Swollen Eye in a Dog: Bugs. I Hate Bugs. But They Seem To Have Nothing to Do with JD’s Puffy Eye

Eye swelling in dogs can be a serious situation.

Potential causes include insect stings, allergic reactions, infections, and injuries. JD’s swelling didn’t affect the eye itself but rather the area around the lid. Because it was a bug season and he had no other ill effects, it made sense to suspect a bug sting.

Swollen Eye in a Dog: Bugs. I Hate Bugs. But They Seem To Have Nothing to Do with JD's Puffy Eye

I hate bugs

Bugs are the hallmark of summer around here. Starting with black flies, followed by mosquitoes and deer flies. Now all that is slowing down, and it’s time to switch from biting flies to stinging bugs. Bees, wasps, and hornets are in the full swing.

Just about exactly a year ago Cookie got stung by a bald-faced hornet.

This year she may or may not have got stung again; she did fly out of the grass shaking her head and running for cover, but when I went back to see what it could have been I haven’t found anything. I gave her some Benadryl immediately; she didn’t swell anywhere. The only thing I hate more than my dogs getting stung by something is having no idea what actually happened.

Cookie has learned respect for things that buzz. But there are so many everywhere, both her and JD do jump up from various places with the same reaction. Perhaps they’re just getting startled …

First signs?

About two weeks ago, something was off with JD.

First thing in the morning, as we were heading out, I heard him whimper behind me. I didn’t see what he was doing at the time. I quickly checked and didn’t see anything wrong. We went out, and all seemed fine.

Later that day, though, he did it again. Something was going on, and yet I still couldn’t identify a problem. I felt, rather than observed that it had something to do with his face, mouth or head. Bad tooth perhaps?

I had hubby check his teeth and mouth, but we couldn’t find anything.

JD’s puffy eye

It wasn’t until later in the afternoon when his eye got puffy. Well, not the eye itself, but the eyebrow. Given how many stinging insects are around and the places he sticks his head into, it was a logical assumption that he got stung. Probably first thing in the morning, when hubby took him to pee before the actual morning walk. That would explain things.

I gave him some Benadryl and by the next day the swelling was gone.

The swelling returns

All was well until last Thursday when he woke up yet with another swelling at almost exactly the same spot.

What are the odds of him getting stung twice in the same spot?

Well, okay, the odds are always 50/50, aren’t they? Like in the Gone Fishin’ movie where the poor guy got struck by lightning for the third time. Just after his friend convinced him, “What are the odds of one person getting hit by lightning three times?” Pretty good, as it turned out.

But still, it was strange. Not impossible, but strange. More Benadryl then. The swelling did go down, again. On Friday, all looked well. But on Saturday the swelling was back. That’s not how you’d expect an insect sting to behave.

And getting stung three times in the same spot, in spite of the movie, is just ridiculous.

So we called the vet to make an appointment. She figured that the stinger might have remained in the flesh causing all this trouble. Gave us two options; just to grab some antibiotics or bring JD in. We figured if we’re going to do this we’re going to do it right and made the appointment.

At the veterinarian

As the vet was examining JD, she asked whether he’s been chewing only on one side. Well, we don’t know – JD does not chew his food.

She asked hubby to try and open JD’s mouth wide to see whether he’ll respond. And indeed, he whimpered.

“This is the third dog I’ve seen this week with this problem,” the vet said. “They were chewing on a stick and got a splinter caught in the soft palate. While the splinter is likely gone, because of all the bones in the way the infection doesn’t have anywhere else to go other than making its way above the eye.”

A splinter?

Swollen Eye in a Dog

JD did get antibiotics, and the swelling is just about gone now. We shall see whether that will take care of it or not. The potential complications are the splinter (or whatever it was) still being in there, and/or an abscess. Hopefully, none of that is going to be the case.

We don’t encourage JD to chew sticks but out here in the bush, one cannot watch him every minute of every day. He’ll chew stuff, he’ll eat stuff … He does have a history of eating sticks. I smell a muzzle in his future. Though I have seen a dog, wearing a tight muzzle, still able to get a dead mouse in his mouth. And according to the owner that was a fifth different type of muzzle they tried.

Where there is will, there is a way, I suppose.

JD eating stuff was the initial reason I got health insurance for him.

It’s not over

We finished JD’s antibiotics diligently and the swelling went away. A week later the vet called to check on him and everything looked good. But it was not meant to last.

A week after we finished the antibiotics, I was looking at JD’s head and it was starting to get puffy yet again. Ugh. Perhaps the splinter or whatever else was still in there after all?

Time for foreign body hunting

When Cookie had the chunk of a porcupine quill in her foot, it too kept getting infected, healed with antibiotics, then infected again. It would make sense to assume the same thing was happening with JD.

Back to the vet. This time JD would get some imaging, including dental exam and x-rays. A bad tooth was my initial suspect but it wasn’t really adding up. Swelling on the head from a bad tooth? I’d expect it anywhere else but there. But we needed to find out what is causing all this trouble.

JD got a bunch of x-rays of his head, dental x-rays, and close examination of his mouth under sedation. No suspects were found anywhere so he got an ultrasound as well.

Nothing. Nothing other than some thickening of the skull in the same area. Thickened bone is suspicious. The vet didn’t see anything wrong with the bone other than the increased thickness but we agreed to send it out just to have more than a pair of eyes looking at it.

Four radiologists checked out the x-rays and didn’t find anything suspicious other than the fact that the bone is thicker.

What is it then?

Could it be from the lingering infection?

I actually wonder whether it has nothing to do with the present situation at all but rather with JD’s habit of crashing headfirst into everything in sight when he was little. One time he hit a tree so hard I heard something crack. I’d swear he must have cracked his skull but he was fine. There also was no evidence of remodeling on the x-rays, just thickening.

One way or another, the thickened bone isn’t to worry about but there is a lingering infection whatever it was originally caused by.

Perhaps the first course of treatment was to short to clear it up properly? Interestingly, we got the exact same amount the second time around. As I was watching the progress, though, I really felt that the treatment needs to run longer if we are to clear it up for good. I asked for additional meds and we’ll see whether that will do the trick.

So, $1,000 later we are at the mercy of the antibiotics.

JD’s swelling keeps bouncing back

It’s going to be two months since it first started and a month since it’s been first treated–JD’s swelling keeps bouncing back.

At first, we thought it was a bee sting. Then it was determined it was an infection, probably from a splinter caught in his hard palate. While the splinter (or whatever it was) it’s probably long gone, the problem lingers.

It seems like it has been an epidemic of such cases lately.

At the end of the second week, like clockwork, the swelling came back. Even though JD was still getting his meds. That really bummed us out.

On Sunday, I was looking at him wondering whether I’m seeing it puffing up a little bit or not. It was very subtle; it could have well been my mind playing tricks. By Monday morning, though, there was no doubt. The swelling was coming back.

Calling the vet

I called the vet as soon as they opened. We needed to figure out what to do now.

JD’s treating vet wasn’t in the office. The only vet present was not familiar with the case and has not seen JD. She looked at his file, but there wasn’t anything in there based on which she could make a conclusive decision. Because the treating vet, as well as our “main” vet, were both supposed to be there the next day, she suggested we’d wait for them. “I’ll review this with them first thing in the morning,” the vet said.

I was concerned about letting things brew, but I could see the logic.

Since JD wasn’t in pain (yet) we agreed on that plan. We also agreed on giving JD an NSAID to control the inflammation and hold him over until something useful can be done. Should things get worse or JD become painful, we’d bring him in. Else we’d wait.

Waiting for the call

The next morning I was waiting for the call.

I understood that they all need to come in, likely deal with some urgent things, but at some point, they’d do what I was promised – review JD’s case and get back to me.

Since it wasn’t clear whether we’re going to try to go it for some sample, or doing something else that might require sedation, I couldn’t give JD his NSAID because I couldn’t give him his breakfast should he be sedated. That was on the assumption we were going to be doing something that day.

Time went on. No calls.

I called myself, then, trying to at least figure out what roughly the plan would be and whether I should give JD his medication and breakfast. The tech said that the vet said to go ahead with the medication.

That also meant that they weren’t expecting sedating him. Good news or bad?

I stressed that I’d really like to talk to the vet about what we will be doing about the situation.

Calling Jasmine’s vet

More time passed. I waited, then called again. Everybody was busy. Then out at lunch. Then busy again. I understand that a veterinary clinic is a busy case. But JD needed attention.

I called Jasmine’s vet. If nothing else, I wanted to know what he thought about the situation and what he’d recommend. He made time for me.  I explained what’s been going on. He agreed that the hypothesis is likely correct. If the infection did get in through the mouth, there are many different bacteria present in there, some of which would not respond to the antibiotic he was on.

He suggested, if possible, to try to find the pocket and get a sample. Which what I was hoping to discuss with JD’s treating vet. Then he told me what he’d do if the sample could be taken and what he’d do if pocket couldn’t be reached.

His confirmation of the hypothesis and knowing what the plan would be gave me some peace. However, I still felt that whatever we would be doing, we should do it that day. And still no call from the vet.

I decided to give it a bit more time and if I still didn’t hear from anybody then stick hubby on them. The reason behind it is that his voice is much more authoritative than mine. People generally don’t argue with him.

Out of patience

Four o’clock in the afternoon came and went. It was time for hubby to make the call.

Sticking hubby on them might have been overkill. If they thought they didn’t like me calling, I’m sure that now they’ll be happy to hear MY voice. I actually felt sorry for the person who picked up the phone.

The main gist of the message hubby did manage to get across was, “If we don’t hear from the vet today, we’ll be there first thing in the morning.”

“I don’t know if I can get you in,” the tech said.
“Then you better make sure the vet calls,” was the answer. “Or else I’m there, and I will get to talk to her.”

As much as I appreciated their being busy, we were quite frustrated.

Though I’ll think twice before sticking hubby on them again. And they will probably think twice before making me do that.

Finally a call from the vet

One way or another, it worked. The vet finally called. We discussed whether or not there is a chance of getting some sample from the pocket. Unfortunately, there wasn’t.

The next reasonable step would be switching antibiotics. I told her what Jasmine’s recommendation was, and we decided to go with that.

JD is going to be on long-term, two antibiotics combination.

Lucky guy. We’ll do a two-week trial to see whether they work and if they do, he’ll remain on them for four more weeks. Lucky JD.

We really hope that this finally does the trick. Because if it doesn’t, then it is a CT scan and trying to find and reach the pocket that way. With no guarantee that we actually could get to it.

Unfortunately, that did not work and the problem progressed into a dire situation. Eventually, JD started having difficulties walking and succumb to the problem at the end. You can read about that in Ataxia in a Dog: What Turned Out Not Being An Adverse Drug Reaction After All—JD’s Story follow-up article.

Related articles:
Facial Swelling in Dogs: Why Is My Dog’s Face Swollen?

Further reading:
My Dog’s Eye is Swollen, What Should I Do?

Categories: ConditionsFacial swellingInsect stingsSwellingSymptoms

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

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