Dog Won’t Open Eye? What To Do Now

dog won't open its eye

Nobody wants to see their dog in pain. When your dog won’t open its eye because it is severely swollen, what should you do? Is it an eye infection, or is it an eye injury? The heartbreaking part is seeing your precious pooch trying to get rid of the burning, pain and itchiness in the swollen, watering eye.

Most importantly, any eye injury, infection, or inflammation is an emergency, and your first step should be to schedule a visit to your DVM. There is an endless list of possible causes for the swelling, and some of these causes can lead to vision loss.

View Table of Contents

Eye Infections, Inflammation, diseases and congenital eye conditions.

We will attempt to answer any questions you might have about different eye infections and their causes, symptoms, and treatment. We’ll start by looking at the infections that are the most common causes of swollen and red eyes in dogs.

What are the Common Causes of Swollen Eyelids?

Although underlying causes are sometimes unknown, the list below includes the most frequent causes of eye infections:

  • Bacterial or staph infections
  • Congenital abnormalities due to breed features
  • Various allergies
  • Tumors
  • Traumatic eye injuries
  • Parasite infections
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Corneal ulcer
  • Inner eyelid problems

Which dog breeds are more prone to developing eyelid infections?

Your veterinarian might use the term blepharitis, which means inflammation of the eyelid. It can affect dogs of any age, but some breeds have a genetic predisposition to eyelid inflammation.

The dog breeds that are more prone to blepharitis include:

  • Shih Tzu
  • Chow Chow
  • Chinese Shar-Pei
  • Poodle
  • Pug
  • English Bulldog,
  • Pekingese
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Rottweiler
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Golden Retriever

Dog owners of these breeds might want to check for signs of watering, redness, or swelling. The sooner you notice an eyelid infection, the sooner your vet can diagnose and treat it. Hence, the lower the risks of permanent consequences.


Uveitis is inflammation in the interior portion of the eye made up of the iris, ciliary body, and choroid. It is a deeper eye infection, typically due to a systemic cause (something outside the eye itself) such as viruses, tick-borne diseases, viruses, cancer, etc.


Conjunctivitis, which you probably know as pink eye in humans, occurs when the conjunctiva is inflamed. The conjunctiva is a thin mucous membrane covering the outside of the eye and is visualized along the eyelids when you look at your dog’s eye.

Additional Infections

Abnormalities in the tear glands, eyelids, or cornea (outer surface of the eye) can also cause eye infections. Infection does not always have a straightforward cause, and can be in a variety of locations within the eye. A visit to the vet’s office will bring diagnosis and treatment in the majority of cases. However, a referral to a veterinary ophthalmologist or specialist is sometimes needed if it is more severe and causing vision impairment.

What are the Most Common Hereditary Dog Eye Problems?

Dog eye problems like those listed below are hereditary and congenital.

  • Primary Glaucoma
  • Retinal Dysplasia
  • Collie Eye (not entirely limited to Collie breeds)
  • Primary Lens Luxation
  • Central Progressive Retinal Atrophy
  • Choroidal Hypoplasia
  • Congenital Dry Eye
  • Entropion & Ectropion
  • Congenital Cataracts

Canine Dry Eye AKA Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca

Dry eye happens when your dog isn’t able to produce enough tears to lubricate his eye, or eyes.

This lack of lubrication can cause damage to the cornea because it becomes too dry. Moreover, it causes intense discomfort and irritation to the eye in general.

Dry Eye in dogs can be caused by:

  • A congenital or physical problem with the tear-producing mechanisms
  • A virus (such as Distemper)
  • Immune system disease
  • As a result of Cherry Eye surgery

Certain breeds are at an above-average risk of suffering from Dry Eye

  • Bulldogs
  • Spaniels
  • Yorkshire Terriers
  • West Highland Terriers
  • Pugs
  • Boston Terriers,
  • Pekingese
  • Other breeds with prominent eyes would also be more likely to develop dry eyes.

Just as Dry Eye can lead to conjunctivitis, it can also cause scarring and ulcers on the cornea.

Dry Eye is typically something your canine pal will have to live with for life. However, early diagnosis can prevent extensive damage to the eye. Likewise, prompt and proper treatment and management could limit your doggy dude’s discomfort or pain, and prevent vision loss.

How is Dry Eye Treated?

Firstly, your vet must determine the level of your pooch’s tear production by using a test called the ‘Schirmer Tear Test.’ The DMV will also conduct a full examination of the eye and the tear duct, and examine the dog’s history of injury, infection, or eye problems. 

Once diagnosed as Canine Dry Eye, veterinary care will include treatment of the eye condition as summarized below.

Your vet will most likely want to

  • Treat any infection, inflammation, or damage to the eye
  • Lubricate the surface of the eye to ease discomfort and reduce the chance of more damage
  • Increase tear production for long-term reduction of symptoms

The DMV will likely prescribe an antibiotic ointment, eye drops, and medication to stimulate tear production.

What are the Symptoms of Dog Eye Infection

These conditions could affect either one or both the dog’s eyes. You will likely notice redness and swelling, and your furry friend might blink uncontrollably. This is called blepharospasms. Other symptoms include pigment loss and flaky skin around your doggy dude’s eyes. Furthermore, there can be discharge from the affected eye, and redness of the white part of his eyes.

  • Irritation – the whites may be red, and the eyes may water. This is the most common cause of swollen dog eyes.
  • Excessive tearing 
  • Discharge – may be thin and clear, or thick and stringy mucus
  • Squinting – in one or both eyes
  • Bulging eye – the eyeball seems to be pushing out of its socket
  • Swelling – of the eyeball itself, the lids, or the surrounding tissue
  • Cloudiness – an opaque appearance, localized or general
  • Growths – on the lids, surrounding tissue or eyeball 
  • Hair loss – around the outside of the eye area
  • Pawing – Your dog rubs, paws, or scratches their eyes

Are Older Dogs More Prone to Developing Eye Diseases?

As your canine companion enters its golden years, you might be wise to be even more alert to potential eye conditions. Older dogs are prone to developing tumors, warts, growths, and cataracts in and around their eyes.

Which Health Conditions Can Cause Dog Eye Problems?

In addition to genetic issues, injuries, and infections, underlying health conditions on the list below can cause eye problems.

  • Diabetes
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Liver problems
  • Canine herpes
  • Parasites (such as the skin mites that cause mange)
  • Cushing’s Disease
  • Kidney Failure
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Dental abscesses in the upper teeth.

What are the Most Common Hereditary Dog Eye Problems?

Dog eye problems like those listed below are hereditary and congenital.

  • Primary Glaucoma
  • Retinal Dysplasia
  • Collie Eye (not entirely limited to Collie breeds)
  • Primary Lens Luxation
  • Central Progressive Retinal Atrophy
  • Choroidal Hypoplasia
  • Congenital Dry Eye
  • Entropion & Ectropion
  • Congenital Cataracts

Entropion and Ectropion

Entropion and Ectropion are two opposite hereditary physical malformations of the dog’s eyelids. But first, let me mention the predisposed dog breeds.


  • Hounds such as the Basset Hound, and Bloodhound.
  • Retrievers, like Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Chesapeake Retrievers, and Flat-Coated Retrievers.
  • Large and giant-sized dogs, including Mastiffs, Great Dane, Saint Bernard, Bernese Mountain Dog,
  • Old English Sheepdog, Newfoundland, and more.
  • Other predisposed breeds include Spaniels, Bulldogs, smaller Poodles, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Yorkshire Terrier, Pekingese, Shih Tzu, and Rottweilers.

With Entropion, one or both of a dog’s eyelids turn or fold inwards, causing the eyelashes to rub against the eyeball and cause intense irritation. It is more often than not the lower lid.

What are the Symptoms of Entropion?

The first signs of Entropion include watery eyes due to excessive tear production. You might also notice a discharge from the eyes, and chronic blinking or squinting. There might even be visible malformation, with the turned inward eyelids clearly visible.

Because it can cause chronic infection, inflammation, or scarring on the eye itself, Entropion needs to be diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible. If left untreated for long periods, your dog could end up with eye scarring, which could limit his vision.

What is the Treatment of Entropion?

Because Entropion is caused by a malformation of the eyelid/s the only viable treatment to correct it is a surgery called ‘Blepharoplasty.’ On the bright side, Entropion is one of the dog eye problems which is fairly easy to recognize because the poor conformation of the eyelid is pretty easy to see.


Ectropion is another dog eye issue that affects the eyelid and lashes.

With Ectropion, the eyelid rolls outwards (directly opposite to Entropion, where the eyelid rolls inwards). This condition is also more prone in certain breeds, some of which are also on the Entropion list of susceptible dogs.

Breeds Prone to Ectropion

Breeds with wrinkled faces, bred to have ‘droopy’ eyes, are more at risk of this condition than others. The following dogs are most likely to have this type of malformation in their eyelids.

With Ectropion, the very delicate inner lining of one or both eyelids and other membranes dry out due to their exposure to air, dirt, dust, grit and other pollutants and foreign bodies. In some cases, a dog with Ectropion might not be able to fully close his eyes even when asleep. All of this can add dry eye and, or infection to the physical problem.

What are the Symptoms of Ectropion?

The symptoms of Ectropion can include:

  • Visibly deformed eyelids that roll outward.
  • Excessive tearing, often resulting in staining of the surrounding area
  • Blinking
  • Squinting
  • Redness, irritation and, or inflammation
  • Rubbing and pawing at eyes
  • Eye discharge

What is the Treatment of Ectropion?

For mild cases, applying lubricating medications to keep the eye area moist is often enough to remedy the problem. Severe cases of canine Ectropion usually need surgery (a ‘plastic surgery’ type procedure) – either to the eyelid itself or to the facial skin.

These are certainly not all the adverse eye conditions your dog could suffer, but only the most common ones. Hopefully, we have answered some of the questions you had about potential reasons for your precious pooch’s inability to open its eye. However, here’s the

Bottom line:

If your dog has an eye issue, make an appointment with your vet right away. That way, your dog won’t need to suffer or develop life-long consequences that could have been prevented with early diagnosis and treatment.


See more:

Mari Serfontein