What Does It Mean When a Dog’s Eye is Cloudy?

Cloudy eyes in dogs can mean one of two things – natural changes due to aging or a symptom of an eye condition. Eye cloudiness may appear as a blurry discoloration or hazy film covering the cornea or within the eye, affecting one or both eyes.

Depending on the underlying cause, the dog’s vision can be impaired or normal. Also, based on the cause, cloudy eyes in dogs can be painful or painless.

If your dog’s eyes become cloudy, it is important to make an appointment to get it checked out. The veterinarian will determine whether there is an issue and suggest management or treatment options.

At What Age Do Dogs’ Eyes Get Cloudy?

Usually, a dog’s eyes naturally become cloudy between 8 and 10 years of age. However, the development of normal age-related cloudy eyes in dogs varies among breeds and individuals. 

This cloudiness appears as a haziness or bluish color within the pupil and occurs due to age-related changes in the lens. The medical term for this normal aging change is nuclear sclerosis or lenticular sclerosis. This happens to some degree to nearly all senior dogs. 

While some causes of cloudy eyes in dogs are age-related and normal, senior dogs can still develop cloudy eyes due to an actual problem with the eye. Young dogs can suffer from eye problems, too.

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How Do You Know if Your Dog’s Eye Is Cloudy?

The best way for pet parents to tell if a dog’s eye is cloudy is to look at the surface and pupil of the eye. In general, the cloudy appearance is easy to spot. It can be present in one or both eyes.

Based on what causes cloudy eyes in dogs, there can be additional changes like eye dryness or excess tear production, eye discharge, conjunctivitis (inflammation of the pink tissues around the eyes), eye discoloration, and more.

If you have a concern or question about your dog’s eyes or are not sure if they have developed a cloudy appearance, follow up with your veterinarian for an ocular exam.

Are Cloudy Eyes Dangerous for Dogs?

Yes, cloudy eyes in dogs can be dangerous.

As explained, cloudy eyes can be a normal age-related change or a sign of a progressive eye disorder. In the first case, they are not dangerous. However, in the latter case, the underlying cause warrants attention and, if left untreated, can result in vision loss and significant discomfort.

Dr. Rhiannon Koehler says, “Many of us are familiar with the bluish haze that can be seen in an older dog’s pupil. This is normal! However, if you’re noticing this when your dog is young, if the cloudiness in the pupil has more of a milky white color, or if you’re noticing cloudiness in other parts of the eye, it’s time to make an appointment!”

What Are the Symptoms of Cloudy Eyes in Dogs?

The most common symptom of cloudy eyes in dogs is a milky film over the cornea (the transparent part of the eye). Let’s review the symptoms of cloudy eyes in dogs.

  • Eye Cloudiness: The shade of eye discoloration depends on the cause. For example, it can be gray-to-bluish (glaucoma, lenticular sclerosis, corneal endothelial degeneration), silvery white to gray (corneal dystrophy), reddish (corneal ulcers), and milky white (cataracts).
  • Red & Irritated Eyes: While the colored part of the eye will look hazy and cloudy, the whites of the eye can look red and irritated.
  • Bulging Eyeball: Depending on the underlying cause, the eyeball can look swollen or bulged out. This is most likely in the case of increased intraocular pressure (glaucoma). Bulging eyeball could also be caused by a growth or abscess behind the eye.
  • Eye Discharge: Discharge is most likely in dogs with corneal ulcers or dry eye. The eye discharge can be yellow to green, and its consistency will be sticky.
  • Eye Rubbing: Many eye problems cause itchiness, and as a result, the dog rubs the eye or paws at it frequently. Squinting is possible if the irritation makes the eye sensitive to bright light.

What Are the Common Causes of Cloudy Eyes in Dogs?

Age-related changes and pathologic eye problems can cause cloudy eyes in dogs. Here are the most common causes of cloudy eyes in dogs.

  • Nuclear Sclerosis: Also known as lenticular sclerosis, nuclear sclerosis is a normal condition in senior dogs. As dogs age, the fibers at the end of the eyes harden, making the lens more rigid. According to the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO), nuclear sclerosis is one of the most common causes of cloudy eyes in older dogs. While there is no treatment for this eye problem, the good news is it is not painful.
  • Corneal Endothelial Degeneration: This is another age-related issue that results in corneal opacity. It forms when the corneal endothelial cells can no longer maintain fluid balance.
    This results in cloudiness and potentially blindness. Corneal endothelial degeneration can also trigger secondary eye problems that are often painful.
  • Cataracts: Cataracts trigger clouding, discoloration, and opacity of the lens of the eye. The changes in the lens make it hard for light to pass through and reach the retina. In cataracts, the cloudy spot grows, and as it grows, it causes vision impairment. Cataracts are more common in older dogs and certain dog breeds, like Pugs, Bulldogs, Cocker Spaniels, Poodles, Siberian Huskies, Schnauzers, and Labrador Retrievers. Diabetes and eye trauma can also cause canine cataracts. 
  • Dry Eye: Dry eye or keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) occurs when the tear glands do not produce enough tears or the distribution of tears is impaired. Chronic dry eye scars the surface of the eye, causing vision problems.
    Dry eye in dogs can be caused by many issues, including genetics, infectious diseases (canine distemper virus), cherry eyes, endocrine conditions (hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease), drug toxicity, and radiation therapy near the eye.
  • Canine Glaucoma: Glaucoma is an excruciating eye condition that manifests with increased intraocular pressure (pressure inside the dog’s eye), which causes damage to the retina and optic nerve. The symptoms of glaucoma are eyeball bulging and pain. There are two types of glaucoma – primary and secondary. Primary glaucoma is inherited and common in Beagles, Chow Chows, Siberian Huskies, Jack Russel Terriers, and Cocker Spaniels. Secondary glaucoma results from other eye problems like cataracts, cancer, or eye injury.
  • Corneal Ulcers: Corneal ulcers are deep injuries or defects of the surface of the eye(cornea). Ulcers typically develop following eye injuries, conditions such as dry eye, and untreated eye infections.
    Corneal ulcers are very painful but typically heal quickly when treated promptly and adequately. Many corneal ulcers can be treated with topical medications, though some more severe corneas may require surgical repair by an ophthalmologist. If left untreated, ulcers can progress and result in complete vision loss.
  • Anterior Uveitis: According to Colorado State University, uveitis is a specific inflammation of the eye caused by leaky blood vessels in the iris. The leaking can be triggered by infections, autoimmune and metabolic diseases, trauma, cancer, and parasites.
    There is a specific uveitis type occurring in Golden Retrievers. It is known as Golden Retriever uveitis or pigmentary uveitis. The condition is bilateral and develops in middle-aged members of the breed.
  • Corneal Dystrophy: Corneal dystrophy is an inherited eye problem, manifesting with bilateral cloudy eyes. Sometimes, it does not require treatment, but if it causes ulcers, they will need to be treated.
    Based on the affected eye layer, there are three types of corneal dystrophy in dogs- epithelial, stromal, and endothelial. Epithelial and endothelial dystrophy can occur in any dog breed, while stromal dystrophy is prevalent in Bearded Collies, Weimaraners, and Cocker Spaniels.

How Do You Get Rid of Cloudy Eyes in Dogs?

Some cases of cloudy eyes do not need to be treated, such as nuclear sclerosis. For cloudiness that is caused by a medical condition, there are various treatment options for different causes of cloudy eyes in dogs. The correct treatment depends on the underlying cause. Here is a closer look at some common treatment options.

  • Eye Drops & Ointments: Topical treatment is necessary when treating dry eye, in which case the vet will prescribe artificial tears and potentially an immunosuppressant. Eye drops can also be used to reduce pressure and pain in dogs with glaucoma. Topical treatment can be indicated in cases of corneal ulcers and corneal dystrophy. Hypertonic saline drops may be used for some cases of corneal endothelial degeneration.
  • Antibiotics: If dealing with an eye infection, the treatment of choice is antibiotics. Depending on the situation, the vet may prescribe topical antibiotics (in the form of eye drops/ointments) or oral antibiotics.
  • Surgery: In more severe cases of corneal ulcers, corneal dystrophy, and glaucoma, the vet will recommend surgery. Surgical correction is the only treatment option for dogs with cataracts. It may be a simple correction or a more extensive procedure. Most ocular procedures beyond enucleation are performed by a veterinary ophthalmologist.

Your vet may discuss additional treatment options with you. They will know your pet and their medical history best, so it is important that you follow their recommendations.

Using eye drops in dogs, can be tricky. To make the procedure easier, Dr. Rhiannon Koehler provides the following instructions:

  • Stand behind your dog while they’re sitting so that they cannot back away, use one hand to hold their muzzle and point it upward slightly. 
  • If you’re putting a drop in the left eye, hold the muzzle with the left hand. If you’re putting a drop in the right eye, hold the muzzle in the right hand. 
  • You can then use your thumb on this hand to slightly pull down the skin under the eye. 
  • Rest your other hand with the eye drop bottle on the dog’s head, using the side of your hand to pull up the upper eyelid. This should hold the eyelids open enough for you to get a drop in the eye without touching the eye itself. 
  • For smaller dogs, it may help to hold them against you on a raised surface like a table. 
  • If you need help, have someone else hold the dog’s muzzle while you are opening the eyelid and applying the drops!

Do Cloudy Eyes in Dogs Mean Blindness?

No, cloudy eyes in dogs do not always mean blindness. Dogs with nuclear sclerosis appear to have normal vision, although veterinarians are unable to run the same sort of vision tests you’d have at the optometrist’s office to determine how precise vision is. 

However, if left untreated, many causes of cloudy eyes in dogs can result in vision loss. Therefore, it is essential to seek veterinary help and prevent vision impairments and blindness.

Do Cloudy Eyes in Dogs Go Away?

Yes, with proper treatment, many causes of cloudy eyes in dogs can improve, but this is not a guaranteed outcome. It all depends on the severity of the cloudiness and the underlying cause.

However, without treatment, the cloudiness will not go away. Instead, it is more likely to progress and can seriously affect the dog’s vision.

As mentioned, some causes, such as nuclear sclerosis, do not require treatment and are normal changes. As such, this will not go away.

How Do You Prevent Cloudy Eyes in Dogs?

Most cases of cloudy eyes cannot be prevented. However, you can care for your dog’s eyes by keeping them clean and practicing regular vet check-ups. 

Some causes, such as cataracts due to diabetes, can be prevented by feeding a healthy diet and having blood testing performed regularly for early detection. 

You can also prevent the progression of cloudiness by seeking treatment early when you do notice changes to your pet’s eyes.