Why Do Dogs Squint? Should You Be Concerned?

dog squinting in the cold

Dogs typically squint their eyes when they are uncomfortable. Eye discomfort can be caused by trauma to the eye, glaucoma, ulcers, and dry eyes. Dogs may also squint when they are in an uncomfortable situation and feel threatened. In rare cases, the opposite is true. Some dogs squint when they are in a happy and relaxed state. 

As humans, we take a lot of emotional cues from other people’s eyes. We can tell if someone is sad, happy, or angry from how they look at us. Because of this, we often look at other animals’ eyes and use that as an indicator of their emotions and temperament. But is this a reliable way to read our dog’s emotions? Not really…

You have probably noticed your dog squinting in certain situations. Dogs squint for many reasons. This is not indicative of just one mood. 

Let’s look at some reasons dogs squint. If you are worried about your dog’s eye health, be sure to consult with the vet. While eye issues may not kill your dog, they can cause permanent damage to your dog’s vision if left untreated.

Your Dog Is Uncomfortable

The most common reason dogs squint is to indicate their discomfort. This form of squinting can easily be distinguished from others because of behavior that comes along with it. 

When your dog squints because they feel uncomfortable, they will show the whites of their eyes. Your dog will also tense up the rest of its face. You may see them bare their teeth as a warning. 

When dogs squint with their eyes in this way, it is commonly referred to as “whale eye.” This is a sign that a dog feels threatened or anxious, and can indicate that your dog is about to snap. If your dog gives you “whale eye,” they are typically trying to guard their food or a favorite toy or feel like they are in danger. 

De-escalate the situation. Do not advance on your dog or get angry with it. Instead, back off or redirect them by inviting them for a walk. 

While this kind of behavior from your dog may be scary, it is your dog’s way of warning others before they bite. If you punish this behavior, your dog will stop giving indicators that it is getting ready to bite, which can be even more dangerous. 

Regardless, you should not let your dog continue this behavior. Consult a professional trainer to see what you can do to stop this kind of aggression. 

Often, these issues are from a history of being abused or living in unsafe environments that may have damaged your dog psychologically. A good trainer will teach your dog that they are in a safe environment now and build the trust between you and your dog that is needed to make your dog feel less on edge.

Your Dog is Content

Occasionally, when petting your dog, they may squint at you and “smile.” This is the opposite of “whale eye,” as they will often close their eyes almost completely, which is the ultimate display of trust. 

This kind of squinting shows a great bond between you and your dog. It shows that your dog feels safe enough with you to close its eyes. 

Unlike when your dog is uncomfortable, squinting in contentment will loosen the muscles in the rest of the face. Your dog may open its mouth and let its tongue hang out. 

This kind of squinting is an excellent sign! You may notice it when you find the right scratch spot on your pup or give them the belly rub that they have been begging for. It is completely harmless for your dog to squint in this way.

Eye Trauma

One of the more serious causes of squinting in dogs is trauma to the eye area. If your dog has some kind of foreign object lodged in their eye, you will see them squinting to ease the pain or try to get it out. 

If your dog has been in a fight and you notice them squinting, examine their face to make sure they do not have a scratch or wound on their eye. If left untreated, it can turn into a bigger problem. Eye wounds can eventually lead to infections and potential blindness. 

While dogs rely on scent more than humans, their eyes are still very important and should be treated with extreme care. Eye trauma can come with a lot of other symptoms as well. 

Look for your dog trying to paw at their face repeatedly, as this can be a sign that the foreign object is still in their eye. Your dog will try to get it out, but further scratching can damage their eyes even more. 

Take your dog to the vet to get whatever it is in their eye out in the quickest and most painless way possible. 

If your dog’s eye trauma develops into an infection, you will also notice a discharge coming from their eye. Your dog may not even be able to open their mouths due to severe infections. This requires an immediate vet visit before it gets worse.

Glaucoma or Ulcers

Just like eye trauma, glaucoma can become serious if it is left untreated. It causes extreme pressure against the eye of your dog and can quickly lead to blindness. 

If your dog has glaucoma, you need to seek treatment immediately to stop it from causing permanent issues with your dog’s vision. 

Dogs can also suffer from ulcers, which are very common and just as serious. You will notice more side effects with ulcers that can clue you into the seriousness of the situation. 

Ulcers are typically associated with cloudiness in the eye. The fluid that accumulates in the eye because of ulcers can burst the membrane within your dog’s eye, leading to a collapse. 

Ulcers will most likely appear after some form of eye trauma. If your dog had an incident with their eye and continually rubs their face or squints after the event with a cloudy eye, you need to get them to the vet for treatment.

Dry Eyes

While this will not collapse your dog’s eye like an ulcer, it can still be irritating and painful for your dog. The root of this issue is a lack of tear production. 

Your dog simply does not have enough moisture in its eyes to keep everything moving smoothly and painlessly. 

Like other causes, this will require a trip to the vet. Your vet will pinpoint the cause of your dog’s dry eyes and may prescribe eye drops. 

Should I Be Concerned if My Dog is Squinting?

If you see your dog squinting, keep an eye on them. While not every cause of squinting is negative, the negative ones can be very damaging. 

Look for any of the accompanied symptoms that have been described to see if you can figure out why your dog is squinting. 

If you are still at a loss as to why your dog may squint, consult a veterinary professional. The cost of a vet visit may be in the hundreds of dollars to fix an eye issue, but it is better than paying more later to fix a more serious issue or lessening your dog’s quality of life. 

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