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Pain in the Eye: What Pet Parents Need to Know about Their Pet’s Eye Pain

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Our pets are just like us when they experience eye discomfort. Eye pain can affect one or both eyes and frequently results in squinting, tearing, and redness. While eye pain is typically not life-threatening, it can be vision-threatening and very uncomfortable for our pets. This is why it’s important for pet parents to recognize signs of eye pain in pets, beware of potential causes, and know when to seek veterinary care.

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Understanding Eye Pain 

Eye pain can refer to pain in almost any part of your pet’s eye(s), including: 

  • Eyelid
  • Conjunctiva (Membrane protecting the eye)
  • Sclera (White of the eye)
  • Cornea (Clear outer eye surface)
  • Inside of the eye
  • Eye socket 

Signs of Pain  

People with eye pain often describe their pain symptoms as a dull throbbing or pressure, a stabbing or shooting pain in the eye, or a burning sensation. Our pets will display similar symptoms, such as: 

  • Holding their eye(s) closed / squinting 
  • Tears or other ocular discharge
  • Redness
  • Note: Rubbing is often absent unless the pet feels the sensation of something stuck on the eye surface, such as a hair or other foreign material.  

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Possible Causes of Your Pet’s Eye Pain 

Eye pain is often more serious than simple irritation and may signal a more serious problem. Mild eye pain may occur from a small piece of foreign material such as an eyelash or dirt. The discomfort is typically short-lived, often going away after 5-10 minutes. However, pets may also experience long-lasting eye pain with additional symptoms, which can also be a sign of an underlying health problem or injury.  

Common causes of eye pain in pets include: 

  • Trauma 
    • Eye pain due to injury can happen to any pet. Common traumatic causes include sharp trauma from a claw or foreign material such as a stick or a thorn. Blunt force trauma, such as your pet getting hit in the eye with a ball, can also inflict damage or cause pain. 
  • Infections
    • Your pet can acquire viruses, bacteria, or fungi from other pets or the environment. Infections can also spread from other areas of the body to the eyes.  
  • Allergies 
    • If your pet is allergic to pollen, dust, or other allergens, the eyes can become irritated, itchy, and even painful. In this case, your veterinarian may recommend consulting with a board-certified veterinary dermatologist to help manage your pet’s allergies 
  • Toxins 
    • Your pet’s eyes can become irritated from exposure to smoke, air pollutants, chlorine, soaps, and other hazardous chemicals.  
  • Inflammation 
    • Inflammation caused by the immune system response can lead to swelling or color changes in the eye. The white part of the eye can turn red, and your pet may experience light sensitivity.  
  • Increased Eye Pressure 
    • When fluid inside of the eye cannot properly drain, the pressure within the eye increases. This is commonly known as glaucoma, and can result in vision loss, pain, and redness. 

Seeking Veterinary Care 

Unfortunately, the causes of eye pain are too broad to offer a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, the best advice is to always have your pet evaluated quickly when symptoms of eye pain are noted to prevent damage and begin your pet’s recovery. You can schedule an appointment with your family veterinarian, a local animal urgent care, or a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist.  

To narrow down possible causes, the veterinarian will often start by asking about your pet’s medical history and symptoms. Routine questions will include: 

  • When did the symptoms begin?
  • Was there a known trauma?
  • Does your pet have any other medical conditions?
  • Are you using any medications?  

A major part of your pet’s eye exam is determining the origin of your pet’s eye pain.  A veterinary ophthalmologist will be able to perform a complete eye exam with microscopes and other equipment to thoroughly examine your pet’s eye. Multiple diagnostic tests are also utilized such as tonometry to evaluate eye pressure, fluorescein stain to view corneal ulcers, and the Schirmer tear test to check for a condition called dry eye.  

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We hope this list gives pet parents a better idea of which symptoms of eye pain to watch for and when to seek veterinary care. When in doubt about whether or not your pet needs immediate care, contact your family veterinarian, local animal urgent care, or local animal emergency care for guidance.  

More Reading: 

Andrew Rogen, DVM, DACVO, board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist, Twin Cities veterinary ophthalmology, Minnesota veterinary ophthalmology, Saint Paul veterinary ophthalmology, Oakdale veterinary ophthalmology, Minnesota board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist, Midwest board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist, Twin Cities board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist, Saint Paul board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist, Minneapolis board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist, AERC Ophthalmology Service, pet Ophthalmology, veterinary Ophthalmology, Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota

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