Bulging Eyes in Dogs: When Your Dog’s Bulging Eyes Are Not Normal, And You Should Be Concerned

My daughter’s Chis have eyes so large that they look like they’re going to pop out of her face any minute. Every time around them I’m worried about the eyes getting injured constantly. Some breeds inherently have such protruding eyes. So bulging eyes are normal for some dogs, particularly in brachycephalic breeds.

Bulging Eyes in Dogs: When Your Dog's Bulging Eyes Are Not Normal, And You Should Be Concerned

However cute that might look, is it really normal in terms of function? Paired with the short snouts, these dogs are indeed prone to eye injuries.

Brachycephalic ocular syndrome

The above term covers several eye problems associated with the anatomy of these breeds.

The eye sockets fail to accommodate the eyes making them bulge out. Eyelids might be unable to fully cover the eyes as well as they have the tendency to roll inward. The sheer exposed surface can cause excessive evaporation, resulting in dry eye.

Brachycephalic breeds are likely to suffer from eye injuries, inflammation, pain, even displacement or loss of an eye.

While not a symptom of a disease, bulging eyes in these dogs are a likely cause for one. If you do have one of these adorable dogs, the appearance of their eyes is normal for them, but it is a reason to be on high alert watching for problems.

Ocular proptosis

Ocular proptosis describes a situation when the eyeball is displaced beyond the eyelids–meaning that even in the breeds with normally bulging eyes, it will bulge out even more. It usually takes blunt trauma for this to happen, but in brachycephalic breeds, because of their shallow orbits, it can happen much easier–even with facial skin accidentally pulled too hard.

Ocular proptosis is an emergency.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma results in a bulging eye(s) appearance because of the build-up of pressure within the eyeball(s).  Anything that either blocks the drainage of fluid or increases fluid production can do this.

Early signs include redness in the whites of the eyes, enlarged pupils and an eyeball that is a bit larger or harder than usual. The more pressure builds up, the more the eye will bulge.

This is extremely painful and sadly, at the time the eye is visibly enlarged, the vision has already been lost.

Glaucoma requires swift medical attention.

Extraocular myositis

With extraocular myositis, it is only the white of the eyes that appear enlarged. This condition is quite rare, but one of my friends’ dog had it. It is most likely to happen in young retrieving breeds. The underlying cause is thought to be allergies. It looks bad, but it is typically painless. If treated early, it has a good prognosis. This appearance can also occur in masticatory muscle myositis and tetanus.

Bulging Eyes in Dogs: Extraocular myositi
Extraocular myositis. Photo Lindsay Stordahl.  Read Ace’s story.

Other causes

Other causes that can push against the eye and result in a bulging eye include abscesses, hematomas, or tumors.

Abscesses too are extremely painful. The face around the eye is likely to be swollen as well.

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If your dog has inherently bulgy eyes, watch carefully for problems or changes. If your dog’s otherwise normally-looking eyes change appearance, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

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Jana Rade edited by Dr. Joanna Paul BSc BVSc

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. Dr. Joanna Paul BSc BVSc is our wonderful sponsor and has been kind to edit and fact-check my important articles.

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