Almost all dogs will develop eye discharge at some point in their lives. Sometimes this eye discharge is completely normal while other times it is an indication of a problem. If eye boogers are a result of a problem, ignoring them can lead to bigger eye issues. Because of this, knowing how to differentiate between problematic eye boogers and normal eye debris is a helpful skill for any dog owner to develop.
What Are Eye Boogers?
Eye boogers can be clear, white, yellow, red, dark brown, or black in color and can build up in the corners of your dog's eyes. Sometimes they only appear after your dog has been sleeping, much like people can wake up with sleep crust or eye goop in the morning, while other times they continually build up throughout the day. Eye boogers are primarily a mixture of mucous, tears, and skin cells and are technically referred to as rheum. They can be normal in small amounts but large amounts of eye boogers can be an indication of a problem.
Causes of Eye Boogers in Dogs
There are several reasons why a dog may develop eye boogers. Some causes of eye boogers are completely normal while others require veterinary attention.
Normal Eye Discharge
Rheum, the gooey material that can be found in the corners of your dog's eyes, is completely normal if it is clear or slightly red or brown and seen in small amounts. Porphyrin, a pigment in the tears, can make the eye boogers appear red or brown in color. This is not to be confused with blood, which is of course not normal.
The pink, fleshy part around the eye is called the conjunctiva and if this becomes inflamed, it can cause excessive eye discharge and therefore produce eye boogers. Conjunctivitis requires eye medications to treat and make the eye boogers go away.
Blocked Tear Ducts
Tear ducts are the tiny pathways through which tears leave the eyes. If these little tubes become blocked, exceessive eye boogers can result. Congenital defects as well as inflammation, tumors, foreign debris, and infections in the tear ducts can all cause blockages. Blocked tear ducts usually require veterinary attention so that they can be flushed out.
Sometimes dogs will have watery eyes due to irritations from allergies, irritants in the air, or because something got into their eye, like hair or debris. This excessive tearing can mix with mucous in the eye, skin cells, dust, and other things to form eye boogers.
An increase in normal eye pressure is painful and can cause excessive eye discharge that can look like pus. Glaucoma requires immediate veterinary attention due to the pain it causes and the serious eye issues that can result from not being treated.
Some dogs are born with malformations of their heads and eyes that can result in eye boogers. If these abnormalities cause more serious issues, like corneal ulcers, they may need surgical intervention. The eye boogers should go away if the abnormality associated with the eyes is corrected.
Trauma to the eye including corneal ulcers can result in eye boogers. Eye injuries can result from something in the house poking or rubbing the eye, being hit by a car, or simply from hair irritating the cornea. All eye injuries require veterinary attention.
Occasionally, a growth or tumor can be present in or around the eye that prevents the tears from properly draining. This can contribute to build-up of debris and result in eye boogers.
If your dog is unable to produce enough tears to lubricate its eyes, debris may accumulate because of your dog's dry eyes. A thick discharge may be seen around the eyes if your dog has this problem.
If your dog has problematic eye boogers, various eye ointments and drops may be needed to treat inflammation, infection, high eye pressures, and wounds. Tear ducts may need to be flushed if they are blocked but occasionally surgery may be needed. Eyelids that abnormally roll into the eyes may need to be surgically corrected; growths may need to be removed; corneal ulcers may require surgical treatment; and, on rare occasions, an eye may need to be removed if it is severely injured or painful. If problematic eye boogers are allowed to build-up on your dog's face, they can irritate the skin and cause infections, so they should always be gently wiped away before they get to this point.
How to Prevent Eye Boogers
If you are concerned about your dog getting eye boogers, be sure they get their eyes checked out by their veterinarian on a regular basis. This can help catch any potential problem before eye boogers result. You can also gently wipe your dog's face and eyes with a wet cloth or baby wipe to keep them clean and have any long hair trimmed away from their eyes. Additionally, if your dog has allergies, ask your veterinarian about administering an antihistamine to prevent excessive eye watering that can lead to eye boogers. Finally, if you see your dog pawing at its face or rubbing it on the floor, get it checked out by your veterinarian to ensure they don't have a developing eye issue.