Why Do Dogs Rub Their Eyes?

dog scratching eye in the grass

Dogs rub their eyes to relieve some form of discomfort. The discomfort can be caused by anything from an itch to an eye infection. If your dog continues to rub its eyes, check to see if anything is stuck in them.

There are a number of things that cause dogs to rub their eyes, but it boils down to the simple urge to do so. 

The reason a dog has the urge to rub their eyes could be because their eyes (or eyelids) are itchy, hurt, or they are experiencing some form of eye or eyelid discomfort. 

Not all situations are cause for concern, but it is important to understand why they might be doing it, recognize what could be causing it, and how to prevent or treat their condition (if treatment is required).

What Causes The Urge to Rub?

Itchiness

An itch is something that most beings want to scratch (or rub). An itch can be described as a crawling or tingling sensation, so it’s no wonder a dog would want to rub its eye if it has an itch. 

There are many causes of itchy eyes (which we’ll discuss later), some are minor, others are serious.

Chronic Pain

Pain can be experienced within the eye or eyelid, which may create the urge to rub. Dogs that experience pain will also exhibit other signs (e.g., change in behavior, whining, or wincing). 

Experienced dog owners should know how their furry friend acts while they’re in pain, but if you’ve never seen your dog in pain before, it may be hard to tell.

Although dogs cannot use words to communicate, their behavior should give you an idea that something isn’t right.

Discomfort

Outside of itch and pain, there are other forms of discomfort associated with the urge to rub. Some forms of discomfort include stress and anxiety. That’s right, your pup might not be rubbing their eyes as a way to relieve stress. 

Humans do something similar. Many of us make a fist or flare our nostrils when we get stressed. Your dog may be rubbing its eyes to cope with anxiety, fear, or stress.

Amusing You

Dogs’ body language can be interpreted in a number of ways, but most owners should be able to catch on if they are attentive. 

Like humans, dogs may engage in certain behaviors for attention and to amuse their owners. If you thought it was cute and gave your dog attention the first few times they rubbed their eyes, they may continue this behavior to get attention.

Potential Causes of Discomfort

A number of factors could lead to itchy, painful, or uncomfortable symptoms. Some reasons are more concerning than others, but all are good to know. 

Some reasons that may prompt additional action are allergies, something in the eye, a physical injury, or an infection. 

Allergies

Dogs can have dry skin or allergies (just like us) and might rub their eyes because their eyes are itchy. 

Changing seasons, things around our home or outdoors, or what they eat can cause allergies. 

Although allergies are not life threatening, they do affect the dog’s quality of life, so any changes that can be made, should be made.

Something is In Their Eye

Since dogs typically explore the world with their face close to the ground, they often get something in their eye. This can cause itching, pain, or discomfort.

If a dog rubs their eyes infrequently, or in certain situations (e.g., when they first wake up), the eye rubbing is no big deal.

However, if they continue to rub their eye after a specific activity, this could mean they have something in their eye that they are trying to get out. 

Physical Injury

Another reason a dog may rub their eye is because of a physical injury, whether it be minor (e.g., slight scratch or abrasion) or major (e.g., big scratch or abrasion). 

This could be a result of causing injury to themselves or obtaining injury from something else. Again, dog owners should pay close attention to determine what might be the cause and if there are any signs of physical injury in case additional action is required.

Infection

An eye or eyelid infection could also prompt the urge to rub. There are various bacterial and fungal infections that a dog can contract, but they should be easy to spot. 

Signs of infection include redness, discharge (white, yellow, etc.), swelling, or other physical abnormalities. 

Infections cause high levels of itchiness, pain, and/or discomfort, so the act of rubbing becomes more frequent. If you suspect your dog has an infection, schedule a trip to the vet ASAP.

Prevention and Treatment

There are different ways to prevent or treat eye rubbing based on the symptoms and causes. You may not need to take any action if it is a minor issue. 

In certain situations, home remedies may make sense, other situations may involve seeking medical attention. 

Prevention or treatment may include:

  • Changing the food or environment
  • Training
  • Maintaining a clean/healthy eye area
  • Seeking medical attention

Changing the Food/Environment

If you suspect your dog has allergies, changing their food or environment can eliminate the eye rubbing

Dogs can have food, seasonal, or other allergies, so taking preventative action to avoid foods that have common allergens or keeping a clean and safe environment can be very helpful. 

Training

Training can include corrective action in the moment or ongoing training to avoid potential injury. In other words, an owner can stop their pup from rubbing its eye (in the moment) if they believe it is causing harm. Owners can also train the dog to stay away from dirt piles or other situations that could be dangerous to their eye health. 

Maintaining a Clean/Healthy Eye

You can also help your pup by assisting them in maintaining a clean and healthy eye. This involves keeping their eyes clean by removing any dirt or debris that might otherwise enter the eye and cause itchiness, pain, or discomfort. 

Be observant and mindful of the dog’s physical state and watch for any signs that they may need assistance. 

Keep in mind that physical injury (e.g., a scratch) could lead to infection, which might require taking your dog to the vet.

Taking Your Pup to the Vet

In certain circumstances, a dog may rub their eyes incessantly and eventually display signs of physical injury or infection. Infections and/or physical injuries may require emergency care or veterinary care. 

If a dog is rubbing their eyes (for whatever reason) and it seems to affect their quality of life, the owner should seek the advice of a vet. 

If a veterinarian determines there is a physical injury or infection, they will provide medication (e.g., steroids, antibiotics, etc.) to treat the issue and symptoms, which should help stop the rubbing after the dog is healed.

Eye Rubbing is Completely Normal

Similar to how we might rub our eyes for various reasons, so do dogs. Even though they may not be able to verbally communicate why they rub their eyes, we should be able to get an idea of what might be causing it, if anything, based on their body language and physical condition. 

If they seem to be in pain or discomfort, then additional action might be required. If a dog exhibits signs of chronic pain or discomfort, the owner should seek veterinary care for the dog.

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