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Why Are My Dog’s Eyes Getting Cloudy?

Written by Ella White

Updated

old pup with cloudy eyes

Though we might try to deny it, the sad truth is that our pets don’t stay young forever. The signs of aging in dogs can vary widely, but when you notice their playful, puppy dog eyes go cloudy it could be an indicator that they’re getting old. Or it could be something more serious.

Though a professional medical opinion is always advised when it comes to diagnosing your dog’s health conditions, it’s useful for dog owners to know the symptoms of different conditions that could be affecting our pets. So if you’ve noticed any changes to your dog's eyes, you should know some of the potential causes that can help you decide whether or not it's a case for the vets. 

When the eye takes on a milky or cloudy appearance, it could be a sign of aging, of a condition that is impairing your dog’s eyesight, or of a disease. The clear dome over the eye, called the cornea, is the area that is most likely to take on a cloudy appearance, and there are a number of reasons that this can happen.

The main symptom of cloudy eyes in dogs is that the cornea has an opaque appearance that can look gray or white. It can take up the whole eye, or just a small area. And it can impact both or just one of their eyes.

Signs that your dog might be suffering from clouding on their cornea which is affecting their eyesight include:

  • Cloudy, hazy whiteness on the eyeball
  • Swollen or irritated eyes
  • Rubbing their eyes
  • Yellowish discharge
  • Lack of excitement when shown something that would previously have interested them, such as food or toys
  • Bumping into doors and furniture
  • Difficulty finding their bed or other items they’re familiar with
  • Trouble climbing stairs
  • Less confidence when walking

If you notice these symptoms, whether or not you can notice the hazy cloudiness in their eyes, you should seek veterinary advice to diagnose the issue.

Though there are many reasons for dogs developing cloudy eyes, including simply getting older, there are some symptoms that can be linked to specific conditions and diseases that affect dogs’ eyes.

  • If the cloudiness is milky and white, it could be a sign of cataracts.
  • If the cloudiness is silvery gray or white, it could be a sign of corneal dystrophy.
  • If the cloudiness is gray or blue, it could be a sign of corneal degeneration or glaucoma (particularly alongside inflammation).
  • If the cloudiness is red, it could be a sign of a corneal ulcer.
  • If your dog is rubbing their eyes a lot, they could have a scratched cornea, or an ulcer.
  • If there is discharge coming from your dog’s eye, they could have an infected ulcer.
  • If your dog is bumping into things or struggling to find things, the cloudiness could be affecting their vision.

We’ve outlined some of the most common symptoms of cloudy eyes and their causes, so you can be aware of what different eye issues might mean. But, like with any symptoms of ill health, there are a wide range of reasons for cloudy eyes.

These are some of the most common causes of cloudy eyes:

Anterior uveitis

Anterior uveitis is a condition that causes the uvea, or the tissue at the front of the eye, to become inflamed. Not only is this a painful disease, but if left untreated it can also lead to irreversible loss of vision, cancer, infections, and autoimmune diseases. 

If you notice that your dog’s eye has become cloudy or dull, with redness, swelling, and a change in the shape of their pupil, it could be anterior uveitis. Dogs suffering with this condition often squint and have very wet eyes from producing excessive discharge and tears. Fortunately, it can be treated with eye drops and oral medications. 

Cataracts

Cataracts are caused by the protein in the lens of the eye forming together and obscuring vision. Just like humans, dogs can develop cataracts as a result of age, trauma, genetics, and certain diseases like diabetes.

Though the main side effect of cataracts is blindness, they can also lead to glaucoma so it’s important to have them treated as soon as possible via surgery. Some breeds of dog are especially prone to cataracts, including:

  • American Staffordshire Terriers
  • Australian Shepherds
  • Bichon Frise
  • Boston Terriers 
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • French Bulldogs
  • Havanese
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Miniature Schnauzers
  • Poodles
  • Siberian Huskies
  • Silky Terriers
  • West Highland White Terriers

Corneal dystrophy

There are three types of corneal dystrophy, all of which can cause the eye to appear cloudy and are caused by mutations and changes to the tissues in the eye. 

  • Epithelial corneal dystrophy affects the top layers of the cornea.
  • Stromal corneal dystrophy affects the middle layer of the cornea.
  • Endothelial corneal dystrophy affects the deep, inner layers of the cornea, and can develop into corneal ulcers. 

Though there is no cure for corneal dystrophy and it usually will not affect your dog’s vision, it should still be officially diagnosed by your vet who can prescribe medication to help the condition and prevent it developing into ulcers.

Dry eye

Dry eye happens when the eye doesn’t create enough tears to keep it lubricated. This can lead to irritation on the surface of the eye which, if left untreated can develop into ulcers and even scarring. It's these ulcers and scars that will create a cloudy appearance in your dog’s eyes.

If your dog is showing symptoms of dry eye, including redness, swelling, squinting and blinking, and producing excessive discharge from the eye, seek veterinary attention. It could be a sign of another condition, including autoimmune diseases.

Whatever the cause of your dog’s dry eye, topical medication, antibiotics, and sometimes surgery are the most common treatments.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a painful condition that happens when pressure builds inside the eye, causing it to bulge or swell. As a result, the structure of the eye can become damaged and turn cloudy in appearance. If left untreated, glaucoma can cause permanent damage to the eye and in some cases leads to blindness. 

It can be a genetic condition, or caused by another issue like cataracts or retinal detachment. If you notice your dog’s eye is slightly bulging, red and irritated, producing discharge, and has a red or blue tint, it could be glaucoma. 

In most cases, medication or a treatment for the primary cause of the glaucoma will be prescribed (if it is not inherited). However if this doesn’t work, other treatments include laser therapy, injections, surgery, and even eye removal.

Dogs most likely to inherit glaucoma are:

  • Basset Hounds
  • Beagles
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Chow Chows 
  • English Cocker Spaniels
  • Norwegian Elkhounds
  • Shar-Peis
  • Siberian Huskies

Nuclear sclerosis

Nuclear sclerosis is the name for the change that occurs in the eyes as a dog ages. It’s the reason that most older dogs have eyes that appear hazy, and though it looks like cataracts it doesn’t affect vision in the same way. Also, where cataracts create a white, opaque haze over the eye, nuclear sclerosis tends to be more blue or gray.

Though it can cause some issues with your dog’s ability to focus on objects, there are no serious side effects to this condition and therefore there is no treatment. In the majority of cases, nuclear sclerosis will be the cause of cloudy eyes in older dogs. However, it should still be checked by a vet to rule out any other conditions. 

Ulcers

Ulcers that develop on the cornea are almost always the result of another condition or trauma. So if our dog has suffered from dry eye, an infection, entropion, or has rubbed or scratched their eye, the injury can turn into a corneal ulcer.

Ulcers can be identified as red, blue, or hazy areas on your dog’s eyeball. They are painful, and often lead to excessive discharge, tearing, and squinting. Usually, corneal ulcers will be treated with medical drops. Although in some cases surgery may be required.

Many of the causes of cloudy eyes in dogs are health related and can occur in puppies and older dogs alike. However, age-related eye conditions that cause cloudiness, like nuclear sclerosis, tend to occur from the age of seven and up.

The aging process in dogs varies greatly depending on their size and breed. So the age at which their eyes begin to get cloudy due to old age is not consistent for all dogs, and should be evaluated on an individual basis.

Though it is not always possible to prevent it completely, there are measures dog owners can take to help protect their pet’s eyes against disease and premature aging.

Some conditions, like nuclear sclerosis, will happen as a result of aging and cannot be prevented. Similarly, inherited forms of diseases like cataracts and glaucoma can be almost impossible to prevent in animals that are born with genes carrying these conditions. However, managing the diseases that can cause the illnesses – for example, diabetes can cause cataracts – is one of the best ways to prevent these conditions from occurring.

Keeping your dog safe from injury and trauma to the eyes, and ensuring they have a balanced and nutrient-rich diet is one of the best and easiest ways to prevent diseases and other issues that affect dogs’ eyes and can lead to cloudiness and loss of vision.