Blocked Tear Ducts (Dacryocystitis) in Dogs

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4 min read

Key takeaways

Dacryocystitis is inflammation of the tear sac. The tear sac is part of the system which allows the draining of tears inside the nasal passages.

  • When tear drainage is obstructed, tears overflow from the eye and conjunctivitis develops
  • Symptoms of dacryocystitis include watering of the eyes and characteristic reddish tear staining on the face
  • Blocked tear ducts might be caused by a foreign object stuck in the nasolacrimal duct or it might be genetic, related to the shape of the eye and muzzle
  • Bacterial infections, eye tumors, and dental abscesses may lead to dacryocystitis as a secondary condition
  • Diagnosis includes ophthalmic examination with a Jones test
  • Other tests include radiography of the skull and a dacryoendoscopy
  • Treatment options include medications such as anti-inflammatories or, in more severe cases, surgery
  • Prognosis with treatment is usually positive
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A closer look: Blocked Tear Ducts (Dacryocystitis) in Dogs

Tears are an important part of the body’s defenses, protecting the eyes and keeping them lubricated. Insufficient drainage of tears within the nasal passages can lead to more severe eye disease.

In more severe cases, bacteria might start to grow in the moist area around the eyes, which can develop into a more serious infection.

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Risk factors

Dacryocystitis is a rare condition in dogs and it is not life-threatening, but medical attention is recommended for any signs of eye disease. Left untreated, blocked tear ducts can lead to complications that threaten eyesight or the integrity of the eye itself.

Possible causes

In some cases, dacryocystitis is caused by hereditary or congenital anomalies of the eye or the eyelids. Sometimes it is breed related, affecting in particular Cocker Spaniels. In most cases, the block occurs because of the shape of the eye, the nose, and the face. It can also be caused by foreign objects lodged in the duct.

Main symptoms

Testing and diagnosis

The diagnostic process involves a complete ophthalmic examination and an evaluation of nasolacrimal fluorescein dye travel time (Jones test). To conduct a Jones test, drops of glowing dye are placed in the eye and observed as they appear from the nose and mouth after traveling through the nasolacrimal duct. If the dye fails to appear, this indicates a blocked nasolacrimal duct.

With the patient under sedation, a cannula is inserted into the duct and water or saline solution is flushed into the nasolacrimal duct. Flushing works as a treatment for mild obstruction and can help detect a more serious blockage. Flushing also may provide samples of debris that can be evaluated to help identify the cause of dacryocystitis.

Dacryoendoscopy is an advanced imaging technique that involves insertion of a tiny camera into the tear duct to directly visualize the obstruction.

Sometimes, a CT scan of the skull is necessary to diagnose long term obstructions.

Steps to Recovery

Flushing debris from the nasolacrimal duct during diagnosis is sometimes curative for mild obstructions. Anti-inflammatory medications or antibiotics are usually prescribed and follow up visits are necessary to monitor progress. In more severe cases, surgery is necessary to remove tumors and foreign objects or to enlarge the opening of the duct.

In some situations, the veterinarian might suggest a stent be surgically placed to allow the normal flowing of tears.

The prognosis is generally good. Surgical intervention is usually successful with only 5% of cases presenting complications such as conjunctivitis or corneal scarring.


Dacryocystitis is not contagious. Prevention is difficult as the condition has anatomical and inherited causes. Preventing dogs from running in tall grass may help as dacryocystitis can also be caused by plant-based foreign objects.

Are Blocked Tear Ducts (Dacryocystitis) in Dogs common?

Dacryocystitis is a rare condition in dogs, with some breeds, especially Cocker Spaniels, being more predisposed to it.

Typical Treatment

  • Saline flush
  • Anti inflammatories
  • Antibiotics
  • Surgery


Kirk N. Gelatt , VMD, DACVO - Writing for MSD Veterinary Manual
Ralph E. Hamor, DVM, MS, DACVO, - Writing for MSD Veterinary Manual
Malcolm Weir, DVM, MSc, MPH; Catherine Barnette, DVM - Writing for VCA Animal Hospitals
No Author - Writing for Eye Care for Animals
Andrea Steinmetz, Gustavo Werner Jara Dohmann, and Claudia Christine Blobner - Writing for Veterinary Ophthalmology

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