Why Does My Shih Tzu Have Red Eyes? (Or Bloodshot Eyes)

shih tzus red eye

Shih Tzus have one of the most characteristic faces of any dog, in particular those big and beautiful eyes. But their breeding does result in a range of eye problems, with the most common being red or bloodshot eyes. But why are your Shih Tzu’s eyes red or bloodshot? Here’s what I researched and found out.

Why does my Shih Tzu have red eyes? A Shih Tzu with red eyes could be suffering with a number of different eye problems including cherry eye (tear gland inflammation), dry eye where the tear ducts stop producing tears, or it could be an allergy if your Shih Tzu’s eyes are bloodshot.

I will now explain the different eye problems your Shih Tzu may suffer from, in particular focusing in on red or bloodshot eyes as these are the most common complaints.

It includes what causes Shih Tzu cherry eye, dry eye, and allergic reactions, with some information on treatment and when you should call your vet.

Are red eyes normal for Shih Tzus?

Shih Tzus have a lot of characteristics most other dog breeds do not. That squashed face and yes, and a muzzle that’s short and flat. One characteristic any healthy Shih Tzu should not have red eyes. Like any dog, the whites of a Shih Tzu’s eyes should be, well, white.

If they’re not, there are several reasons for it.

What does it mean if my Shih Tzu has red eyes?

In the intro, I mentioned there are three causes of red or bloodshot eyes in Shih Tzus. These are tear gland inflammation, dry eye, or possibly an allergy in most cases where you see a bloodshot appearance. Here are some more details on those red eye causes.

Shih Tzu cherry eye (tear gland inflammation)

If your Shih Tzu has what looks like a small red cherry in the corner of their eye, then it’s most likely going to be tear gland inflammation. This inflammation, also known as cherry eye, could cause eye duct slippage if the glands become swollen enough.

Red cherry eye affects the tear duct gland, causing it to swell up and look reddened. In the worst of cases, the gland could move from its natural positioning because it’s gotten so big and swollen.

Shih Tzu cherry eye
This is what cherry eye looks like in a dog (prolapsed gland of the third eyelid). Wikimedia Commons / Joel Mills

That would be considered a more severe case of cherry eye, as it may impact your Shih Tzu’s vision at that point.

While a small case of cherry eye doesn’t hurt your Shih Tzu, you still need to go to the vet as if not given treatment it could go onto become a more serious issue in the future.

Shih Tzu cherry eye can also be combined with red bloodshot eyes, some visible discharge and lots of blinking. It can be clear up by itself, or your vet may decide to perform a small corrective surgery.

Dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca)

The next reason your Shih Tzu has red eyes could be dry eye, also known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca. Dry eye is painful and necessitates a vet trip.

If your Shih Tzu’s tear glands look okay but their eyes are still somewhat red, then more than likely, they have dry eye. Another dead giveaway with dry eye is if your Shih Tzu blinks a lot. They’re trying to lubricate their eyes, but it won’t work. You might also see a yellow discharge and swelling of the eyelids.

A Shih Tzu with dry eye cannot produce tears, leading to a lack of lubrication. Dry eye can affect people as well as pets.

Not only does dry eye hurt a lot, but it can cause long-term trouble as well. Without the lubrication provided by tears, the eye can no longer combat debris and irritants from settling on its surface.

These could either irritate the eye further, making dry eye even more painful, or scratch the delicate parts of the eye.

Shih Tzus are already quite prone to traumatic eye injuries such as scratches. It’s something you should do your best to safeguard your dog from, such as removing any items with pointy edges that are at the Shih Tzu’s eye height.

Without proper treatment, red and dry eyes can become scarred leading to permanent vision loss. Vets will treat dry eye with a combination of eye drops, pain killers, anti-inflammatory drugs, and possibly a course of antibiotics.

Why does my Shih Tzu have bloodshot eyes?

If your Shih Tzu has bloodshot eyes and you cannot see any visible signs of swelling, a lack of tears, or a red cherry eye, then it could simply be an allergy… or possibly even tiredness. Here’s what it could mean…

Bloodshot eyes due to allergies

Shih Tzu eye allergies can typically be recognized by not just red bloodshot eyes, but also a clear discharge with no discoloration.

An allergy can develop very quickly and could be caused by something as simple as getting dust, dust mites, pollen, or even mold in their eyes.

There are two types of allergies that can result in bloodshot eyes:

  • Airborne allergies: think of things such as grass, dust, pollen, and other small particles that can get into your Shih Tzu’s eye in the wind.
  • Contact allergies: these can occur just by touch alone. Some Shih Tzus can be allergic to something as simple as a food bowl, fabric conditioner in their bedding, or even a favorite toy.

If it is an allergy it’s very likely that both eyes will be bloodshot at the same time, rather than cherry eye which can be isolated to just one eye.

Other Shih Tzu eye problems

Aside from your Shih Tzu having red and bloodshot eyes, there are other eye and visual problems this breed can suffer from. Other eye problems include:

  • Eye inflammation and irritation: as well as allergies, Shih Tzus can also develop eye problems with sleep dust. It can be treated with an eye ointment if you see any swelling or excessive blinking combined with an obvious sign of debris.
  • Eyelash abnormalities: these can include trichiasis, distichiasis, and ectopic cilia. It means the eyelashes can either become in-grown, grow from an abnormal place on the eyelid, and even come up through the eyelid’s inside. This can damage your Shih Tzu’s eyes, the cornea particularly.
  • Entropion: entropion is another common Shih Tzu eye problem, occurring when eyelid hairs connect and rub the cornea. It’s irritating to the eye and the eyelid margin will roll out. It’s common with Shih Tzu puppies, and many will actually grow out of it.
  • Corneal abrasions and ulcerations: corneal ulcers often occur with Shih Tzus and other brachycephalic (flat-faced) dog breeds who have bulging eyes. An ulcer or abrasion can be the next stage after dry eye.
  • Pigmentary keratitis: if you see a brown/black color across the surface of your Shih Tzu’s eye then it’s most likely a case of pigmentary keratitis. This is where pigmented melanin granules are deposited into the eye and is very common with brachycephalic dog breeds.

Shih Tzu cherry eye treatment

There are two ways in which a vet will treat cherry eye in a dog.

  1. Medical management: vets will prescribe a steroid ointment eye drop that encourages your Shih Tzu’s red eye gland to return back to its natural position. If the treatment is unsuccessful then the next stage would be surgery. They might also recommend that the eye is massaged.
  2. Surgical procedure: vets will prefer to not remove the red eye gland if at all possible, but this can happen in more serious cases. Your vet could recommend a procedure to re-position the gland into the conjunctiva instead.

Whilst I always recommend you talk with your vet as soon as you see any red in your Shih Tzu’s eyes, some owners have successfully treated their dogs themselves… if it’s something like an allergy or a dry eye problem.

Here are some suggestions I found online for treating Shih Tzus with red eyes.

Home remedies

Okay, so you’ve taken a closer look at your Shih Tzu’s red eyes and you’re pretty sure it’s either an allergy or dry eye. The question becomes, what can you do for your dog?

It turns out, plenty. Here are some home remedies and treatment methods you can try for your poor Shih Tzu.

1. Herbs

Several herbs and herbal products could alleviate the redness of the dog’s eyes as well as any discomfort they may be in. The first of these is eyebright.

Eyebright is an herb (yes, that’s the real name) that you can use to make a natural eye drop that should treat your Shih Tzu’s eyes. You only need a small quantity of eyebright, about an ounce. Then, steep it in boiling water. At the very least, keep the herb in the water for 60 minutes, but it’s better if you can do it overnight.

Then, the next morning, apply the drops to your Shih Tzu’s eyes. Do this up to four times in a day if your dog really needs it.

Besides eyebright, marigold is another herb to have. It contains zeaxanthin, a type of carotenoid. Astaxanthin, an algae, is one to use as well, as it’s packed with stuff that’s good for eyes, such as phytonutrients and antioxidants.

2. Change your Shih Tzu’s diet

Yes, what your pup eats can play a role in the health of their peepers. Stop buying the packaged dog kibble and incorporate a diet that includes sardines, kale, broccoli, blueberries, pumpkin, and carrots.

Why those foods in particular?

Well, sardines have omega oils for eye health, kale and broccoli contains phytonutrients, and blueberries antioxidants. Orange veggies such as pumpkin and carrots are loaded with carotenoids.

3. Keep your Shih Tzu’s eye clean

This is a good one to do even if your Shih Tzu’s eyes aren’t red. You only need gauze or a cotton cloth and some warm water to clean your dog’s eye area.

If you do use a gauze, make sure it’s at least 4×4. Also, don’t reuse them. In lieu of water, you can always try saline solution, but make sure it’s warm.

As you clean, begin in the center, moving towards the part of your Shih Tzu’s eye that’s nearest their snout. Make sure you go extremely slowly and carefully so you don’t accidentally hurt your dog.

When to call a vet

You may opt to start with some home remedies if you see your Shih Tzu has red eyes. You can also skip that and go straight to the vet if you’re very concerned.

To be honest, I would always consult with a vet first, and don’t place too much faith in home-based remedies.

If your Shih Tzu has never exhibited red eyes before, then a vet appointment is undoubtedly in order. You want to make sure this symptom isn’t part of a larger, possibly more serious issue.

There are several signs that your dog needs professional treatment. If your Shih Tzu seems averse to you cleaning their eyes, that’s a pretty big indicator.

Other signs include your Shih Tzu keeping their eyes closed more than open, crying out, trying to rub at the eye with their paw, or having an illness or fever that precedes the eye redness.

Your vet will start with a checkup, then do some testing to confirm the diagnosis of your Shih Tzu’s red eyes.

If it’s a case of dry eye, then they’ll likely prescribe you a medication for the dog. This can simulate tears while triggering your Shih Tzu’s tear ducts to make their own natural tears.

What about cherry eye?

That’s treatable by a veterinarian as well. Eye drops can eliminate this condition if your Shih Tzu has never had cherry eye before.

In the most serious cases, such as when the tear ducts pop up and move, your vet can push the tear duct where it should be with sutures.

If that doesn’t work, then they’ll try to reposition the gland or take the tear duct out entirely. Your Shih Tzu would need a recurring prescription for eyedrops to maintain eye moisture from that point forward. Otherwise, they’ll get dry eye.

Handy Hint: All dogs will occasionally get a hard crust in their eyes. A lot of the time, you can soften your dog’s eye boogers at home and then work to clean them safely.

Conclusion

You wake up ready to greet the day and go about your normal routine, but then you notice there’s something wrong with your precious Shih Tzu’s eyes. They look very red when they’re usually not.

Has your Shih Tzu had some sort of allergic reaction? Should be you concerned? Why does your Shih Tzu have red eyes?

If your Shih Tzu has red eyes, you shouldn’t write this off as something normal. It could be that the dog has tear gland inflammation, also known as cherry eye. With this, the tear ducts become large and swollen.

Dry eye, where natural tear production ceases and the eyes lose lubrication, can also cause reddened, painful eyes.

While lots of home remedies exist to treat a variety of canine eye conditions, sometimes these don’t quite do the trick.

Rather than let your Shih Tzu suffer in agony, take them to a vet if the remedies don’t treat the red eye in a few days. Your vet can prescribe you drops and other medications that will have your Shih Tzu’s eyes looking healthy and normal again in no time.

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Image in header via https://pixabay.com/photos/pet-shih-tzu-dog-puppy-2530265/

Marc Aaron

I write about the things I've learned about owning a dog, the adventures we have, and any advice and tips I've picked up along the way.

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