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Key takeaways

Sunken eyes (enophthalmos) in dogs is a symptom in which the eyes appear to be recessed into the skull.

  • Enophthalmos often causes elevation of the third eyelid
  • It may be due to a congenital deformity, a breed standard (such as in long-nosed dogs), or a symptom of an underlying condition
  • In the case of a spontaneous presentation of sunken eyes, there are a number of potential underlying causes including horner’s syndrome, dehydration, weight loss, cancer, injury, and eye pain
  • Enophthalmos is a common symptom in dogs, most notably with severe dehydration, eye pain, or weight loss
  • Diagnostics include a physical, neurological, and ophthalmologic exam, blood work, and imaging
  • Treatment depends on the underlying condition but can include surgery, benign neglect, symptom management, rehydration, and eye medications
  • Prognosis varies widely depending on the underlying cause
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A closer look: Sunken Eyes in Dogs

Enopthalmos is a common trait of long-nosed (dolichocephalic) dogs and is not a concern if it is a known characteristic for the breed and has been present from birth. Rarely, congenital abnormalities can cause enophthalmos and other eye abnormalities.

In the case of onset after birth, the causes can range from benign to life-threatening and as such, it is always valuable to seek veterinary care. A dog exhibiting enophthalmos that has had vomiting and/or diarrhea for over 24 hours, or no eating and/or drinking for over 24 hours requires emergency veterinary attention due to the risk of life-threatening dehydration

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Possible causes

Breeds with long noses often have sunken eyes relative to other breeds naturally as a normal feature of the breed. If the eyes appear sunken later on in life there are a number of potential causes.

Eyes may also appear sunken after substantial weight loss.

Risk factors

Sinking eyes can start mild and worsen over time if left untreated depending on the root cause. In cases caused by dehydration or weight loss, the severity increases with increasing levels of dehydration.

Long-nosed (dolichocephalic) dogs have a breed predisposition to sunken eyes. Dogs with higher risk of injury and/or dehydration are at increased risk of developing sunken eyes.

Testing and diagnosis

Diagnostics include;

  • Physical examination
  • Bloodwork
  • Diagnostic imaging
  • Neurologic examination
  • Ophthalmologic examination

The treatment depends on the underlying cause of the sunken eyes but can include;

  • Antibiotic/antifungal medication
  • Rehydration
  • Correction of underlying cause
  • Surgery
  • Symptom management
  • Benign neglect

Similar symptoms

Swelling around the eyes could have the effect of making the eyes appear sunken.

Associated symptoms


Bari Spielman - Writing for PetPlace
PetMD Editorial - Writing for PetMD
Hannah Hollinger - Writing for Wag!
No Author - Writing for Veterian Key

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