Squinting and Inflamed Eyelids in Dogs

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Squinting and Inflamed Eyelids in Dogs

Blepharospasm (Severe Squinting)

Severe squinting with spasms of the muscles around the eye is a symptom of a painful eye. Any painful eye condition can cause squinting. The tightening of the muscles rolls the eyelids in against the eye. Once rolled in, the rough edges of the lids and the hairs rub against the eyeball, causing further pain and spasms.

Treatment: Anesthetic drops can be applied to the eyeball to relieve the pain and break the cycle. The relief is temporary, unless the irritating factor is identified and removed.

Blepharitis (Inflamed Eyelids)

Bacterial blepharitis isa condition in which the eyelids become thick, reddened, inflamed, and encrusted. Mucuslike pus may adhere to the lids. Blepharitis in puppies occurs primarily in association with puppy strangles. In older dogs it can be associated with various skin diseases, including canine atopy, demodectic mange, autoimmune diseases, and hypothyroidism.

Staphylococcal blepharitisoccurs in both puppies and adults. It is identified by small white pimples on the edges of the eyelids. The pimples rupture

Treatment: Blepharitis is treated with oral and topical antibiotics. To remove adherent crusts, use a washcloth soaked in warm water as a daily compress over the eyelids. Three or four times a day, apply a topical ophthalmic ointment or solution containing neomycin, bacitracin, or polymyxin B. Your veterinarian may prescribe an ophthalmic ointment that contains corticosteroids.

Blepharitis is difficult to cure. Some dogs require long-term treatment. Dogs with chronic blepharitis should be checked for hypothyroidism. Any primary cause will need to be treated.

Foreign Bodies in the Eyes

Foreign material such as grass seeds, dirt, and specks of vegetable matter can adhere to the surface of the eye or become trapped behind the eyelids. Dogs who ride in the open bed of a pickup truck and in the cars with their head out the windows are at high risk for getting dirt and debris in the eyes. Thorns, thistles, and splinters can also penetrate the cornea. This is most likely to happen when a dog is running through dense brush and tall weeds.

Signs of a foreign body in the eye are tearing and watering, blinking, squinting, and pawing. The third eyelid may protrude to protect the painful eye.

You may be able to see dirt or plant material on the surface or behind the upper and lower eyelids. If not, the foreign body may be caught behind the third eyelid. In that case, the dog will need a topical eye anesthetic before it can be removed.

Treatment: Flush the eye for 10 to 15 minutes using cool water, or preferably a sterile saline eyewash or artificial tears. To flush the eye, soak a wad of cotton in the solution and squeeze it into the eye repeatedly. If you have a bottle of artificial tears on hand, you can flush the eye directly from the bottle.

If the foreign body cannot be removed by irrigation, you may be able to remove it by gently touching it with a wet cotton-tipped swab. The foreign body may adhere to the cotton tip. Foreign bodies that penetrate the surface of the eye must be removed by a veterinarian. Restrain the dog from pawing at the eye while you drive to the veterinary hospital.

If the dog continues to squint or tear after the foreign body has been removed, have him checked by your veterinarian to see if the cornea has been damaged.


This condition, in which the eyelids roll inward, is the most common congenital defect of the eyelids. It can also be caused by injury and long-standing eyelid infections that cause scarring. The abnormal eyelids produce irritation with tearing and squinting. Corneal injuries are common from abrasion by the hairs.

It may be difficult to distinguish entropion from blepharospasm. The best way to tell them apart is to administer a topical eye anesthetic. If the inverted eyelids are caused by blepharospasm, temporarily blocking the eye pain causes the inversion to disappear.

Breeds most commonly affected by entropion are the Chinese Shar-Pei, Chow Chow, Great Dane, Great Pyrenees, St. Bernard, Bulldog, and the hunting breeds. Most cases involve the lower eyelids. In dogs with large heads and loose facial skin, such as Chinese Shar-Pei, Bloodhounds, and St Bernards, the upper eyelids may be involved.

Treatment: Entropion requires surgical correction. Note that dogs who have had corrective surgery on their eyelids cannot be shown in conformation.


In dogs with this condition, the lower eyelid rolls out from the surface of the eye. This exposes the eye to irritants and leads to a high incidence of chronic conjunctivitis and corneal injury. Foreign bodies may get caught in the pocket created by the loose eyelid. Ectropion occurs in dogs with loose facial skin, such as scenthounds, spaniels, and St Bernards. It is also seen in older dogs whose facial skin has lost its tone. It can occur temporarily in hunting dogs, after a long day in the field.

Treatment: Mild ectropion that causes no symptoms needs no treatment. But in most cases, ectropion should be corrected by a surgical procedure that tightens the eyelids.

This article is excerpted from “Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook” with permission from Wiley Publishing, Inc.

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Reviewed on 12/3/2009 11:29:55 AM

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