When your dog is in pain, feeling dizzy, or in distress, it cannot straight up tell you the same. Instead, it will show symptoms in the form of physical, behavioral, and neurological changes. Thus, you need to monitor the dog for unusual changes and take the required action.
One of the several such symptoms is dogs’ eyes rolling back. The sight can understandably be frightening, especially for a new pet owner. You may panic, not knowing what is happening to the dog.
First, you must confirm if the dog’s eyes are actually rolled back. It could just be the third eyelid in an elevated position. Also, if you have a dog that does not close its eyelids all the way while sleeping, you may feel like its eyes are rolled back but know that it is normal.
If you can confirm the dog’s eyes are rolled back, it may need vet care. Several health issues could be responsible for this symptom – for example, seizure, stroke, vestibular diseases, cardiovascular problems, or external injuries.
The article will look at possible causes for dogs eyes rolling back, what you can do in such situations, and treatment options.
How Do You Know the Dog’s Eyes are Rolled Back?
Let us understand the anatomy of a dog’s eye to know what rolled-back eyes actually mean. The eye structure is similar to humans. For example, dogs have upper and lower eyelids; the white of the eye you see is the sclera, then the thin, clear layer in the front is the cornea.
The colored part of the eye is the iris; then, you have the pupil, lens, and retina. Together, these parts help the dog sense light, color, and movements.
Unlike humans, dogs have two additional eye parts – tapetum lucidum and the third eyelid. The tapetum lucidum is placed behind the retina and helps the canine see better at night.
The third eyelid is located in the corner of the eye near the nose and is usually hidden with only a small part visible. It is also called the nictitating membrane. It is whitish in color and helps protect the dog’s eye.
The third eyelid can sometimes be elevated, giving the impression that the dog’s eyes are rolled back. If you feel the dog’s eyes are rolled back, look closely. If the dog’s iris is looking at you, but a whitish-pink layer connected to the inner corner is dominantly visible, it means the third eyelid is showing. If the iris is not looking at you, then the dog’s eyes are actually rolled back.
It is a condition that needs vet care, but the causes are different from the dog’s eyes being rolled back. For example, an elevated third eyelid can result from allergies, infections, abnormal growth, or kidney diseases.
Dogs Eyes Rolling Back: Why it Happens?
With the above information, you can correctly differentiate between an elevated third eyelid and the dog’s eye-rolling back. Now, let us look at the possible causes for rolled back eyes in dogs and treatments available for the same.
A seizure is a result of a dog’s normal brain activity being temporarily disturbed. This disruption can cause involuntary muscle movement depending on what part of the brain is affected. If the dog has repeated episodes of seizures, the condition is known as epilepsy.
During a seizure episode, the dog can display an array of symptoms, its eyes rolling back being one of them. Other symptoms can include shaking, drooling, aimless staring, lack of mental awareness, and body function. In severe cases, the dog can fall on its side, paddle its legs, move erratically with its head turned backward, seem paralyzed, or lose complete consciousness.
It is difficult to trace back seizures to one particular cause, but some of the common ones include hereditary disorders, toxins, kidney diseases, and abnormal growth in the brain.
Your dog with its eyes rolled back and shaking on the ground can be a scary scene, but you must let the episode finish. Please do not put your hand in its mouth for the fear that the dog will swallow its tongue. Nothing will happen to the dog’s tongue; you will only end up hurting yourself or the dog in the process.
Also, know that your dog will surely be confused, but it will not be in pain. All you need to do is to ensure the dog does not fall down or trip on any nearby objects.
If the dog has more than one seizure in a span of 30 days or has epilepsy, the vet may prescribe medications and anticonvulsants to treat the condition.
The condition occurring in canines is rare, but it is best to seek immediate vet care when it does happen. A dog has a stroke when the blood supply to its brain is disrupted. They are not typically fatal, but the sooner the pet receives vet care better will be its chances of recovery.
Some symptoms a dog experiencing a stroke can show are:
- Unusual eye movement – eyes rolling back into the eyes, darting side to side
- Instability and loss of body control
- Head movements
- Weakness on one side
Strokes can be of two types. Ischemic strokes happen due to obstructed blood vessels, whereas hemorrhagic strokes happen due to ruptured blood vessels.
Several conditions can increase the chances of your dog having a stroke – for example, blood clotting disorders, hypertension, hypothyroidism, and Cushing disease, among others.
The vet will look to stabilize the pet by treating the symptoms displayed. Then the focus is shifted to fixing the underlying health issue. If the health issue is not treated, the dog will be at the risk of suffering another stroke.
Once blood flow to the brain is restored, the dog’s eyes should return to normal. However, if the damage is severe, for example, the dog loses mobility, it may take a few months to regain its functions.
Treatment involves medication, oxygen therapy, fluid therapy, and managing nutrition.
3. Vestibular Disease
A vestibular system is made up of parts located in the brain and inner and middle ear. The system as a whole is responsible for maintaining balance.
In the case of vestibular disease, the dog’s balance will be suddenly disturbed. It is more commonly seen in senior dogs.
Nystagmus is one of the prominent symptoms of the condition. When the dog’s eyes move up and down or side to side, the symptom is known as nystagmus. It can affect both eyes, and movements can be slow or fast.
Other signs of vestibular disease include:
- Head tilting
- Reluctance to stand or walk
- Loss of balance
The causes of vestibular diseases can be ear infections, tumors, injury or trauma, hypothyroidism, or medications.
The type of treatment administered depends on the underlying cause. For example, the vet will prescribe antibiotics if the dog has an ear infection. In cases of abnormal growth, extensive surgery is an option.
If the dog is too weak and cannot walk or stand, then intravenous fluids need to be administered to aid stabilization. In case of disorientation, sedatives will be given to help the dog relax.
The symptoms are usually severe on the first and second day. With supportive care, the dog should show improvement by the third day. The canine should recover within two to three weeks. But if the symptoms are severe, they may take several weeks to disappear.
When your dog’s blood has low sugar levels, the condition is known as hypoglycemia. As glucose is an essential energy source, low levels of it can affect your dog’s brain and organ function.
If your dog has low blood sugar levels, it can show signs like:
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of coordination
- Slow response time
- Involuntary movement
Another symptom of hypoglycemia is a seizure. And as we have seen above, a dog’s eye can roll back when experiencing a seizure episode.
Low blood sugar levels can result from several underlying medical issues like severe infection, over-exhaustion, liver disease, tumors, certain medications, and toxic food items.
The vet’s priority will be raising the dog’s blood sugar level. For minor cases, glucose can be rubbed onto the dog’s gums. For severe cases, an IV with concentrated dextrose will be administered.
Once the pet stabilizes, further treatment will focus on the underlying cause. For example, if the cause was over-exhaustion, the pet should return to normal after resting for a few hours. Antibiotics, medications, and surgery are available options if the reason is liver disease.
5. Cardiovascular Issues
Your dog can temporarily lose consciousness and faint due to cardiovascular issues. The fainting that occurs when the brain does not receive enough oxygen is known as syncope.
For blood to circulate efficiently, all chambers of the dog’s heart should work together. If the heart cannot perform its function, then the dog can have episodes of syncope. When this happens, the dog can faint with its eyes rolled back. Other signs can include difficulty breathing, reluctance to exercise, and weight loss.
There are several causes that can lead to cardiovascular issues in dogs. Aging is the common cause of heart diseases. Then nutrition and body weight also play a role. Obese dogs carry an increased risk. Some breeds like Cocker Spaniels, Great Danes, and Pomeranians are also prone to heart conditions.
Syncope that typically results from cardiovascular issues can be prevented only once the underlying condition is treated.
So, if the dog has erratic heartbeats, the vet may provide medications to regulate the same. If the dog’s heart is working at reduced efficiency, then diet and exercise changes will be necessary. In cases where possible, like a damaged valve or a need for a pacemaker, surgery will be recommended.
With proper lifestyle management, regular health check-ups, and treatments, your dog can live a long and comfortable life even with cardiovascular issues.
6. Low Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is the measure of force that the dog’s heart uses to pump blood throughout its body. So, if the pressure drops below a normal range, it will be difficult for blood to reach its intended destination.
Low blood pressure can be a temporary problem or an ongoing issue for the pet. If your dog suffers from the condition, it can show signs like:
- Pale gums
- Lack of coordination
In severe cases, the dog can lose consciousness and fall back with its eyes rolled back.
The condition, also known as hypotension, can occur due to blood loss resulting from injury or trauma. In addition, other health issues like liver and kidney diseases, heart issues, anemia, severe dehydration, and hypothyroidism can lead to low blood pressure.
Managing blood pressure typically means the underlying condition needs to be taken care of. For example, if the dog is malnourished, a balanced diet can help maintain its blood pressure.
You must consider medications or surgical options if the dog has an existing heart condition. If the cause is blood loss due to injury, blood transfusion and intravenous fluids can help stabilize the pet.
7. Sedation or Toxins
When you give your dog a sedative, it can go into a state of deep relaxation or become sleepy and have its eyes rolled back. Sedatives can be given to overwhelmingly anxious dogs or when a hyperactive dog needs rest after surgery.
Sedatives can help calm dogs, but they should not be misused. For example, acepromazine is a common oral sedative but can have varying effects in dogs. Even with similar doses, some dogs may appear fine, while others will drop down on the ground with their eyes rolled back.
Toxins can have a similar effect on the dog. For example, xylitol is a sweetener used in desserts, but the ingredient is toxic for dogs. In addition, the dog can faint or have seizures if it goes garbage diving or chews on moldy plants.
If you think your dog needs a sedative, discuss this first with the vet. The vet can determine the best possible sedative and dosage depending on your pet’s problem. Always stick to the dosage, as over-administration can have side effects.
When it comes to toxins, it is best to contact the vet at the earliest. The vet may try to induce vomiting or flush the dog’s stomach to remove the toxins. Activated charcoal can help absorb the toxin. Intravenous fluids will be given if the dog has become too weak and dehydrated. The vet may also give supportive medication to aid healing.
What to Do When a Dog’s Eyes are Rolled Back?
Your dog lying on the ground with its eyes rolled back can understandably be a panic-causing situation. This can especially be alarming when you are dealing with a condition like a seizure for the first time.
If you see that your dog’s eyes are rolled back, ensure the dog is confined in a safe place or monitor it, so it does not walk into furniture or random objects and hurt itself in the process. In some cases, before the dog faints, it shows signs like restlessness, drooling, shaking, whining, unsteady gait, or listless behavior.
Please get in touch with the vet immediately. As we have seen above, all possible causes require supportive or corrective treatment. The situation can be scary, but you must keep calm and seek vet care quickly. Your dog can recover from the possible causes with treatment and enjoy a normal lifestyle.
Is it Normal for a Dog’s Eyes to Roll Back While Sleeping?
Yes, it is pretty typical for a dog’s eyes to roll back while sleeping. However, some dogs may not shut their eyes entirely while asleep. In such cases, the colored part of its eye will not be visible. Instead, you can only see the white layer, leading to the assumption that the dog’s eyes are rolled back.
Sometimes you may see a whitish-pink tissue which is nothing but the elevated third eyelid. When the dog wakes up, its iris should return to its normal position.
Dogs eyes rolling back – now, that is understandably a scary-looking condition. Several medical issues can cause such a reaction in your furry friend.
Possible causes include seizures, strokes, cardiovascular issues, vestibular diseases, low blood sugar levels, low blood pressure, and toxins. Apart from the do’s eye being rolled back, you may see other signs like involuntary muscle movement, drooling, aimless staring, and lack of coordination or awareness.
It would be best to contact the vet at the earliest. Supportive care can help return the dog’s eyes to normal, and treatment of underlying causes can prevent such a condition.
Heather Abraham is a professional blogger who owns two dogs, a cat, a parrot, and a leopard gecko. She has a connection with animals since she was a child. She shares her love for all pet breeds and provides information on pet food, toys, medications, beds, and everything else.
She is committed to learning about the internal workings of animals. Her work permits her to work closely with knowledgeable vets and obtain practical expertise in animal care. When she is not working, her love of animals continues in her writing. Her goal is to educate and uplift readers who also have a passion for animals through her writing.