Can dogs get pink eye from humans? The short answer is yes, they can.
If you’ve ever had pink eye, you know how uncomfortable it is.
Your eyes itch and burn from the grittiness that feels like sand in your eye. You know it’s contagious because everybody tells you it is.
There’s actually some stigma around having pink eye, and you’ve ever had it, you know what I’m talking about. The redness, swelling, and discharge is unsightly, and people just don’t want to be around anyone with pink eye.
Your dog, of course, is the most loyal friend you could ever have.
They don’t care what illness or infection you may have. All they want is to show you their unconditional love. They lick your face, snuggle with you, and sometimes put things in their mouths that they shouldn’t.
If you, as an infected person, touch your eye and then touch a surface or object that the dog comes into contact with, the dog can also become infected with pink eye. However, if your dog has pink eye first, it’s unlikely that you will catch it from him or her.
What is Pink Eye in Dogs?
Pink eye in dogs is the same type of infection that affects humans.
It’s actually a common condition that your furry friend can contract any number of ways. We get into all of the causes of pink eye in dogs a little further into this post.
The clinical term for pink eye is “conjunctivitis”, an infection characterized by itch and inflammation. Specifically, it’s an infection of the conjunctiva which is the tissue that coasts the eye and the lining of the eye lids.
How Pink Eye Affects a Dog’s Eyes
Pink eye is an uncomfortable eye condition that affects all three layers of a dog’s eyelids. Like people, dogs have an upper and lower eyelid on each eye. In addition to the eyelids, dogs also have a third eyelid known as the nictitating membrane.
The nictitating membrane is a thin, translucent membrane of “haw” located in the inner corner of the eye. If you look closely when your dog blinks, you may notice the membrane as it moved across the surface of the eye.
When conjunctivitis affects a dog’s third eyelid the mucus membranes swell and get very itchy. They may even turn bright red in color. You don’t have to be a veterinarian to see how uncomfortable your furry friend is. However, you should go see a veterinarian if this happens to your dog.
Types of Conjunctivitis in Dogs
Pink eye is an infection of the conjunctiva that can have any number of causes. At the end of the day, you should bring your dog to the veterinarian at any sign of an eye infection. Without treatment, eye infections can cause permanent damage to your dog’s vision.
The three main types of canine conjunctivitis are:
Viral conjunctivitis is caused by a viral infection spread through contact with an infected dog’s eye discharge, saliva, or nasal secretions. Viruses that can cause this condition include:
- Canine adenovirus
- Canine distemper
- Canine herpesvirus
Symptoms of viral conjunctivitis include:
- Excessive blinking
- Pawing or rubbing the eye
- Light sensitivity
- Watery or clear discharge from the eye
- Swollen lymph nodes near the eye or neck
Dogs with an eye injury are vulnerable to bacterial infections. The symptoms of bacterial conjunctivitis are similar to the symptoms of viral conjunctivitis noted above with the addition of yellow or green discharge.
Discharge is usually seen in the eyes. However, if the infection has reached the nasal passages, a dog may also have nasal discharge.
Streptococcus and Staphylococcus bacteria can cause purulent conjunctivitis which is associated with thick pus secretions. It can cause a crust to form on the dog’s eyelids.
Foreign objects can easily get into a dog’s eye and lead to bacterial eye infections. Things like grass (plants), dirt, sand, and dust particles can become lodged in the cornea. Unfortunately, you may not notice there’s a problem until your dog starts pawing at the eye or you notice redness and discharge.
Any dog can develop allergic conjunctivitis.
Dogs predisposed to atopic dermatitis may be at higher risk of developing allergic conjunctivitis. Unfortunately, some dogs will have an allergic reaction to otherwise harmless substances like dust and pollen, leaving them vulnerable to eye irritations.
Clinical signs of allergic conjunctivitis are very similar to the symptoms of viral conjunctivitis noted above. This type of non-infectious conjunctivitis can’t be passed on to other dogs or people.
Puppies are more commonly affected with follicular conjunctivitis. It occurs when small, raised bumps or follicles develop on the conjunctiva. It’s typically caused by a viral infection in puppies under six months of age.
Symptoms of follicular conjunctivitis include:
- Red eye
- Small, raised bumps on the conjunctiva.
- Coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge (in some cases)
This form affects the eyelids of infant puppies before or after their eyelids separate. This happens when the puppy is only 10 to 14 days old. If bacteria get behind the eyelid during or shortly after birth, it can cause a serious infection requiring urgent veterinary treatment.
If left untreated, neonatal conjunctivitis can cause corneal damage and blindness.
This one is rare in North America. That said, “eyeworms” can develop if the bot fly larvae (parasitic worm) inhabit the conjunctival sac between the eye and the eyelid. They’re known as eyeworms and are transmitted to dogs by insects.
Symptoms of parasitic conjunctivitis include:
- Keratitis (inflammation of the cornea)
- Corneal ulcer
What Causes Pink Eye in Dogs?
There are a number of different causes of pink eye in dogs. As noted above in the types of canine conjunctivitis, dogs can develop the infection due to allergies, bacteria, viruses, issues with the immune system, eye injury, or even cancer.
The most common causes of pink eye in dogs include:
- Bacterial infections
- Foreign objects
- Underlying health conditions including dry eye, eyelid abnormalities, or autoimmune diseases.
The clinical signs of conjunctivitis are very similar regardless of the cause. It’s important to have a veterinarian exam your dog in order to get an accurate diagnosis.
The treatment plan will depend on the underlying cause of the infection.
Diagnosing Pink Eye in Dogs
The diagnosis of pink eye in dogs typically involves a physical examination of the eye and surrounding tissues. The veterinarian will look for signs of inflammation, discharge, redness, or any other abnormalities of the eye.
Conjunctivitis can be caused by a secondary condition, like a respiratory tract infection. In that case, both conditions would be diagnosed and treated.
In severe cases of conjunctivitis, a veterinary ophthalmologist may be involved.
This test is typically performed by a veterinarian or veterinary technician. It involves taking a sample of discharge or fluid from the eye and sending it to a laboratory. The lab uses a culture medium that will encourage the growth of any bacteria present.
Schirmer Tear Test
Diagnostic tests like the Schirmer Tear Test enable the veterinarian to measure tear production. This can help diagnose underlying conditions such as dry eye, corneal ulcers, or other injuries to the eye.
In some cases, if the veterinarian suspects allergic conjunctivitis, allergy testing may be recommended to get to the source of the problem. It’s often difficult, however, to determine the exact cause of allergies in dogs.
Treatment of Pink Eye in Dogs
The treatment plan for pink eye depends on the underlying cause. That said, the most common treatments include:
There are several types of anti-inflammatory medications used in dogs with conjunctivitis. The type of medication used depends on the underlying cause and severity of the infection.
These medications may be given orally, injected, or applied topically. They include:
- NSAIDS or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs including carprofen, meloxicam, or firocoxib, for example.
- Topical steroids like prednisone or dexamethasone. These steroid eye drops can help reduce inflammation and symptoms of pink eye.
- Antibiotic eye drops are often used in conjunction with topical steroids in the case of bacterial conjunctivitis.
- Cyclosporin is a topical (eyedrops) immunosuppressant used to prevent the immune system from attacking the body’s own tissues. Cyclosporine would be used to treat chronic or allergic conjunctivitis in dogs.
- Tacrolimus is another type of eye drop used to treat chronic or allergic conjunctivitis in dogs.
Home Remedies for Pink Eye in Dogs
While there are some things you can do to help relieve the irritation in your dog’s eyes, it’s always best to seek the advice of a licensed veterinarian. Untreated conjunctivitis can leave your dog with permanent eye injury or vision loss.
Conjunctivitis needs to be diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian because it will not clear up on its own. That said, mild eye discomfort in dogs can be treated at home as long as a veterinarian has eliminated the possibility of an infection.
Home remedies won’t address any underlying medical issue.
There are many types of artificial tears on the market that are safe for dogs. According to South Texas Veterinary Ophthalmology, some of the best brands include Genteal Gel, Refresh Tears, and Tears Naturale.
My veterinarian suggested Systane Original to help flush debris from my dog’s eyes (not to treat conjunctivitis).
Small Door Veterinary has a great article with instructions on how to apply prescribed eye drops at home.
Be very careful if using any kind of compress on your dog’s eyelids. If your dog has any dirt, sand, or even dust in the eye pushing on it with a compress can cause further injury.
Gently apply a damp, warm cloth over your dog’s eyes. This should provide soothing relief for irritated eyes. Make sure the cloth is clean before use, don’t press on your dog’s eyelids, and remember to wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
Remember, untreated conjunctivitis can lead to permanent vision problems.
Complications of Untreated Pink Eye in Dogs
If left untreated, conjunctivitis can lead to a number of potential complications including:
- Corneal ulcers
- Secondary infections that can be more difficult to treat than the initial conjunctivitis.
- Spread of infection
- Vision problems or vision loss in severe cases
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The answer to whether a dog can get pink eye from a human is yes. In order for that to happen, the dog has to come in direct contact with discharge or mucus.
Early detection of conjunctivitis is important to prevent damage to the eye and to prevent transmission to other people or animals.
Once diagnosed, the treatment options chosen will depend on the cause of the infection. Underlying medical conditions in your canine companion can also affect the treatment plan. The good news is that most dogs will make a full recovery with appropriate treatment.
f you notice any signs of redness, inflammation, or discharge coming from one or both of your dog’s eyes, please see a veterinarian before it gets worse. Your dog’s vision is vital to his or her quality of life.
Conjunctivitis in Dogs. (2022, November 20). WebMD. Retrieved February 20, 2023, from https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/conjunctivitis-dogs
Conjunctivitis in Dogs (Pink Eye) | PetMD. (n.d.). Conjunctivitis in Dogs (Pink Eye) | PetMD. Retrieved February 20, 2023, from https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/eyes/c_dg_conjunctivitis
Conjunctivitis in Dogs | VCA Animal Hospital. (n.d.). Vca. Retrieved February 20, 2023, from https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/conjunctivitis-in-dogs
Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye) in Dogs. (n.d.). Small Door Veterinary. Retrieved February 20, 2023, from https://www.smalldoorvet.com/learning-center/medical/pink-eye-in-dogs/