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Dog Eye Care

 Reviewed 17 June 2018 share-a-picture Or go to discussion?join-the-discussion dogphoto

==> "Dogs don't rely on their eyes, they use their nose"
What a nonsense! Have you seen how insecure and scared a dog without vision is?

Let's get some things straight here, shall we?

Dog Eye Care

composition of dog eye

The terms that I feel you need to know I have highlighted in red.

As you can see in this tailored image:

  • a dog's eye has three eyelids, not two (the third is at the lower inside of the eye, near the nasal cavity)
  • a dog's eye has two lacrimal (tear-producing) glands, not one
  • one is behind the upper eyelid, the other one is in the third eyelid (which is called nictitating membrane)
  • most dog eye problems result from issues with:
    • the conjunctiva (a thin membrane that covers the back of the eyelids and the surface of the eyeball, up to the cornea)
    • the cornea
    • the third eyelid
    • and the lacrimal glands
  • Next come issues with the retina

The most common dog eye problem is Conjunctivitis in dogs. Conjunctivitis treatment we have discussed in the MyGermanShepherd Health Manual in chapter 10: Dog Eye Infection. Many eye infections are inflicted by bacteria that feed on excess mucus around the eyes.

In this Periodical:

  • Common Myths Demystified
  • How Dogs See - And What Dogs See?
  • Dog Eye Problems, Prevention, Symptoms, and Treatment
  • How to Care for your dog's eyes well


Common Myths Demystified

"Dogs don't see well"?

Oh, really? Then how could dogs, and particularly German Shepherds, possibly engage so well in high performance and largely visually orientated activities, such as guiding the blind, police work, schutzhund courses, agility training etc?

Superb Canine VisionYes, a lot of these activities rely to a large extent on the excellent hearing and smell of our canine friends, but a significant portion relies on canine vision.

And our dogs' performance in many activities would simply not be possible without - yes - a surprisingly accurate and excellent eyesight.

Examples? Sure:

German Shepherd fetching ballJumping at top speed through a raised loop, catching a high-speed flying frisbee - or better a floppy disc - or chuck-it ball mid-air, whether against recognizable surroundings/objects like on this photo here or whether without this, namely above the mist of salty water when we throw say a floppy disc from the beach out into the sea ... (!) - all of these and many more activities rely to the largest part on canine vision.

Now, I am not sure if it was an eye test that these dogs passed that allowed them these activities:

German Shepherd driving

German Shepherd flying

German Shepherd gardening

So, let's put common wisdom to one side and have it overtaken by common sense:

Dogs do see much better than most people believe (particularly those who don't have a dog), and certainly better than some 'dog experts' want to accept, or want to admit.

"Dogs are color-blind"?

This isn't true either. While we humans see any color around us as a mix of red, green, and blue (being the three types of color-sensitive cells in the retina of our eye), canines see any color around them as a mix of yellow and blue (being the two types of color-sensitive cells in the retina in the canine eye).

András Péter has put together a cool website that visibly demonstrates what dogs see:

Here is what's relevant in terms of dogs' ability to see and distinguish colors:

Canine Vision -v- Human Vision

Once I am able to do it, I plan to "put some meat" to this topic (and so many others...!) and will undertake some live tests with different dogs to determine what dogs actually see (the ideas for suitable tests I have, just can't execute them at the moment).

By the way, German Shepherds (like Rottweilers) are predisposed to myopia - most GSDs are nearsighted/shortsighted: close objects are in focus but distant objects are out of focus.

"Dogs don't need their eyes, they use their ears and nose instead"?

No, dogs use their hearing and olfactory sense in addition to their vision - as long as they can see.

Dogs do need their eyes just like we do. But, just like ourselves too, when their eyesight deteriorates or vanishes they are able to substitute it to a large degree with an increased sensitivity of their other senses (because their brain is highly developed - most other animals cannot substitute a sense lost).

Since this sensory substitution is learned, it is so important that we notice it as early as possible when our dog's vision is impaired, so that we can help the dog to adapt physically and psychologically.

Physically because it is proven that nerve cells do re-organize to better cope with an impairment (the younger the dog the better), and psychologically because any sensory impairment creates stress, and stress is very bad for dogs - both health-wise and behavior-wise (it leads to a whole array of illnesses, and to aggression).

Just how much dogs need their eyes we can easily observe when we watch a blind dog:

Some of them will navigate well through their living environment as long as furniture placement remains constant (simply because they memorize it, not because they smell or even hear the furniture...), other dogs will not navigate well at all.

And we can observe that all blind dogs:

  • step high
  • start walking with care
  • bond closer with their owner/handler to rely on their guidance
  • can still walk up a staircase, but don't walk down a staircase
  • and overall show clear signs of caution if not fear

In short, dogs really need their vision to feel confident and happy, and that's why it's so important that we take good care of our dog's eyes!

How Dogs See - And What Dogs See?

Canine vision is a fascinating topic. I used András Péter's great site and I uploaded two photos of dog owners - like it could be you or me.

This is the outcome:

How we see us How our dog sees us (apparently)
human view of female dog owner canine view of female dog owner
human view of male dog owner canine view of male dog owner

I don't know how you feel, but I feel that this 'cannot' be true (though I probably just wish that it isn't true).

Why might my (and your?) feeling be more than a wish?

Well, if this is what our dogs see then I am all the more astonished and impressed of what dogs can achieve with that kind of vision!

dog climbing a ladderYou know, it's not just German Shepherds that can climb ladders, or catch a frisbee or ball mid-air, or see a small spider or insect crawling nearby (our dog does!).

On the other hand, I have to admit that I was sometimes wondering about dogs' vision, like when we had to feverishly wave our arms on a wide open field before our dog saw us and came running.

When you see a dog looking around, almost in despair, trying to detect where its owner is - then yes, it convinces me that Miller and Murphy have come up with results that fit.

Miller and Murphy?

What dogs see and How well dogs see was concisely summarized by Miller and Murphy in their 1995 groundbreaking article "Vision in dogs" - which was actually the basis for what András Péter programmed on the website already linked earlier:

  • "Compared with the visual system in human beings, the canine visual system could be considered inferior in such aspects as degree of binocular overlap, color perception, accommodative range, and visual acuity."
  • "However, in other aspects of vision, such as ability to function in dim light, rapidity with which the retina can respond to another image (flicker fusion), field of view, ability to differentiate shades of gray, and perhaps, ability to detect motion, the canine visual system probably surpasses the human visual system."

And I would add this: What dog vision is missing in terms of vibrant colors (which make our own life so colorful, literally), dogs are certainly overcompensating with a much more vibrant sense of smell and sense of hearing - which probably makes our dog's life just as colorful as our human vision makes ours.

By the way, look how fascinating our human brain works: Writing the paragraph above, my mind just reminded me of that brilliant murder story featuring human sense of smell - Patrick Suskind's novel Perfume. There is no reason to assume that the dog brain doesn't have similar flashes! This may help to appreciate when a dog suddenly seems to behave 'weird'.

Dog Eye Problems, Prevention, Symptoms, and Treatment

I had a look at what I wrote in the My German Shepherd Health Manual, and I fear I couldn't improve on that now, so I'll better link the two relevant chapters here and I suggest you check them out:

Both these chapters are not published on the website (so that content scrapers can't find everything here, ha!), hence please see directly in the Health Manual itself - which you received for FREE upon your FREE subscription to the MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL (too much FREE here, indeed). I will summarize some key points here though, see the Checklist at the end.

How to Care for your dog’s eyes well

Apart from hereditary, drug-mediated and immune-mediated dog eye problems, the most common causes of canine eye problems are irritants in the eye - like dust, pollen, insects, and other foreign bodies.

At particular risk are dogs that face head wind on pickup trucks or when leaning out of the car window (which you must never allow, see our Dog Traveling Periodical). Vets regularly have to try to save the eyesight of dogs that got hurt this way!


1) Aim to avoid that your dog can get irritants in the eyes (see above).

2) Prevent dog fights (when you see a leash-pulling or forward-leaping dog, pass the dog at the largest distance possible).

dog with doggles3) When your dog is roaming bushland or the woods, or is exposed to bright sunlight(!), do consider getting some quality doggles for your dog.

It doesn't seem to bother them after the first few trials. Indeed, some dogs seem to love them! But most importantly: They help prevent canine eye problems in problematic environment.

4) When you bathe or shower your dog with a quality dog shampoo, make sure that none gets into the eyes.

5) Serve your German Shepherd the right diet - ideally healthy homemade, not that industrial kibble crap. Instead include a carrot a day and a variety of other vegetables (vitamin A is great for the eyesight of dogs too!).

Notice problems early

As always, it is easiest to notice a problem with your dog if you know what the 'normal' looks, behavior, and feel to the touch is.

That's why we always recommend that you do a brief health check of your dog every day. This doesn't even necessarily have to be the same body part (you can rotate your checks), so it really requires no more than 5 to 10 seconds!

Here are the symptoms indicative of dog eye problems:

  • excessive blinking of one or both of your dog's eyes
  • excessive squinting
  • pawing at the eye
  • visible red inflammation
  • sunken eyes (usually both)
  • protruding eye (usually one)
  • protruding third eyelid (nictitating membrane)
  • excessive tearing
  • eyes appear dull or cloudy
  • discharge from one or both eyes
  • increased tenderness to the touch of the eyelid when eye is closed
  • sensitivity to light
  • dog behavior indicating pain - note that eye problems other than Conjunctivitis are very painful to dogs!

What to do when prevention comes too late

Most importantly:

When your dog's behavior indicates that its eye(s) are painful, do visit the vet straight away!

The canine body has developed an intense pain stimulus around the dog's eyes that is indicative of a severe problem: Some dog eye problems lead to blindness within 60 to 120 minutes!

Further, the appearance of the discharge can help to determine the cause of the ailment:

  • A clear discharge with no other signs suggests a problem with the tearing mechanism (lacrimal glands, see the image at the top).
  • A thick green or yellow (mucoid) discharge usually indicates an eye infection (or a foreign body).
  • A painless discharge accompanied by redness is typical for Conjunctivitis.
  • Any form of discharge accompanied by signs of pain alerts you of the possibility of a corneal or inner eye problem - and here time is of the essence, visit the vet!


  • Never start a DIY session on your dog's eyes using tools (like cotton-tipped swab, forceps, etc)! This is part of eye treatment, not eye care. Any use of tools on the dog's eyes must be left to the vet!
  • The only DIY eye treatment you may do without harm to the dog's eyes (IF you know how to do it!) is to administer an approved canine eye solution, like the ones shown in the MyGermanShepherd Health Manual:

Note that despite all vet's blanket prescriptions of antibiotics, antibiotics are never needed and never suitable for dog eye problems (unless the inner eye is affected)!

Make sure you read the Introductory Notes to the MyGermanShepherd Health Manual 100 times to fully understand why ordinary vets love to prescribe antibiotics for anything and everything you let them, and why almost always a natural (biotic = life-enhancing!) remedy is both more effective and more suitable - because it has no long-term chronic side effects, like anti-biotics always have!

Similarly, note that eye medications containing corticosteroids should not be used, because they impair the local inflammatory response that fights infection.

Giving eye dropsEye drops are to be dropped(!) directly onto the eyeball: To hold your hand steady and not to touch the eye when your dog winces(!), rest your hand on your dog's head (the dropper will follow the movement of your dog's head). Approach the eye from above, like you see in the image here.


Ointments are to be slowly squeezed into the space behind the lower eyelid (without touching it!). Then gently close the eyelids and gently massage a bit to spread the ointment over the entire eyeball.

Giving eye ointmentAgain, rest your hand on your dog's head, but here in addition rest the applicator against the bone at the top of your dog's eye, and entirely vertically towards it (like you see in the image here).

This is important, because here the applicator will be reaching all across the dog's eye (to reach the cavity behind the lower eyelid), so if your dog jerks back this ensures that the tip of the applicator won't hurt your dog's eye!

If you don't feel confident and skilled, don't do it. Have someone else do it, or visit the vet.


  • In case your GSD does get a scratch or lesion near the eyes, if safe clean the area immediately with Vetericyn Eye Wash, else visit the vet straight away!
  • Consider a possible impact of your dog's diet - many dog eye allergies are immune-mediated, and many immune-mediated allergies are actually food allergies.
  • Tear stains are very rare for GSDs (only some long/plush hair ones seem to be affected), and this is a cosmetic issue only (although the cause is likely to be an issue with the lacrimal glands). In such case, the best tear stain remover is this one.

When you've finished your delicate eye care work on your GSD, don't forget to praise your dog for all the patience! smile



  • The anatomy of the dog eye is different to the anatomy of the human eye
  • We have demystified three common myths:
    • "Dogs don't see well"
    • "Dogs are color-blind"
    • "Dogs don’t need their eyes, they use their ears and smell instead"
  • We have seen that the eyes are a crucial sense for dogs!
  • The best preventative eye care is to physically protect your dog's eyes: Hence, for problematic environment, consider to get some quality doggles for your dog
  • We have seen 'live' what dogs see and how much they see smile
  • The list of symptoms indicative of dog eye problems is too long to repeat here
  • The most common dog eye problems are caused by:
  • Finally:
    • You know when to visit the vet, and why this may be very urgent!
    • You know what prescriptions to expect from the ordinary vet, what eye solutions to use instead, and why!
    • You have seen the only kinds of DIY dog eye treatment that we may do ourselves, and how we have to do it
  • Make sure you revisit chapter 10 and 21 in the MYGERMANSHEPHERD Health Manual

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