Managing Dry Eye in Dogs

Life With Dogs is reader-supported. We may earn a small commission through products purchased using links on this page.

Dry eye or keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) is a relatively common disease of dogs that causes decreased tear production.  It is most often an immune disorder in which the components of tears are available, but production is interrupted by the dog’s own immune system, resulting in dry, itchy, crusty eyes.  The lacrimal glands (tear producing glands) become inflammed and unable to produce as many tears as the eyes need to keep the cornea lubricated.

Well controlled "dry eye" eyes are indistinguishable from healthy eyes!

Causes of Dry Eye in Dogs:

  • Immune disorder (most common)
  • Drug reaction
  • Removal of gland of the third eyelid to treat “cherry eye”  (rarely done anymore, because of the risk of developing dry eye)
  • Other less common things can cause dry eye as well.

lacrimal – pertaining to tears

kerat/o – cornea (the clear outer covering of the front of the eye)

conjunctiv/a – conjunctiva (the soft tissue surrounding the eye)

itis – inflammation

sicca – dry


If your dog has any abnormal eye discharge, squinting, eye redness or other signs of discomfort or abnormalities, see your veterinarian right away!  Eye issues are at least as urgent as any other health concern for several reasons…

  • Eye disease is often uncomfortable (as with dry eye) or outright painful.
  • Eye issues can progress rapidly.
  • Eye disease can be a symptom of a larger problem.
  • Eye diseases can result in blindness – Sometimes this is unavoidable, but sometimes (as is the case with dry eye) the progression of the disease can be slowed or stopped all together and sight can be protected.

Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam and one or more eye tests…

  • A Schirmer tear test is the diagnostic test of dry eye.  A thin strip of paper is folded and placed on the cornea.  (Yes, that is as annoying as it sounds, but dogs are surprisingly good sports about it!)  By measuring the amount of tears wicked up onto the paper in a minute, we can determine whether enough tears are being produced.
  • A complete eye exam with an ophthalmoscope will probably be done to look for concurrent or related problems.
  • fluorescein test may be done to look for corneal ulcers.
  • Other tests may be needed to diagnose or rule out dry eye and diagnose any concurrent problems.


Before  it was known how to regulate tear production, the treatment for dry eye was to surgically transpose the parotid duct (which carries saliva from the parotid gland to the inside of the mouth) from the mouth to an area near the eye, so that saliva would keep the eye moist, comfortable and healthy when tears could not.


How cool/resourceful/creative were vets back in the day??  Not that veterinarians today are not, but before we knew about wonderful, non-invasive immune-modulating eye drops (substitute any of a myriad of present day drugs/procedures/supplies that make medicine simpler today), vets had to do what they had to do.


Treatment of Dry Eye Today:
-Eye drops.


Usually dry eye is treated with daily or twice daily cyclosporine drops or ointment or tacrolimusdrops or ointment. Much less cool/resourceful/creative, except that it is better all around…for the pet, for the family, for the veterinarian who has to say “Drip these drops in the eye,” instead of spending hours on a complex face-rearranging, spit-in-the-eye surgery.

For that reason, as debilitating as dry eye can be if it is not treated (It can cause corneal scarring which can lead to blindness) and as much of a pain as it can be to give eye drops EVERY DAY, dry eye is a much simpler disease than it was even one generation ago.
If you have a dog with eye issues, get him or her to the veterinarian as soon as possible!  If you have a dog with dry eye, take heart!  Though it is a serious immune disease with potentially debilitating consequences if left untreated, diagnosis is straight-forward, treatment is simple and the prognosis is excellent.

77 thoughts on “Managing Dry Eye in Dogs”

  1. My dog suffers with dry eye he is on the medication that you mentioned. It hasn’t cleared it up but I think he is more comfortable when we do the drops. And they get used to it I have been doing it for years.

    • My dog has dry eye and was initially treated with Cyclosporine and Tarcrolimus. No improvement, in fact his eyes got worse. For the last five years I have been using Optixcare twice daily along with regular over the counter eye drops three times daily. My vet has been very impressed with the improvement. There are times when he does encounter an infection and for that I use Ofloxacin.

      • What kind of OTC do you use with Optixcare?. I have a blind Bichon and her medicine is not working at all. Every morning I use a warm washcloth with baby shampoo to get the goo out of her eyes and them put the drops in. I think they are soothing to her but doesn’t control the eye mucus.

          • they are probably saying the use it on the eyelids to remove gunk. and then apply eyedrops after

      • How much a month do you spend I was considering adopting a dog with one dry eye but not sure if it’s too expensive

    • Me to our boarder collies one eye moves
      If she looks to the side
      Also red once she looks straight her eye
      Looks fine. Been giving het eye drops

  2. cyclosporine ointment once a day and Genteal severe eye drops throughout the day, with occasional saline wash if there is gunk to clear out – our little Ralph has been on this regiment for 7 years… poor little eye!

  3. Our vet prescribed Optimune ointment for our Pug, and we use it every day. He’s soooo much better with it, even though we still have to wipe his eyes occasionally. His eyes are healthy and moist, not dry and crusty. This ointment is wonderful.

    • So did my vet, but its more of a cream and an absolute nightmare for one person to administer. I’m struggling to get any in her eye, even with 2 people (my neighbour). How do you manage?
      I’m going back to my vet for an eye drop

      • My dog was revovering from eye ulcer when I rescued her, had her on viscotears, which my vet said were no good, eye was clear but still had dry eye and always will, been fine on maxitrol for 6 months, now ulcer has come back, now prescribed clorophenical, and Viscotears both to be given 5 times a day, what a job arthritis both hands ruby very active 2 yr old jack russell, no neighbour to help, daughter calls in when she can , friend does it twice a week, its a nightmare, must be easy way, love my dog to bits so ill do my best, just hope drops go in ….

        • Hi anonymous sounds like a very similar situation to my poor molly she is a 7year old Maltese Xi have had since she was 2yrs old anyway she has had an ulcer in her left eye for the last 7 weeks, last week at the vet appt she suggested i try viscotears like you and went back to the vet a week later as planned now she has blood vessels in the ulcer appartenly that is good news it means the ulcer is starting to heal but it now means she has dry eye which is causing ulcer that is what my vet says anyway the viscotears only replace the tears that are not there she told me she wants to give me a new medicine to help the dry eye and the ulcer?

          • the vet has just prescribed cyclosporine and my little girl does NOT like it at all it must really hurt does anyone KNOW

          • Best advice ever on the internet about how to administer drops: Back the dog into a bank pillows on a sofa corner or on a kitchen counter corner so there’s no way for them to wiggle out. (Have the drops ready beforehand with lid off.). Hold eyelid gently up and squeeze a drop from just above the eye so the dog doesn’t see it “coming”. It’s impossible to try to hold the dog and give drops simultaneously so making it so they are unable to squirm free is the way to go.

        • try putting the drops on your finger (clean) and wiping them in the dogs eye it is the only way i can put drops in my jack russell s eyes she runs away when the bottle is brought anywhere near her

          • hi my Yorkshire terrier has just been diagnosed with dry eye. he runs away when he sees Lythe bottle too. has putting drops on your fingertips and applying to eye worked? need help as dog in danger of losing eye if I can’t find a way

          • My 10yr old American Cocker Spaniels also has Dry Eye and is on the Cyclosporine drops. My boy is a total suck and takes his drops like a champ and they don’t seem to bother him at all.

          • For those of you who have trouble adm eye drops, this sounds crazy but very easy
            I set my maltipoo up on washer eye level with me and I put his favorite treat in my mouth (just to hold) hold his brow with one hand and eye drop with the other. He’s so fixated on the treat, he doesn’t even realize he’s getting his meds

        • I am considering adopting a dog that as the story reads, “was left in a bad shelter for 2 weeks and developed an eye infection that went untreated. (Later they wrote that) he had seen the vet and now suffers from dry eye. And takes 2 meds 2 or 3 times a day.
          I have requested the names of the meds and asked for the formal diagnosis so I can ask my vet what she thinks.
          I appreciate you story.
          Any new details?

          Thank you.

          • I have a shih tzu she has been in the vets evry week for the first two years I had her with dry eyes both very sore .i would be doing her eye ten times a day but they would still be crusty in the morning and red.I tried everything but nothing has helped. So I changed her diet to raw with organic dry food added .her eyes just improved within weeks her imune system seems to be adjusting as she gets healthier. I last month stopped her flea drops every month and now give her an natural essential oil flea drop every month and her eyes have both improved even more. All the additives and unnatural food just makes there immune system even worse. I took her to the vet two months ago and a new vet looked at her she was perfect no dry eye visible which is a huge 8mprovement as last year they wanted to do surgery on her both eyes .

      • Hi Jan:

        My 16-year-old pug has been on eyedrops for half his life now… One drop in each eye, a.m. and p.m. They work well, but the condition itself, even with the drops can lead to blindness, which is what we are now faced with. Tough watching these little guys grow old…

        • I have an 11 year old rescue pug, he’s blind, he gets the cyclosporine drops every am and pm, his eyes were all crusty and nasty before but now they are so clear….he doesn’t mind them at all…. I am thinking it was the dry eye that caused him to go blind?

  4. I have a Cairn Terrier and clean his eyes twice daily. He is so good about sitting and allowing me to clean his eyes. I believe the relief he feels makes him tolerant.


Leave a Comment