Eye Discharge (Epiphora) in Dogs

Key Takeaways

Eye discharge or epiphora is a common symptom in dogs. 

Causes, as well as treatment of eye discharge, vary greatly. 

• Eye discharge can present in various ways including clear water (tears), crust-like formation on the inner corner of the eye, reddish discharge, white mucus, and yellow discharge

• Brachycephalic breeds and dogs with long facial hair are often more affected than others

• Excessive eye discharge is not generally an emergency in itself but if other symptoms such as irritated, red, or painful eyes are present, medical attention is warranted

• Diagnosis involves a physical examination, ophthalmological examination, and diagnostic imaging

• Treatment depends on the underlying cause

• Prognosis varies greatly in accordance with the underlying condition causing the epiphora

A Closer Look: What is Eye Discharge in Dogs?

Epiphora is generally not life-threatening if it presents as a solitary symptom, but medical care may be necessary to prevent vision loss, pain, and other possible complications when other symptoms are present. 

Eye discharge can present in a number of different ways: 

Small goop or crust: Small goop or crust forming in the inner corner of the animal's eyes is generally normal, especially when present after sleeping. This is the result of the drying of tears, oils, mucus, and dead cells. 

While generally not a reason for concern, if present with red or painful eyes, medical attention is advised.

If a dog is prone to developing accumulation, frequent cleaning of the eyes is recommended, as insufficient drainage can lead to infections and irritations. 

Watery eyes: Excessive watering, can be caused by a wide array of underlying conditions, from allergies to glaucoma. Some tearing is expected when a dog is exposed to dust or pollen, and is not a cause for concern. If the epiphora does not stop or if the animal’s eyes are red and cause pain or distress, medical attention is advised. 

Red-brown tear stains: Reddish-brown stains in the inner corner of the eyes are generally caused by a specific pigment (porphyrin) found in tears that turns red when exposed to air. Tear stains are considered normal, but in some cases, they can cause irritation or infections. Strategies to minimize stains include: 

• Frequent wiping of the area with a warm damp cloth 

• Keeping the fur around the animal’s eyes trimmed 

White or gray mucus: White or gray mucus generally is a sign of dry eye (Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca, or KCS). KCS can cause severe pain and can lead to blindness, and as such medical attention is highly advised. 

Yellow-green eye discharge: Yellow or green eye discharge generally indicates the presence of an ongoing eye infection. Prompt medical attention is advised.

Prognosis varies greatly in accordance with the underlying condition. If the underlying condition is not identified, or if the animal is genetically prone to developing epiphora, life-long intermittent episodes of eye discharge are likely.

In any case, if the epiphora is accompanied by other symptoms such as pain, and eye irritation, or if there is a change in the quantity of eye discharge, medical attention is warranted.

Possible Causes

Eye discharge is a common secondary symptom and can be caused by a wide array of underlying conditions, including: 

Allergies 

Eyelid and eyelash disorders

• Corneal diseases, such as Keratoconjunctivitis sicca  or Ulcerative keratitis

• Irritation of the eye by foreign materials such as sand, grass awns, or seeds

• Genetic factors

Atopy

• Bacterial infections

• Viral infections, such as canine herpesvirus or distemper

• Fungal infections, such as blastomycosis

• Parasitic diseases, such as babesiosis

• Cancer of the eyelids or eyes

• Traumatic injury to the face 

• Inflammation or blockage of the tear ducts

Risk Factors

Facial anatomy can play a role in the occurrence of eye discharge. Normal tear drainage is impeded in breeds like brachycephalic (push face) breeds, such as French Bulldog and Pug.

Active outdoor dogs are at greater risk of developing epiphora, as they are more likely to be in contact with foreign bodies and allergens.

Testing and Diagnosis

Diagnosis of the underlying condition can be difficult as epiphora is a common secondary symptom of many conditions. A dog presenting an unusual eye discharge generally undergoes the following diagnostics: 

• Physical examination 

• Ophthalmological exam

• Diagnostic imaging

• Culture of discharge

• Fluorescein stain: to identify potential eye abrasions or foreign objects 

Treatment options vary greatly depending on the underlying condition. Most dogs benefit from wearing an Elizabethan collar during treatment, to prevent scratching or damage to the eyes.

Note: always consult a veterinarian before using topical ointment or eye drops in dogs, even if they are approved for use in animals.

Similar symptoms

Normal eye discharge may be mistaken for epiphora.

Associated Symptoms

Epiphora can be accompanied by a number of other symptoms, including: 

• Squinting

• Inflammation

• Redness and irritation

• Loose or sagging skin around eyes

• Puffiness 

• Skin infection 

• Itchy eyes

Want to speak to a vet now?

Book an appointment

Time for a check-up?

Start a video chat with a licensed veterinary professional right now on Vetster!

Book an online vet

Online veterinarian and virtual pet care services available on-demand.

Available now on Apple and Play stores.

Vet on phone