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Bulging Eyes in Dogs

What Are Bulging Eyes in Dogs?

A dog’s eyes typically remain within the confines of the eyelids, ensuring they can close fully. Bulging eyes indicate a shift in eye position or size, leading to swelling and pressure alterations. Even minor pressure changes can trigger pain, corneal damage, vision impairment, and potential blindness rapidly. Bulging eyes necessitate immediate medical attention, as they pose a severe health risk to the dog. If you observe any changes in your dog’s eye position, swelling, or bulging, promptly contact your veterinarian or seek urgent care. There are three primary reasons for bulging eyes in dogs: proptosis, where the eye is abruptly displaced from the eye socket; exophthalmos, characterized by forward eye bulging within the socket; and buphthalmos, which involves enlargement of the eye itself.


While not all symptoms may manifest in every instance of bulging eyes in dogs, various signs could appear, depending on the underlying cause.

Symptoms of Proptosis in Dogs:

  • Vocalization such as whining
  • Pawing at the eye
  • Restlessness
  • Attempts to bite
  • Severe redness in the eye
  • Dry cornea
  • Eye muscles ruptured (eye hanging to the side)
  • Optic nerve ruptured (eye dangling by frayed whitish fiber)
  • Presence of blood inside the eye
  • Eye rupture (with a hole, deflated appearance, or leaking)

Symptoms of Exophthalmos in Dogs:

  • Inability to fully close the eyelid
  • Corneal ulcer
  • Difficulty opening the mouth due to pain
  • Tissue swelling around the eye
  • Swelling and redness of the conjunctiva (the membrane on the inner eyelid and whites of the eye)

Symptoms of Buphthalmos in Dogs:

  • Redness in the eye
  • Cloudy cornea, potentially with small blood vessels on the cornea
  • Dilated pupil
  • Displaced lens (out of position)
  • Blindness


Each of the ways that a dog could suffer from bulging eyes has its own underlying causes.

Causes of Proptosis in Dogs:

  • Head trauma, often from incidents like dog fights or being hit by a car.
  • Excessive pressure around the neck, such as from choke collars or scruffing.
  • Short-nosed (brachycephalic) breeds are at a higher risk.

Causes of Exophthalmos in Dogs:

  • Orbital cellulitis: Infection of tissues behind the eye, resulting from bacterial or fungal infection due to trauma, tooth root abscess, or foreign objects lodged behind the eye.
  • Retrobulbar abscess: A pocket of pus behind the eye caused by infections.
  • Hemorrhage: Bleeding behind the eye due to trauma, ingestion of rat/mouse poison, low platelets, or coagulation disorders.
  • Tumor: Tumors in tissues behind the eye, or from nasal or brain tumors, may lead to forward eye bulging.
  • Masticatory myositis: Autoimmune swelling of head muscles and those behind the eyes, common in certain breeds like Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Weimaraners.
  • Extraocular myositis: Autoimmune swelling of eye muscles, more likely in Golden Retrievers.
  • Craniomandibular osteopathy: Excess skull bone growth in puppies causing pain, difficulty eating, and bulging eyes.
  • Temporomandibular joint dislocation: Jaw joint dislocation leading to bulging eyes, more common in Basset Hounds.
  • Zygomatic salivary gland mucocele: Severe swelling of the salivary gland below the eye causing bulging.
  • Breed-related issues: Brachycephalic breeds like Pugs or French Bulldogs may naturally have bulging eyes, increasing the risk of corneal ulcers and proptosis with minor head injuries.

Causes of Buphthalmos in Dogs:

  • Glaucoma: Inability of fluid to drain normally from the eye, leading to enlargement. Seen in breeds like Miniature Poodles, Boston Terriers, Shar-Peis, Chow Chows, American Cocker Spaniels, Basset Hounds, Great Danes, and Welsh Springer Spaniels.
  • Tumor inside the eye: Melanomas, ciliary body tumors, or metastatic tumors from other parts of the body.
  • Hemorrhage, bacterial, or fungal infection inside the eye: Similar causes as external hemorrhage or infection but occur within the eye, resulting in eye enlargement.


Diagnosing bulging eyes in dogs involves a comprehensive approach by veterinarians. They conduct a thorough history and physical examination, including a detailed eye assessment. Eye examinations typically involve checking intraocular pressure for signs of glaucoma and performing a fluorescein test to detect corneal ulcers.

Additional diagnostic tests may include a Schirmer tear test to evaluate tear production, blood tests, X-rays, eye ultrasound, and fine-needle aspiration or biopsy to determine the underlying cause.


Management of eye bulging hinges on the underlying cause and the extent of ocular damage.


 In cases of minimal trauma, surgical intervention may involve repositioning the eye using sutures. Severe damage prompting long-term pain and blindness may necessitate eye removal.


Orbital Cellulitis, and Retrobulbar Abscess: Antibiotics or antifungal medication address infections lacking foreign objects or abscesses. Surgical intervention might be necessary for infections spreading to the adjacent eye socket, particularly to excise infected bone. Dental surgery becomes imperative in cases of dental tooth root abscess, coupled with antibiotic therapy.

Hemorrhage: Treatment protocols vary based on the primary cause. Administering vitamin K1 tackles rat/mouse poison-induced bleeding, while addressing low platelets or coagulation disorders necessitates targeted therapy.

Tumor Behind the Eye: Treatment strategies pivot on diagnosis, often augmented by advanced imaging like CT scans or MRIs.

Masticatory Myositis and Extraocular Myositis: Prednisone, a steroid, typically yields favorable outcomes in managing these autoimmune disorders. Gradual tapering under veterinary guidance is crucial.

Craniomandibular Osteopathy: While no cure exists, bone excess typically diminishes around one year of age. Treatment revolves around nutritional support, pain alleviation, and, if necessary, glaucoma medications to address ocular complications.

Temporomandibular Joint Dislocation: Surgical correction addresses fractures, jaw dysplasia, or dental issues. Dogs may require a feeding tube or liquid diet during recovery.

Zygomatic Salivary Gland Mucocele: Surgical excision of the affected salivary gland remains the cornerstone of treatment, ensuring minimal impact on long-term saliva production.


Glaucoma: Glaucoma necessitates immediate attention as eye enlargement signals an emergency. Treatment involves administering eye drops and potentially utilizing intravenous (IV) mannitol or oral medications. Your veterinarian might advise referral to a veterinary ophthalmologist or an emergency clinic for your pet’s care.

Tumor Inside the Eye: While intraocular tumors are rare, they may require consultation with a veterinary ophthalmologist and/or veterinary oncologist for appropriate treatment. Surgical intervention, radiation, chemotherapy, cryotherapy, or even enucleation could be viable treatment options.

Hemorrhage, Bacterial, or Fungal Infection Inside the Eye: Managing intraocular disorders demands heightened sensitivity compared to external conditions. Treatment strategies remain consistent with those mentioned above, albeit with greater intricacy. Your veterinarian may suggest referral to a veterinary ophthalmologist for specialized care.

Living and Management

The recuperation process for bulging eyes in dogs is contingent upon the underlying cause and the treatment administered. Generally, conditions amenable to surgical intervention tend to result in a swifter resolution compared to other ailments or infections. Certain bacterial or tick-borne infections might necessitate extended courses of antibiotic therapy.

Glaucoma, typically a chronic and enduring condition, persists throughout a dog’s life unless it arises as a secondary manifestation of a correctable disorder, such as an infection or lens luxation.


Prevention plays a crucial role in mitigating the occurrence of bulging eyes in dogs. Apart from addressing underlying causes that may trigger the condition, there are preventive measures to safeguard your dog’s eyes from trauma or injury:

  • Opt for harnesses instead of collars, especially for short-nosed (brachycephalic) breeds.
  • Avoid letting your dog play or roam in areas where long, dry grasses with potential foxtails are present.
  • Refrain from breeding dogs known to have inherited medical issues.
  • Promptly take your dog to the veterinarian upon observing any signs of squinting, redness, or discharge from the eyes. It’s preferable for the vet to examine the dog before the eyes bulge, as treatment is easier and less costly at this stage.

Bulging Eyes in Dogs FAQs

Are bulging eyes normal in dogs?

Certain breeds may exhibit a “doe-eyed” appearance or appear to have larger eyes due to their shorter noses and shallow eye sockets. This is considered normal for these breeds. However, such dogs often encounter medical issues associated with shallow eye sockets, including dry eyes, corneal scratches and ulcers, and proptosis even with minimal head trauma.

Are bulging eyes an emergency?

Unless a short-nosed/brachycephalic dog appears comfortable with clear eyes, bulging eyes are deemed an emergency. The protrusion puts the eyes at risk of drying out, developing ulcers, and losing their blood or nerve supply, potentially leading to pain or blindness.

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