Skip to Content

9 Weird Reasons Why Dogs Scratch Their Eyes + 3 Tips

Why Do Dogs Scratch Their  Eyes

Have you ever seen your dog pawing at their red, swollen eyes?

It’s not a pleasant sight, is it?

Any eye damage is cause for concern. 

But your dog keeps on doing it. 

And you wonder,

“Why does this happen?”

“What can I do to help my dog?”

Keep reading to discover:

  • The best defense against dog allergies.
  • 3 tips on how to stop them from doing it.
  • 9 weird reasons why dogs scratch their eyes.
  • PROVEN: A recent study reveals why fleas are more dangerous than ever.
  • And much more…

Why do dogs scratch their eyes?

Dogs scratch their eyes because of allergies, skin problems, or debris in their eyes. Dry eye, corneal ulcers, glaucoma, or eyelash defects also result in scratching. It happens when mites cause mange. Or with flea allergy dermatitis.

9 reasons why dogs scratch their eyes

#1: Allergies

This is the most common reason for itchy eyes in dogs. 

Allergies are the result of an immune system malfunction. 

Its job is to fight viruses and bacteria inside your dog’s body. 

But an abnormality causes it to fight against non-threatening substances. Such as food or pollen. 

Most dog allergies are often seen on their skin. 

According to the AKC, these signs show that your pup has an allergic reaction:

  • Hives. 
  • Licking.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Itchiness. 
  • Sneezing.
  • Itchy ears.
  • Ear infections.
  • Red, swollen skin.
  • Swelling of the face, lips, eyelids, or earflaps.

Allergen is the term for the substance causing the reaction. 

There are 3 main types of allergies.

Skin allergies 

These are the most common of all. 

Dogs can react to environmental allergens such as:

  • Dust.
  • Mold. 
  • Pollen.

And their skin itches. Especially in the paws and ears. 

If not treated, it can develop into serious skin problems. And this will need life-long treatment.

Food allergies 

These allergies aren’t so common. But they can be sneaky. 

The effects won’t show immediately. Over time, dogs will develop sensitivities to certain ingredients in their food.

According to VCA, proteins contain the most common allergens such as:

  • Soy.
  • Beef.
  • Lamb.
  • Gluten.
  • Chicken.
  • Chicken eggs.
  • Dairy products.

The only way to find which ingredient is causing the reaction is through elimination. 

Your vet will prescribe a special diet. This will have ingredients that your dog hasn’t eaten in the past. 

The vet will also tell you to avoid giving treats and table food. 

Acute allergies

These don’t happen very often. But they can be fatal.

Acute allergies have immediate reactions in dogs. Much like nut allergies in humans. 

Insect bites like bee stings or vaccines can cause anaphylactic reactions in dogs. 

Note: Always keep an eye on your dog if they come in contact with new medicines, drugs, or food. 

#2: Skin problems

The most common is canine atopic dermatitis or cAD. 

It’s the result of too much skin damage. The protective barrier is gone. 

The leading cause of cAD is skin allergies. If there is no proper treatment for it, the symptoms worsen. And eventually, result in: 

  • Lesions.
  • Hair loss.
  • Red, itchy skin. 

There are also other causes of cAD. Such as:

  • Fleas.
  • Bacteria.
  • Yeast infections.

cAD is also genetic. Meaning some breeds are more likely to develop this condition.

Dr. Michael Rosenbaum says that the following dog breeds are susceptible:

  • Pugs.
  • Boxers.
  • Dalmatians.
  • Irish Setters.
  • Pitbull Terriers.
  • English Bulldogs.
  • Golden Retrievers.
  • German Shepherds.
  • Labrador Retrievers.

“How to diagnose and treat cAD?”

This study says that the guidelines need the following procedures for diagnosis:

  • Cytology.
  • Flea combing.
  • Skin scraping.
  • Allergy testing.
  • Elimination diet trials.

Based on identified flare factors, the vet will prescribe a topical or oral treatment. And also, tell dog parents to avoid the known causes.

You might also like: 23 Reasons Why Dogs Lick Their Paws + 5 Dangers & 5 Tips

#3: Something’s trapped underneath

Dogs Scratch Their Eyes Because Dirt Or Dust Is Trapped Inside

Sometimes dirt or dust can get inside your dog’s eyes. 

For example, it can happen during walks. While your pooch is sniffing or scratching at the ground. 

And their eyes get irritated from the foreign substances. So your dog will scratch them.

Note: If your dog’s scratching at their eyes, check it for redness and tearing. These are signs of irritation. Take your dog to the vet immediately, as this can result in eye injuries.

#4: Corneal ulcer or lacerations

3 corneal layers protect the canine eye.

The epithelium is the outer layer. While stroma and Descemet’s membrane make up the 2nd and 3rd layers.

A corneal ulcer is a wound that penetrates through the 1st layer to the stroma. 

According to VCA, this allows liquid to pool inside the stroma. This is why eyes with ulcers have a cloudy, gray appearance. 

But if the wound goes through to Descemet’s membrane. It’s a severe injury that can cause an eye rupture. 

This will cause the eye fluid to leak out. And can result in blindness in your dog. 

Causes of corneal ulcers

The 2 most common causes are chemical burns and physical trauma, according to Ethos Vet.

It can happen in many situations. And your dog will display unique symptoms.

Causes of corneal ulcersSigns and symptoms of corneal ulcers
– Rough play.
– Infections or bacteria.
– Scratch from a sharp object.
– Irritation from shampoo or dust.
– Running through thick grass or trees.
– Pawing.
– Rubbing.
– Redness. 
– Squinting.
– Shutting the eye. 

Warning: A corneal ulcer is a serious injury for your dog to go through. Take them to the vet if they start to display the signs. 

Your vet will examine your dog’s eye with a stain called fluorescein. A drop in their eye will identify the ulcer. It will turn it green.

Most ulcers will heal in 3 – 10 days. 

The vet will prescribe any or a combination of these treatments:

  • Eye drops.
  • Eye ointments.
  • Corneal surgery.
  • Pain medications. 
  • Anti-inflammatory pills.

The treatment depends on the severity of the ulcer. 

#5: Dry eyes 

This is a condition that’s common among dogs. Also called keratoconjunctivitis sicca or KCS.

The ACVO informs us that it happens because the body attacks the lacrimal gland. It shuts down. And doesn’t perform its intended function.

It’s the gland responsible for producing tears.

This provides lubrication for the cornea. And keeps the eye clean of debris or dirt. 

Without that the following happens:

  • Pawing.
  • Red, irritated eyes.
  • Excessive blinking.
  • Thick mucoid discharge.
  • Moving away from touch.

“Does this condition happen to specific breeds?”

PDSA states that dry eyes can pass from parent to pup. And it’s most common in the following breeds:

  • Pug.
  • Shi Tzu.
  • Yorkshire Terrier. 
  • Westhighland White Terrier.
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

“What is the treatment for dry eye?”

Unfortunately, it is a lifelong condition with no cure. But it is manageable through the following treatments:

  • False tears. 
  • Regular eye wiping.
  • Ciclosporin eye drops. 

There are times when medication won’t be effective. So your vet will recommend surgery to place a tube that supplies saliva for lubrication. 

But there are extreme cases where the tear gland gets destroyed. And the only option to consider is eye removal or enucleation. 

#6: Mites

Did you know that tiny organisms live within your dog’s skin?

And it’s completely normal!

These tiny creatures are part of the normal flora and fauna of dogs. 

But there are times when they can cause a lot of trouble. 

Types of mites

Mites are the cause of the skin disease mange. It results in itching and hair loss. 

Your doggo’s immune system is down. So their body cannot keep the mite infestation away.

According to The Kennel Club, there are 2 main types that affect dogs.

Sarcoptic mites

These are very contagious. They can even pass from dogs to humans. 

But don’t worry. The mites can’t live on your skin. 

And they will die out in a few days. 

Be prepared for intense itching, though. 

Sarcoptic mites cause what is commonly known as scabies.

They burrow into the dog’s skin. Which causes a lot of itching. 

Without proper treatment, lesions can develop because of scratching. 

And these will appear at the following:

  • Belly.
  • Chest.
  • Hocks.
  • Elbows.
  • Earflaps.
Demodectic mites

These mites are different because they live in the hair follicles. 

It’s passed from parent to pup. But with a strong immune system, the mites don’t cause demodectic mange. 

Most often, puppies with immune system problems will develop mange. And also, senior dogs with conditions that weaken their immune systems.

“What are the treatments for mange?”

First, vets will perform a skin scraping on the affected area. This will determine the type of mites causing the mange. 

And they will recommend any or a combination of the following:

  • Hair clipping.
  • Medicated baths/dips.
  • Topical/oral medications.

Warning: Always consult your vet before giving mange medications to your dog. Some may have harmful side effects.

Take for example…

Amitraz is an insecticide found in mange dips. According to VCA, it can cause vomiting and sedation for 24 -36 hours after application. 

And some oral medications can cause vomiting or dizziness in some dogs. 

#7: Flea allergy dermatitis

This is a skin condition that’s caused by fleas.

They do so much more than eating your dog’s blood. 

Dogs can develop an allergy to flea saliva. 

This happens because the saliva has histamine-like compounds, says Dr. Anthony Yu. And the histamines cause allergic reactions.

In recent years, the presence of FAD in dogs has grown, a study finds. 

In previous studies, FAD occurs in about 5.1% – 6.8% of dogs. 


The examination of 10,832 serum samples showed that 14.08% of dogs have FAD. 

That’s a really high percentage. 

The Merck Vet Manual reports delayed reactions from dogs who had no fleas before. This can range from 24 – 48 hours after the bite. 

Other dogs will have immediate reactions to the bite. Which can happen within 15 minutes.

Interesting fact: Dogs with continuous exposure to flea bites do not have reactions. Or they will have them but to a reduced extent.

“What are the signs and symptoms of FAD?”

Dogs with flea hypersensitivity will experience intense itching. 

Especially along the flea triangle. Which is the area from the base of the tail down to the rear legs. 

According to this study, the scratching results in:

  • Lesions.
  • Hair loss.
  • Crusty skin.
  • Red bumps.
  • Reddened skin.
  • Abrasions/wounds.

“How do I treat FAD?”

The first step is to get rid of the fleas. Not just in your dog but in their environment, too. 

Studies have shown the effectiveness of flea sprays and oral flea control pills. There are also anti-flea shampoos. And medicated dips.

To prevent future infestations, you’ll need to get rid of the fleas in your pooch’s:

  • Toys.
  • Beddings.
  • Favorite spots.

In extreme cases, you will have to call an exterminator for your whole house.

#8: Glaucoma

This is a condition when the aqueous fluid inside the eye doesn’t drain as normal. Instead, the pressure inside it accumulates. 

The fluid is supposed to drain from the eye between the cornea and iris. This is called the iridocorneal angle or the drainage angle.

There are 2 types of glaucoma:

Primary glaucoma 

This is an inherited condition caused by defects in the drainage angle. 

One type’s called goniodysgenesis or iridocorneal angle abnormality. 

These are some of the breeds prone to it:

  • Great Dane.
  • Border Collie.
  • Welsh Terrier.
  • Basset Hound.
  • Siberian Husky.
  • Golden Retriever.
  • English Cocker Spaniel.

And the 2nd one is primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG). Inherited genetic mutations are the cause for this condition.

This has a gradual build-up. Meaning most dogs will be fine for years. But will slowly lose their vision as the condition worsens.

But Davies Vet Specialists assures us that there is a test for this condition.

Secondary glaucoma

This happens when other eye problems cause glaucoma. 

It can be:

  • Cancer.
  • Trauma.
  • Cataracts.
  • Inflammation.
  • Lens displacement.

“How do vets treat glaucoma?”

They have to examine the eye for the signs:

  • Red sclera.
  • Dilated pupil.
  • Bluish-white cornea.

Then the vet will measure eye pressure with a tonometer. VHC says that the normal eye pressure or IOP is 12 – 25 mmHg (millimeters of mercury).

There will be a combination of surgical and medical treatments.

Medicines are for the long-term in the form of eye drops. 

Surgical options include laser therapy which relieves the pressure. 

Another is the goniovalve therapy. This involves placing a device that redirects the fluid to the tissue that surrounds the eye.

For blind eyes, vets will perform a salvage procedure. It removes their eyes. And relieves the dog from the pain caused by the pressure.

#9: Eyelid/eyelash defects

Sometimes dogs have a condition that causes constant eye scratching. 

One of these is abnormalities in the eyelid or eyelash. 

These are hereditary traits. Some dog breeds are more prone to it than others.

Eyelid ectropion 

This happens when the eyelid rolls outward. It’s the reason for the signature look in some popular breeds.

It exposes the cornea and the tissues surrounding the eye to the air. This dries them out. Resulting in conjunctivitis or keratitis. 

Unfortunately, many breeds have this condition because of selective breeding. The breeders from long ago desired the droopy eye look.

VCA lists these breeds to have a predisposition to this:

  • Mastiff.
  • Chow Chow.
  • Bloodhound.
  • Saint Bernard.
  • Cocker Spaniel.

Eyelid entropion

This abnormality causes frequent eye problems such as:

  • Ulcers.
  • Infections. 
  • Inflammations. 


It happens because the eyelid rolls inward. As a result, the eyelashes keep scratching the cornea. 

According to PDSA, it’s more common on the lower lids. But it can happen on both lids.

“Why does it develop?”

The most common cause is genetics. And the following dog breeds are prone to entropion:

  • Pug.
  • Bulldog.
  • Shar-Pei.
  • St. Bernard.
  • Chow Chow.

These dogs have excessive skin folds around the eyes. Which can cause the eyelid to roll inward. 

Read next: 19 Reasons Why Your Dog Winks (Back) At You With One Eye

What can I do for my dog’s itchy eyes? 3 tips

#1: Regular flushing

According to PetMD, allergies cause itchy eyes. And the solution for that is as simple as flushing the eyes with sterile saline water.

Other medications might be steroidal eye drops. 

But other eye problems aren’t solved with flushing or eye medications. 

Such as glaucoma, ulcers, or cataracts. 

Watch this video for eye irritation and infection remedies:

Warning: Do this with the advice of your vet. And after doing a proper examination. As eyes are extremely sensitive. 

#2: Do tests

You can do allergy tests. To see if your dog has seasonal allergies. 

There are other tests such as: 

  • Schirmer tear test.
  • Fluorescein stain.
  • Intraocular pressure. 

These will determine whether your dog has other eye problems other than allergies. Like:

  • Ulcers.
  • Infections.
  • Cataracts.
  • Glaucoma.
  • Inflammation of the eye. 

#3: Observe your pooch

One way to avoid itchy eyes is to know your dog’s allergies. 

You can observe your dog during walks or around the house.

  1. What do they come in contact with?
  2. Are there regular spots they go to?
  3. If so, what is in those places?
  4. Are there times of the year when they have itchy eyes?
  5. Are there certain substances they inhale or touch that cause itching?

It’s important to know the triggers for their allergy flares. Because it will make it easy for you to avoid them.