Another day, another chance to play.
That’s how your puppy sees it, at least.
Hurtling towards you like the little, furry, slightly uncoordinated missile that he is, the roughhousing begins.
A little push here. A little play-bite there.
As the intensity kicks up a notch, you attempt to keep up with the flurry of fur with your hands outstretched.
Suddenly- a YELP! Followed by a few pitiful whines. The action ceases.
As the dust and confusion settles, your puppy stands, with tail wagging weakly and one eye watery and squinted.
“I accidentally poked my dog’s eye!” You realize in horror.
What happens when you accidentally poke a dog’s eye?
It’s going to get a little red and sore, for one. Eyes are delicate structures after all and it doesn’t take much for them to become irritated. Despite this, a dog’s eyes can still be considered to be pretty tough and won’t normally suffer any long-standing effects from a mild accidental poke.
Do be sure to take a look at your fingernails though. If they’re anything like mine they’ll be a bit on the long side, and this can actually cause significant damage in the form of cuts on the cornea, eyelids, or conjunctiva.
There’s not much to do now except to monitor your dog’s eye for any worsening symptoms. It will most likely be just fine, but if the eye looks especially red or painful you can use a cold compress on it to help your dog feel more comfortable.
If the eye becomes swollen, starts to have runny, colored discharge, or is unable to stay open, then it would be a good idea to take it to the vet for a special dye stain test that can reveal the existence of any scratches.
In the event that any abrasions are found, the vet can then prescribe antibacterial eye drops and ointments, anti-inflammatory medication, and painkillers to help your dog make a full recovery in as little as a week!
Because, thankfully, you only accidentally poked one eye!
In all seriousness, try not to feel too guilty about jabbing your dog in the eye! Incidents like this happen more often than you might think.
It’s only natural for the eye to squint after suffering any blunt force trauma, such as from a finger or a mis-thrown tennis ball.
There’s no question that this is painful, and the eye may remain shut for a short period reflexively as a way for the body to protect it. However, this usually doesn’t last for the whole day, and the dog will be able to open its eye slowly as the discomfort abates.
If you find that your dog is holding its eye shut even after a day has passed, then there is a possibility that it has suffered a scratch to the cornea or developed an ulcer on the surface of the eye.
Whether it is a penetrating or perforating injury to the cornea or sclera (the white of the eye), it is a sensitive wound that will stop your dog from being able to keep its eye open without irritation.
In situations such as these, the best course of action would be to take your dog to the vet to be evaluated as there is a high chance that there is an abrasion to the eye that needs to be treated with topical medication.
This will help to prevent infection to the eye, which in serious cases can lead to inflammation, and a partial or even complete loss of vision.
When a dog suffers a scratch to the eye, it will usually show through signs such as:
- The eye becoming watery
- The eye developing redness in the membranes
- Swelling in the tissue around the eye
- Pain, pawing and rubbing
- Holding the eye shut, as discussed in the above section.
These are all signs that should abate in a few hours or a day at most.
However, if they last longer and are allowed to progress to a state of infection due to lack of treatment, the following symptoms and changes may take place:
- Variation of discharge: Clear, fluid discharge around the eyes that becomes thicker or changes to a grayish yellow color can be an indicator of developing infection.
- Increase in redness: Increased redness in the whites of the eyes and the conjunctiva (the pink tissues beneath the eyelids).
- Increase in discomfort: If the dog vocalizes, or visibly shows more discomfort through pawing or rubbing, it can be a sign of burgeoning infection. The dog may also hold the eye more tightly as time passes.
- Changed eye appearance: If the entire corneal region changes color from red to a cloudy bluish tinge, this can indicate an issue.
- Visible indent formation: Usually a scratch on the cornea will be invisible to the naked eye. However the cornea on rare occasions may erode further due to bacterial causes, causing a hole or indentation to form. This is an extremely serious situation that requires immediate and aggressive vet treatment, without which can result in a complete rupture of the eye.
If there is a scratch or ulcer on the surface of the eye, there really isn’t anything that you will be able to do at home to heal your dog.
Therefore, if you notice any of the above symptoms, it would be best to take your dog to the vet as soon as possible for treatment. Ulcers can and do usually get worse the longer that they go untreated.
There are two different routes you can take when you accidentally poke your dog in the eye, depending on how hard you think the force was and how worried you feel:
- Monitor for the rest of the day; or
- Take your dog to the vet immediately for a checkup.
It can be hard to tell in the moment, but if you only poked the region of the eye (such as the eyelid or conjunctiva) and not the eye itself, then it usually isn’t too serious and the soreness will recede by itself.
Even if you poked the cornea or sclera, all that might have resulted is a bit of blunt trauma which also generally resolves itself without intervention. It is a valid option to merely keep an eye (pun intended) on the situation for signs of infection or worsening discomfort.
If your dog does seem to be in a lot of pain and is holding the eye tightly shut, it may be a good idea to apply a cold pack to the area for about 10-15 minutes. This can be repeated every few hours throughout the day if needed.
Generally, no further treatment will be necessary for the time being. Sterile saline, contact solution and artificial tear eye drops (just don’t let your dog eat it!) can be administered to soothe the eye and wash out any dirt that might have gotten into the area.
However, make sure you DO NOT use any ointment or eye drop that contains steroids like hydrocortisone or prednisone (or anything else that ends in -sone) as these can make any existing corneal abrasions much, much worse.
While you are monitoring your dog’s eye, it is important to keep your dog from pawing, rubbing, or otherwise coming into contact with it. This is to prevent any additional damage being done to the eye, and can be achieved by making your dog wear a (dreaded) E-collar.
If the eye doesn’t get better or indeed worsens over the 24 hours, or if you are just very worried that you may have cut the cornea, it would be advisable to take your dog into the vet’s office for an ocular examination.
The vet will first want to establish whether or not there really is damage to the cornea of the eye. They can do this through a simple stain test using a special dye called fluorescein.
Fluorescein will stick to the surface of the eye and turn any damaged corneal areas green, making it easy to see how deep or wide the scratch is.
The large majority of corneal injuries are minor in nature and can be treated very effectively with a short course of painkillers, anti-inflammatories, and antibiotic eye drops or ointment. This treatment is usually only needed for a week, but can be extended if needed.
Antibiotic medication is required to treat and prevent bacterial infections, as these are usually the reason for healing being impaired. Topical atropine may also be given for pain relief purposes. Just like with home monitoring, you will want to keep an Elizabethan collar on your dog at all times for the week to prevent it from scratching at its eye.
If the initial assessment and stain test do not show corneal damage or other visible sources of discomfort, the vet will need to conduct a more thorough ocular examination.
He can do this by evaluating your dog’s response to light and objects close to the eye, as well as the size, shape, reflex and symmetry of the pupil. By carrying out these tests, the vet will be able to determine whether there is a deeper injury or bruising that resulted from the trauma.
If your dog has suffered a corneal injury, don’t fret!
With proper, diligent treatment, a dog’s eye will be able to make a full recovery in most cases of mild injury. The eyes are among the quickest-healing organs of the body and oftentimes will do so by themselves when there is only minor trauma or abrasion.
Light bruising around the eye and conjunctiva caused by blunt trauma usually subsides in two or three days, while scratches on the cornea will take around five days to a week to heal.
It is important that you keep on schedule with the antibiotic eye drop dosing instructions given to you by your vet, as this will help to prevent infection that may hamper recovery. The eye drops will most likely need to be administered every few hours, four to six times each day.
Make sure to keep your dog indoors as much as possible while it is recovering, both for safety reasons and because it will be much more sensitive to the light during this time (due to atropine administration). Though your dog will undoubtedly hate it with a passion, keeping that E-collar on its neck will prevent damage being caused by pawing and scratching.
For the first few days, monitor the progress of the eye closely and note any changes that occur. If you notice any unusual signs such as pain or discharge, don’t hesitate to take your pup back to the vet.
Throughout the recovery process, your vet may also want to repeat the fluorescein stain test to ensure that the scrape is healing properly. They may request this more or less often depending on the extent and the severity of the injury, and on how well it is responding to treatment.
If all goes well with no complications, your dog will be 20/20 and back to spotting squirrels by the end of the week!
The first emotion that most people feel when they accidentally poke their dog’s eye is pure panic. It’s truly a dog owner’s greatest fear to do something that hurts their beloved pet- and in such a sensitive, delicate region, no less.
Blunt trauma to the eye and surrounding areas can result in bruising, swelling, and cuts. Scratches on the surface of the eye or cornea will not be visible themselves, but will instead show through symptoms such as redness, watery discharge, and the eye being held shut.
If you notice any of these signs during the first day after the incident, the best course of action would be to consult professional advice. The vet will be able to conduct a special stain test using fluorescein dye to identify the extent and severity of the abrasion.
While scratches to the eye can heal on their own, antibiotic ointment or eye drops are usually prescribed in order to prevent infections that can cause permanent vision damage. With proper treatment, your dog stands an excellent chance of making a full recovery within a week!
Heather Abraham is an owner of two dogs, one cat, a leopard gecko, and a parrot (who her dad still cannot teach bad words to), and an avid blogger. From the time she was a young girl, she always felt a connection with pets. She brings her love of every type of pet to you, with information on animal nutrition, medication, toys, beds, and everything else in between. Along with newly-on-board veterinarian DVM editor Elena, she puts pups first while offering other various fun tidbits along the way.