Conjunctivitis irritates humans, pets alike

Painful, itchy and inflamed eye irritation can be a nuisance for any person, but did you know that your pet can experience it too?

The eye is a sensory organ with well-developed ways of taking care of itself. The conjunctiva, a very delicate tissue lining the eyelid and extending onto part of the eyeball, provides protection and lubrication for this part of the body. It goes about its work 24/7, usually unnoticed. However, when the conjunctiva gets inflamed, the result is conjunctivitis — a very common condition experienced by humans and animals.

We usually can tell when our pets have conjunctivitis because of these telltale signs: redness, swelling, itching and pain. The inflammation may also cause squinting. They may even rub their eye with their paws or forelegs, or against an object like a sofa.

Conjunctivitis can often be alarming, especially when there is significant swelling, pain and gooey discharge. If you’re wondering what your pet would feel with this condition — they feel exactly what humans do.

Your pet can experience tearing, itching and/or pain, and may even have difficulty seeing properly. Our pets can suffer from seasonal allergies just like us, and during this time of year, humans and their pets are at a higher risk of conjunctivitis due to elevated pollen levels and extended periods of time spent outdoors.

Conjunctivitis is often temporary and can be caused by something as simple as getting dust in the eye. When this happens, the eye detects the offending irritant and begins the process of preventing damage by secreting tears to wash it out. When the irritant is especially damaging or prolonged, the conjunctiva may produce mucus to coat delicate eye structures. Unfortunately, some causes of conjunctivitis are more serious, like viruses, bacteria and other microbes. Irritants can also be physical or chemical offenders.

It is always smart to consult your veterinarian when your pet develops conjunctivitis. Your veterinarian is trained in the examination and treatment of eye problems, and will develop a treatment plan that’s right for your pet.

Because there are so many reasons why conjunctivitis occurs (remember, it is not a disease, but a symptom), don’t expect your veterinarian to be able to diagnose and treat this condition over the phone. Severe or not, this condition and the eye itself deserves professional attention.

Michael Blackwell, DVM, MPH, is Senior Director of Veterinary Policy for The Humane Society of the United States and acts as the organization’s chief veterinary spokesperson. He works to strengthen and expand The HSUS’s reach with veterinary organizations, practitioners and other stakeholders.