Skip to Content

Why Do Dogs Scratch Their Eyes? 9 Real Reasons + 3 Tips

Why Do Dogs Scratch Their Eyes

Picture this.

You come home after a long day of work.

But your dog doesn’t greet you.

You look and find your dog pawing at their eyes.

The skin around their eyes is scratched and bleeding.

Your dog’s eyes are red and swollen.

What do you do?

Read on to discover:

  • Proven ways to protect your dog’s eyes.
  • 9 real reasons why dogs scratch their eyes.
  • 3 tips on what to do when your dog has itchy eyes.
  • A step-by-step method to examine your dog’s eyes.
  • And this is just the beginning…

Why do dogs scratch their eyes?

Dogs scratch their eyes because of allergies. But it can also be eye diseases like pink eye, dry eyes, or glaucoma. Eye abnormalities like eyelid ectropion or entropion also cause eye scratching. Parasites or dust can irritate your dog’s skin around the eyes and cause itching.

9 real reasons why dogs scratch their eyes

#1: It’s that time of the year for allergies

Allergies mean your dog’s immune system is reacting to something.

Most dog allergies can be seen on their skin. It gets red and itchy.

But dogs can also react in other ways.

According to the AKC, dogs can experience:

  • Vomiting.
  • Sneezing.
  • Loose stools.
  • Ear infections.
  • Constant licking.
  • Runny and itchy eyes. 

“What do I do when my dog has signs of allergies?”

Take your dog to the vet. Diagnosing allergies in dogs is a process of elimination. 

Your vet will ask you questions about your pooch. 

Then they will determine the cause through:

  • Allergy testing.
  • Food elimination.
  • Examination of dog hair and skin. 

Your dog will have either of the 3 types of dog allergies:

Skin allergies

This is also known as Canine Atopic Dermatitis or cAD.

It’s a genetically inherited tendency for your dog to be sensitive to allergens.

If your dog happens to contact an allergen the result is red and itchy skin.

It gets worse if your dog keeps scratching. 

Up to 10% of dogs have cAD. 

And it appears the most in short-coated dogs, like the English Bulldog. 

Studies have found that atopic dogs have weakened skin barriers. 

Which could mean that the effects of cAD can be solved by strengthening the skin barrier.

This study applied ceramide cream on the skin of atopic dogs.

Ceramides are the building blocks of skin. This is frequently used to treat human atopic dermatitis.

The study showed promising results with a lower occurrence of cAD signs:

  • Skin inflammation.
  • Epidermal thickness.
  • Transepidermal water loss.

More studies have to be conducted but this is a step to more treatments of cAD.

Environmental allergens  

The environment combines with the dog’s tendency for cAD.

Have you noticed your dog gets itchy skin at certain seasons?

Your dog might be reacting to the pollen from grass and trees. 

Environmental allergens
CauseRed and itchy skin appears in
– Dust
– Mold
– Pollen
– Wrists
– Groin
– Ankles
– Muzzle
– Underarms
– Between toes
– Ears (Common)
– Around the eyes
– Paws (Common)

Reactions to dust and mold appear year-round.

Flea allergy dermatitis

This is your dog’s allergic reaction to the flea’s saliva.

Just one bite can cause itchy skin that lasts for days!

Food allergies 

Dogs don’t have food allergies like humans do.

If a person with a nut allergy eats a peanut their bodies have an immediate immune reaction. 

For example, the skin around the lips swells and hives appear all over their body. 

But dogs have sensitivities to food. This means that they can develop allergies to food.

This includes:

  • Milk.
  • Beef.
  • Corn.
  • Eggs.
  • Wheat.
  • Chicken.
  • Certain vegetables.

Food allergies are sneaky.

You can learn too late that your dog has reactions to their food. 

And you’ve been feeding it to your pooch for months.

The reactions don’t appear right away like human allergies.

You may find that a dog who eats chicken daily can get red and itchy skin or rashes.

If the owner doesn’t know that the chicken causes the reaction, it can get worse.

The dog will scratch and lick at their itchy skin. This causes: 

  • Wounds.
  • Alopecia.
  • Hotspots.
  • Lumps filled with pus.
  • Secondary skin infections.
  • Skin swelling (around eyes).

The effects of food allergies can take a long time to heal. 

Your dog’s diet will have to be strictly monitored to prevent reactions.

Acute allergies

When your dog has an acute reaction, it’s dangerous.

They can go into anaphylactic shock.

This is a severe immediate reaction to an allergen.

Anaphylactic Shock 
– Chemicals
– Insect bites
– Medications
– Vaccine antigens
– Vomiting
– Diarrhea
– Face swelling
– Excessive drooling
– Struggling to breathe
– Blue gums and tongue (lack of oxygen)

Fortunately, anaphylactic shocks happen very rarely in dogs.

But it’s best to keep an eye out for what your dog eats or touches.

You might also want to know: 7 Weird Reasons Why Dogs Scratch Themselves + 5 Solutions

#2: Your dog’s eyelids are inflamed

This is an uncomfortable condition for your doggo.

If they have it, they will scratch their eyes.

Anything that irritates the eyelids can cause Blepharitis or inflammation of the eyelid.

But a clinical evaluation found that the most common cause is: Canine Atopic Dermatitis.

Also known as skin allergies.

The evaluation studied 102 dogs.

And found that Brachycephalic dogs are more prone to inflammation of the eyelid than any other breed.

This refers to breeds with shortened noses and skulls. 

Like the Pug, French Bulldog, and Shi Tzu.

The study also found other causes for Blepharitis:

  • Neoplasia or tumors.
  • Autoimmune disorders.
  • Infectious or parasitic diseases.

Skin allergies can cause a lot of things in your doggo. 

Want to know them all?

Then keep reading till the end.

#3: External Parasites: Fleas, Ticks, or Mites

Dogs Scratch Their Eyes Due To External Parasites

Fleas and ticks are literal bloodsuckers.

Your dog can develop an allergy to flea saliva.

And mites can go crazy on dogs with skin allergies.

Parasites are never good news for dog parents. 

But they will always be there. Lurking.

Waiting for a chance to strike.

But, wait.

Back to the eye-scratching.

What do fleas and ticks do?

It’s established that fleas and ticks activate skin allergies in dogs.

2 symptoms of skin allergy are itchy skin and runny eyes. Your dog is trying to get relief from the discomfort.

What do mites do?

Let me tell you a secret.

Mites are living on your doggo at this very moment!

These are Demodex mites. They live in your dog’s hair strands.

They’re part of your dog’s normal skin flora and fauna.

Demodex mites will not cause any harm. As long as your doggo’s immune system is healthy.

But there’s a second type.

The black sheep of the mite family. The Sarcoptes mite.

It digs into your dog’s skin. And eats the skin material.

Note: This mite is highly contagious.

It transfers from dogs to other dogs (possibly yours?).

And from dogs to people. 

But don’t worry. You’ll just itch a lot.

The mites die after a few days. Because they cannot live on your skin.

But if your dog has Sarcoptes mites they’ll have bad itching.

So intense, the scratching can cause:

  • Wounds.
  • Hair loss.
  • Raw red skin.
  • Thick dark skin.

If you think your dog has been exposed to mites, take them to the vet.

Your vet will confirm the type of mite infestation.

And prescribe the proper medications.

They can also test for secondary skin infections caused by the mites.

#4: Dust in their eyes

Those times when something gets in your eye?

Yeah, that happens to your dog too.

And all they can do is scratch at their poor eye.

Any foreign object can get inside their eyes. Or stuck on their eyelashes.

This includes:

  • Dirt.
  • Hair.
  • Dust.
  • Microstones.

#5: It’s inherited by your doggo

Eye-scratching tendencies can be breed-specific.

Eyelid or eyelash problems in certain dog breeds can cause itching.

Eyelid Entropion

This is a condition where the dog’s eyelid rolls inward.

It causes irritation to the dog’s eye.

Because the eyelashes and hair around the eyelid rub on their eye surface.

Eyelid Ectropion

This is a condition that affects the dog’s lower eyelid.

The eyelids roll outward. It gives the dog droopy eyelids.

The inner tissues of the eye are exposed as the eyelid rolls outward.

It causes dryness and irritation to the inner eye. This is why your dog will scratch at their eyes.

Developmental eyelash abnormalities

Thick eyelashes are admired among humans. 

Not quite so in dogs.

Dogs can develop abnormal eyelashes. This makes your dog uncomfortable so they scratch their eyes.

The first condition is distichiasis.

It’s an abnormal growth of eyelashes in your dog. The eyelashes grow on the edge of the eyelid. 

If the eyelashes are soft, there will be no discomfort.

But in some cases, the eyelashes can irritate and wound your pooch’s eyes. It can result in infection.

The next condition is called ectopic cilia or trichiasis.

It happens when eyelashes grow from under the eyelids. The hair rubs at the eyes and causes irritation.

Which breeds have eyelid problems?

Eyelid problems can happen to any dog.

But some breeds are more likely to get them than others.

It includes brachycephalic breeds. Those with flat heads and short noses.

It also happens in breeds with extra folds of skin. 

And in dogs with heavy muzzles.

#6: Your doggo can’t cry

Sometimes dogs have a faulty immune system that leads the body to destroy their tear glands. 

This prevents tear production. And results in dry eyes. 

The condition is commonly found in older dogs.

It’s painful for your dogs. Because there’s no lubrication for eye movement.

“How can I know my dog has dry eyes?”

Dry eyes can lead to vision loss without proper treatment.

So look out for the signs of dry eyes in your doggo:

  • Cloudy eyes.
  • Red, irritated eyes.
  • Squinting or blinking. 
  • Dull eye appearance.
  • Thick yellow discharge.
  • Pawing or scratching at eyes.

#7: Glaucoma

Glaucoma In Dogs

Glaucoma is a condition that happens in people.

But it’s also present in about 1.7% of dogs in North America. 

And it happens mostly in purebred dogs. 

This condition is the result of fluid build up in the eye.

The eye cannot drain the fluid. And this increases eye pressure to dangerous levels.

There are two types: open-angle glaucoma and closed-angle glaucoma.

Open-angle glaucoma isn’t painful. The vision loss happens slowly over time.

But in closed-angle glaucoma, eye pressure suddenly increases. And results in:

  • Pain.
  • Eye redness.
  • Loss of vision.

Sometimes the pressure is too much that the only option is eye removal surgery.

This was the case of Nayla, a female Siberian Husky. 

One day, she didn’t raise her head. And she kept her eye closed.

The eye had been red for a few days. But her owner thought it was just irritated.

A visit to the vet revealed abnormal eye pressure. 

Which continued even despite the given medication.

And Nayla’s eye had to be surgically removed.

“How do I know if my dog has glaucoma?”

Glaucoma can be treated with surgery or long-term medications.

But most dog parents don’t notice the early signs of glaucoma.

They may bring their dog to the vet already with late-stage glaucoma. 

To prevent that, remember these early signs:

  • Eye enlargement.
  • Red veins in the eyes.
  • Unresponsive or slow pupils.

Warning: If you see these signs in your dog, take them to the vet immediately. Most dogs get late-stage glaucoma because owners think their dog’s eyes will get better with time. But remember that this disease has a high possibility of blindness even when noticed early.

#8: Your dog has pink eye

This isn’t a condition most dog owners would think of. 

But yes, dogs can get pink eye too.

Pink eye or conjunctivitis is the inflammation of the white tissue lining the eyelids. 

With a pink eye, you’ll notice the tissue lining (conjunctiva) has turned red. 

It will also swell up. And even cover the eyeball.

Your dog will also keep blinking. 

And the eye will have discharge. This is either clear or it has pus.

What are the causes of pink eye?

The cause can be bacterial. It will lead to other diseases such as dry eye.

It can be viral. The distemper virus causes pink eye.

Allergies could also cause pink eye.

And irritation from eyelid problems leads to pink eye, too.

#9: Your dog’s eye has an ulcer

The cornea is the transparent covering of the eye. 

Corneal ulcers are wounds that go deeper than the cornea.

According to VCA, the most common cause is trauma.

This can come from:

  • Scratches.
  • Contact with sharp objects.
  • Rubbing eyes against stuff.

The irritation caused by eyelid problems (see #5) can develop into eye ulcers.

Eye ulcers are really painful for your dog.

They will keep their eye closed. 

Or rub it with a paw to relieve the pain. 

A recent study reveals that brachycephalic or flat-faced dogs are prone to corneal ulcers.

These breeds have big eyelid openings and bulging eyes. 

Which gives them greater chances of damaging their corneas.

They’re 11 times more prone to eye ulcers than non-brachycephalic breeds.

3 tips on what to do when your dog has itchy eyes

Dog scratching, biting, or licking at any body part means something is causing pain or discomfort.

If your dog has itchy eyes, there is likely something wrong with their eyes.

Warning: Do not attempt to treat your dog’s itchy eyes without proper examination by your vet. Doing that can result in more irritation and even infections. 

#1: Take a look at your dog’s eyes

Follow these steps to examine your doggo’s eyes:

  1. Hold your dog’s head with both hands.
  2. One thumb on the upper eyelid, one on the lower eyelid.
  3. Pull the upper eyelid up with your thumb to examine parts of the upper eyelid.
  4. Pull the lower eyelid down with your thumb to examine parts of the lower eyelid.
  5. Go see your vet if you see any abnormalities such as:
  • Red conjunctiva.
  • Enlarged eye veins.
  • Yellow or green discharge.

Watch the video below and discover more details on how to examine dog eyes. Plus, how to have a calm pooch during the examination.

#2: Prevent your doggo from scratching their eyes

Your dog’s eyes are already irritated. 

Keep your doggo from doing more damage by putting on protective gears:

  • Visors.
  • Masks.
  • Goggles.
  • Soft e-collars.
  • Inflatable neck rings.
  • Hard plastic e-collars.
  • Protective neck collars.

Keep one of these on hand for those eye-scratching sessions.

This will prevent your dog from causing even more trauma to their eyes.

Reading recommendation: 9 Dangers When Leaving Your Dog Along With A Cone On + Tips

#3: Take note of what your dog has come in contact with

Eye-scratching can happen as a result of allergies to chemicals, dust, pollen, food, etc. 

Make a list containing your dog’s:

  • Medications.
  • Food ingredients.
  • Shampoo or perfume.
  • Favorite places to visit.
  • Signs leading to eye-scratching.

Take this list to your vet. This will help narrow down causes.

It also helps your vet in choosing the right medicines for your doggo.