How often do you clean in or around your dog’s eyes? If the answer is never, learning how to clean your dog’s eyes is a crucial part of your dog’s grooming routine. Yes, even short-haired dogs need a grooming routine.
Dogs have eyes that are just as prone to irritation and infection as people, only they don’t have fingers to wipe the gunk out and can’t verbally tell you, “Excuse me Mom, but my eye sure hurts. Could you do something about that please?”
At the very least, you should clean your dog’s eyes after a bath, after they’ve been digging, when they’re pawing at their eyes, or if they’re especially gunky.
How to clean your dog’s eyes
There are several different ways to clean your dog’s eyes. The technique you use will depend partly on why you’re cleaning your dog’s eyes.
Eye drops. If you suspect your dog has something in his eye, it’s dry, or it looks infected, eye drops may be your best bet for cleaning your dog’s eyes. Your vet may give you a prescription eye drop; otherwise, saline solution will be your best bet.
Use your fingers to gently hold or pry your dog’s eyelids open. Use at least a few drops or a stream of solution to gently flush your dog’s eyes. Allow your dog to blink and/or shake their head before you tackle the other eye.
Ointment. If your dog has an eye infection, your vet may prescribe an ointment to help clear it up. Ointment is a little more complicated to apply than eye drops. The best way to apply an ointment is to gently pull your dog’s lower eyelid down and away from the eyeball. Insert the ointment in the space between the lid and the eyeball, then gently rub your dog’s lower eyelid around his eyeball to spread the ointment.
Damp washcloth. If the inside of your dog’s eyes seem to be clear, but you want to wipe around the outside of the eyes, a warm, wet washcloth is perfect. Make sure the water you use is neither too hot nor too cold and wring out as much water as possible before dripping water all over your dog. Gently wipe around your dog’s eyes, using a different area of the washcloth for each eye to prevent transferring any bacteria from one eye to the other.
Wet wipes. Wet wipes are as good as a wet washcloth and may be even better if you get ones designed for use around a dog’s eyes. Don’t use scented products made for humans around your dog’s eyes. Unscented baby wipes are OK, or look for wipes made for dogs. These wipes may include ingredients to help dissolve the crusty gunk that can form under your dog’s eyes. Just like with the washcloth, gently wipe around your dog’s eyes without touching your dog’s eyeball.
Getting rid of gunk, clumps, crusties, or goobers under your dog’s eyes
Many dogs develop a buildup of tears under their eyes that may be gooey or hard. Using a damp washcloth or wet wipes daily can help prevent this buildup from forming, but once it’s there, it can be difficult to remove without hurting your dog. Depending on the severity of the buildup, your dog may have developed sores on the skin underneath the gunk, so don’t be surprised to see irritation or even blood once you remove the crusties.
As a groomer for more than 12 years, this is the best way I have found to remove that gunk under your dog’s eyes, especially if it has turned crusty. You may do this yourself, or you may choose to take your dog to a groomer. Once the gunk is gone, it’s crucial to focus on wiping your dog’s eyes daily to prevent more gunk from building up.
Wash your dog’s face with a tearless shampoo.
Gently massage the gunk under your dog’s eyes with the shampoo. Be careful not to get shampoo in your dog’s eyes. After massaging the shampoo into the gunk, use your fingernails or a flea comb to gently remove as much of the gunk as possible. Once your dog is rinsed, flush their eyes with a saline solution just in case any shampoo got in.
It may not be possible to remove all of the gunk this way, especially if your dog is fussy about having his face handled. That’s why there is a step 2.
Use clippers to shave under your dog’s eyes.
Carefully work the clippers under any remaining gunk using a #10 blade or shorter (a #30 is best, just be gentle with it to avoid catching your dog’s eyelid). Keeping the corners of your dog’s eyes shaved short helps prevent the buildup of gunk along with a daily wiping routine. Check out our reviews of the best dog grooming clippers.
Getting rid of tear stains
The method above can help reduce tear stains; unfortunately, there’s no good way to remove tear stains once they’ve formed apart from shaving them off. There are two ways to prevent new tear stains from building up: from the inside and from the outside. For best results, do both things.
From the outside
At the very least, you need to wipe around your dog’s eyes once or twice a day with a damp washcloth or wet wipes. Additionally, you can help your dog’s tears roll off his face instead of sticking to the fur by gently applying Vaseline or cornstarch to the corners of your dog’s eyes, being careful to avoid getting either product in the eyes.
From the inside
There are many different possible causes of tear stains that can be managed from the inside of your dog. One or more of the following may be factors in your dog’s tear stains. The more you can tackle, the better your odds are of preventing tear stains from coming back.
- Food. Many commercial dog foods contain additives, preservatives, artificial coloring, “meal,” and needless corn and wheat that can contribute to tear stains. The more “real and whole ingredients” your dog’s food contains, the better.
- Water. Tap water contains a lot of minerals and impurities that can lead to tear stains. Try switching to filtered, distilled, or bottled water.
- Bowls. Plastic food or water bowls can harbor more bacteria than steel or glass bowls, which can lead to tear stains. Plastic bowls can also leach harmful chemicals. Try switching to stainless steel or glass food and water bowls.
- Apple cider vinegar. Adding a tiny bit of organic apple cider vinegar to your dog’s water can change your dog’s pH level, reducing the odds that they’ll develop tear stains. You only want to add this in VERY tiny amounts, though – 1 teaspoon per 50 pounds that your dog weighs. If your dog doesn’t like the taste, you may need to start with just one or two drops added to their water bowl.
About products that claim to remove tear stains
While these food additives will eliminate your dog’s tear stains with time, they do so by using low levels of antibiotics. You should think long and hard before adding unnecessary antibiotics to your dog’s diet and talk to your vet about it first.
When is it time for a trip to the vet?
Sometimes it isn’t enough to clean your dog’s eyes at home. It’s time for a trip to the vet if:
- Your dog’s eyes are red
- They have excessive eye discharge (especially if the discharge is a weird color, like yellowish-green)
- The corner of your dog’s eye appears red and swollen
- Your dog won’t stop pawing at his eye even after you’ve cleaned it.