Bloodshot eyes

If you hadn't been watching when your pet curled up and went to sleep, you would swear that she spent the night at the corner bar. Her eyes are so red and bloodshot that they look like road maps.

Don't put a lock on the liquor cabinet just yet. Bloodshot eyes are a common occurrence for the simple reason that dogs and cats are energetic, curious creatures that approach the world headfirst. They don't always have time to duck or blink when running face-first through high grass, under branches, or under the bed. Even a little scratch or irritation in the eye can cause major redness in their eyes, not just for an hour or two, but sometimes for a few days.

There is another reason that they are prone to bloodshot eyes. Unlike people, dogs and cats have third eyelids, which are designed to protect the eyes from foreign objects, says Paul M. Gigliotti, D.V.M., a veterinarian in private practice in Mayfield Village, Ohio. Sometimes, however, bits of wood or other debris get trapped under the lid, making the eye sore and irritated. "A foreign body in the eye is the most common cause of bloodshot eyes," he says. In fact, when only one eye is bloodshot, you should suspect that's the cause.

When both eyes are bloodshot, however, you can be pretty sure that something is happening elsewhere in the body. Pets with allergies, for example, will sometimes get red eyes. In dogs, high blood pressure may be to blame. And in dogs and cats, serious problems such as glaucoma or tumors can cause bloodshot eyes, says Nick A. Faber, D.V.M., a veterinary ophthalmology resident at the University of California School of Veterinary Medicine, Davis.

Minor causes of red eyes also abound. If your dog rides in the car with her head out the window, ears plastered back, and a look of ecstasy on her face, her superdog pose can cause bloodshot eyes, says Dr. Faber. Many dogs are permitted to place their heads out open car windows, but their owners do not realize how irritating this can be to their pets' eyes, he adds.

If you live in the country or suburbs, there is a very good chance that bloodshot eyes may be caused by close encounters of the stinky kind. "If a pet is sprayed by a skunk at close range, her eyes will become very irritated and red," says Dr. Gigliotti.

See Your Vet If...

  • Your pet's eye seems sore and irritated
  • She has been riding in the car
  • Your pet has been sprayed by a skunk
  • Your pet won't quit scratching or pawing his eyes
  • His eyes have turned blue, gray, or cloudy, or he is having trouble getting around
  • His eyes are frequently bloodshot or dry
  • There has been a watery or discolored discharge from the eyes for 48 hours or more
  • Your pet's eyes are bulging
  • The eyelids are swollen or unable to close
  • There is a growth on the eye or eyelid
  • One or both pupils are dilated, or they don't respond to light
  • Your pet seems very sensitive to light
  • The eyes are droopy or sunken
  • The third eyelids are covering the lower parts of the eyes
  • His eyes are continually moving back and forth
  • Blood or tiny blood vessels are visible in the center (not the whites) of his eyes
  • His eyelid appears to be turned inward or outward

Next Steps:

Back to Eyes Main Page
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Copyright 1999 Rodale Press, Inc. All rights reserved.

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