding his eye closed, if he is rubbing excessively at it, or if the eye or surrounding tissue seems swollen. As with any health complaints, the sooner you get things looked at, the sooner treatment can start and the better the outcome will be.
Eye boogers are completely normal, but an increased amount is not, particularly if you see other signs like irritation or a change in their color. Your veterinarian will be able to advise you on what the likely cause is and what treatment could help your pet. Take care when performing regular grooming for your dog – only ever using clean warm water unless otherwise advised by your vet.