Causes Of Eye Discharge In Puppies

Updated November 28, 2020

If you look up the causes of eye discharge in dogs, there’s almost always one missing. That wouldn’t be such a problem if what’s missing wasn’t also the most common cause in puppies.

Of course, puppies can and do get more than one sort of eye problem. I’ve put a list at the end of all the common causes of eye discharge in dogs. Feel free to take a look and then come back.

Now let’s get to that puppy problem.

The Other Eye Discharge In Puppies

Sleep, goop, crust, booger. Just some of the delightful names we give to what you can see arrowed in this Cavoodle. It’s something that new puppy owners ask me about regularly.

What you are looking at is a hard, dry, brown accumulation below the inside corner of the eye. It builds up on a daily basis in many haired breeds but especially:

  • Cavoodle, Spoodle, Schnoodle, Labradoodle
  • Any Poodle or its cross
  • Lagotto, Spanish Water Dog
  • Maltese, Shi Tzu, Lhasa Apso
  • Yorkshire Terrier

I could keep going, but you get the idea. All of these breeds share two features:

  1. An upright face and a high forehead
  2. Hair under the eye

The concept is simple: the shape of their face causes some tears to spill over the lower eyelid and end up trapped in the hair. These dry out and pick up dust, creating the classic ‘sleep’. If that’s the case, all you have to do here is pick it off each day, and get your groomer to keep the hair short.

Importantly, there’s minimal wetness, both eyes look exactly the same and the eye is not red or sore. Therefore, probably the most important question you could be asking right now is: “how do I know when an eye is painful?”

Signs Of Eye Pain In Dogs

In addition to having an ocular discharge, a dog with a painful eye will either:

  • Slightly close the eye
  • Blink frequently
  • Paw or rub at the eye
  • Be quieter than usual

None of these should be happening with the examples above or below.

Eye Discharge In Pugs & Bulldogs

bulldog facial folds

A similar thing occurs in the short-faced breeds. Tears also tend to spill over their eyelids, in fact usually even more. This time, there’s no hair to trap them, but something even worse: a skin fold.

Although almost normal for some individuals, constant wetness on the face can cause skin fold infections. Therefore, many Pugs and French Bulldogs are better off with a thin smear of barrier ointment in the fold each day.

If infections keep happening, these dogs often do best with a bit of minor surgery to reduce or remove the offending fold.

White Dog Tear Staining

Then if any of these breeds are light coloured, you also get what we can see in the picture at the start: tear staining. This probably bothers owners more than anything else. I only have one piece of advice for you: join me in not seeing it!

Owners of such dogs need to learn to normalise the appearance, or it drives them crazy. Sometimes it even pushes them into doing silly things like using harmful or unnecessary cleaners, or useless dietary supplements. The only thing I suggest is keeping the hair short.

The way I see it, some breeds just have tear streaks. As long as the skin underneath is healthy, it’s only a cosmetic issue. And it’s so normal to me that I seriously don’t see it until an owner points it out.

Is It A Blocked Tear Duct?

To finish, it’s time to tackle a common misconception. Almost none of these dogs have blocked tear ducts.

I get asked occasionally to flush the tear ducts, mostly based on a Google search. I’ll do it, but the ducts usually work just fine. It’s the shape of the face that’s the issue.

Note I said issue, not problem!

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here.

Causes Of Ocular Discharge In Dogs

Descriptions (and pictures!) for all of these can be found in our page on eye problems. Tip: turn your phone sideways to see it better.

ProblemDischargeOne/Both EyesPainful?Serious?
InfectionGreen, yellowOne then bothMildlyRarely
Foreign bodyClear to thickOneYesYes
Corneal ulcerClearOneYesYes
Dry eyeThick yellowOne or bothYesYes
EntropionClearOne or bothYesYes

5 Replies to “Causes Of Eye Discharge In Puppies”

  1. How to you gently remove these Christie’s? We have a 10 wk old Lagotto and he has these and they don’t seem to want to come off.

    1. Hi Ashley. The best way is to get the groomers to keep the hair short. To remove them yourself you usually have to soak them first in 0.9% saline to soften them. If you try and pull them off when they are dry it will hurt.

  2. Thank you ,again. I join you in not trying to make an animal ‘ cosmetically perfect’.

    1. As a dog groomer I have noticed that dogs eating raw food diets do not have non-medical eye stains where dogs on a kibble diet do. I makes me believe that diet plays a significant role in the cause. I’m not sure if there is less tearing or if it is only the color of the tears that is the difference. Even white and brachycephalic dogs don’t have that goop build up that has to be shaved off the often irritated skin.

      1. No not true!!! Sorry Groomers. I give my puppy raw food, no kibble and still gets eye duct tear distribution. It’s a natural occurrence in all dogs
        BREEDERS COMMENT. “I have noticed that dogs eating raw food diets do not have non-medical eye stains where dogs on a kibble diet do. NO
        DONOT use eyes wipes or eye drops for gods sake no makeup, As these are all harmful substances, incase it gets in eyes will do permanent damage..
        Easiest Remedy use warm wash cloth and wipe away. Same as women/men when using makeup..

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