Examining and Medicating the Eyes of a Dog

This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian.

In the photographs below, unless otherwise noted, the dog is facing with her nose pointing to your right. Variations on these instructions exist.

Medicating the eyes can be messy so cover good clothes and work on a surface that is easy to clean.

Some dogs will happily sit in your lap or on a table while you medicate their eyes but many require some form of restraint.

Anatomy of the normal eye

One method to restrain the dog is to place her/him on a table. Stand on the side of the table opposite to the eye you are medicating; in the photograph the right eye is being medicated.

Drape your right arm over the dog's shoulders. Use your left hand to firmly push the dog's muzzle to the table and to pull the lower eyelid down. Use your right hand to hold the medication container.

If the dog tries to stand, lean your upper body over his/her shoulders to prevent him/her from rising.

If your dog is too wiggly, try laying him/her on his/her side.

Use your right arm and upper body to keep the dog laying on his/her side. Hold the medication container in your right hand.

Use your left hand to keep the head on the table and to pull the lower eyelid down.

It is easier to perform this procedure if you have a helper.

Anatomy of the normal dog eye

To examine the eyes, the head is cupped between both hands with one thumb on the upper eyelid and the other thumb on the lower eyelid.

To see the parts of the eye beneath the upper eyelid, pull the upper eyelid up with your thumb which will open the eye widely. The white part of the eye is the sclera. The sclera is normally glistening white and has small, thin red blood vessels on its surface.

Abnormal findings on the sclera include:

  • large, engorged blood vessels
  • bruises may indicate a local injury or a problem with the clotting system
  • yellow discoloration of the sclera which indicates jaundice.

If you stretch the lid further you will see a pink tissue which is the conjunctiva. In health, the conjunctiva are about the same shade of pink as the gums.

Abnormal findings on the conjunctiva include:

  • pale pink may indicate anemia
  • yellow discoloration indicates jaundice
  • bruises may indicate a local injury or a problem with the clotting system

Looking through the pupil, you look through the lens which is clear and you may see a very bright colorful structure which is the retina. When you photograph a pet and see "red eyes", you are seeing light shining off the retina.

The iris can be one of several different colors and some dogs have 2 different color irises. Some, but not all dogs with blue eyes are deaf.

Abnormal findings on the iris include:

  • ragged edges, although this can occur with aging and is called iris atrophy
  • growths on the iris
  • black spots on the iris
  • blood spots on the iris

The pupil is the black spot in the center of the eye. Dog pupils are round compared to cat pupils that are oval. The pupils should be the same size and should constrict to a pinpoint when a bright light is shined in the eye. The pupil is a hole in the center of the iris. The lens is behind the pupil but is not seen when healthy as it is clear.

Abnormal findings in the pupil include:

  • cloudy or blue discoloration of the pupil is a color change in the lens, indicating cataracts or an aging change called nuclear sclerosis
  • different sized pupils which is called anisocoria
  • ragged edges, although this can occur with aging

Use your lower thumb to pull down the lower eye lid. When you pull the lower lid down it pulls way from the eyeball creating a pouch that is lined by pink conjunctiva. This pouch is where eye medications are placed.

When you pull down the lower lid you may also see the third eye lid, also called the nictitating membrane, that will protrude over the bottom inner corner of the eye. The 3rd eyelid is not as easily protruded in the dog eye as in the cat. The 3rd eyelid is usually a pale pink or white color and has thin blood vessels on its surface. The 3rd eyelid is not visible in this photograph.

Abnormalities of the conjunctiva and 3rd eyelid include:

  • pale pink may indicate anemia
  • yellow discoloration in patients with jaundice
  • discharge may accumulate in this pocket

Eye medications are either drops or ointments. Ointments stay in the eye longer than drops so are usually applied less often. Your veterinarian will prescribe specific medications for specific conditions.

Cradle the head in one hand, usually the left hand if you are right-handed. Use the thumb of the hand holding the head to pull down the lower eye lid to create a pouch. Hold the ointment tube in your right hand. With the tip a few millimeters away from the eye, not touching the eye, squeeze a small ribbon of ointment into the pouch.

To distribute the ointment across the eye massage the ointment across the surface of the eye with eyelids closed.

Eye drops are also placed in the pouch created when you pull down the lower eyelid. Hold the head and pull down the lower eyelid as described for placing ointments in the eye. Drop the prescribed number of drops into the pouch without the tip of the bottle touching the eye. Eye drops disperse across the surface of the eye rapidly and do not need to be rubbed across the eye by massaging.

Depending upon the size of the dog's head and your hands, you may rest the middle finger or heal of the hand holding the bottle or tube on the cat's head to keep your hand more steady and reduce the risk of poking the dog in the eye with the bottle or tube.

Washington State University assumes no liability for injury to you or your pet incurred by following these descriptions or procedures.

Give Now

Did you find this information useful? Please consider helping us train the veterinarians of tomorrow by making a gift to the college.

The Pet Health Topics Web site is a free service provided by the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University. Your donation will help support veterinary education and research.

Washington State University