My Puppy Has A Lazy Eye

Is there something wrong with your dog’s eyes? ¹

Did you recently notice that your puppy’s eyes wander off in different directions?

As a new pet parent, you may worry that your puppy has lazy eyes, and their eyes often involuntarily move in different directions.

Lazy eyes are not very common in dogs, and fortunately it doesn’t cause any form of pain or discomfort to your pet. 

It’s a harmless condition that affects only a small percentage of dogs, however, you may be curious about the cause and if they can be treated.

First, lazy eyes have different causes and treatment depends on the cause.

If your puppy has lazy eyes from birth, it means they inherited it from their biological parents.

But before we talk about treatment, let’s cover some background.

[1] What are lazy eyes in dogs?

The term “strabismus” or “lazy eyes” is a condition that affects the muscles of the eyes. This disorder is often seen in humans, but it also affects a small percentage of dogs.

Typically, both eyes move in unison. When we look up, both eyes look up at the same time, when we look in different directions, both eyes move together. The opposite of this uniform eye movement is described as “lazy eyes”. This disorder affects the muscles of the eyes, in such a way that both eyes simultaneously look in different directions. Lazy eyes can sometimes affect only one eye, but it can also affect both eyes. 

[2] Why does my dog suddenly have lazy eyes?

Lazy eyes or strabismus is hereditary in some dog breeds, and in cases like this, no treatment is required. Pugs and Boston Terrier are especially affected with lazy eyes because they inherit weak eye muscles, other dog breeds can get it too. For instance, Akita, Golden Retriever, Irish Wolfhound, and Shar Pei are all dog breeds with a high risk of developing lazy eyes. If your puppy was born with a lazy eye, they will be able to adjust and will not suffer due to their eyes. 

A sudden lazy eye(s) in a dog can be due to an underlying condition. An injury to your dog’s eye or head that affected a nerve or muscle in the eye may cause lazy eyes. A dog can also develop lazy eyes if they have a problem with their vestibular system. 

[3] What causes lazy eyes in dogs?

A dog’s eye is controlled by a group of 7 muscles; 4 rectus muscles, 2 oblique muscles and 1 retractor muscle. The rectus muscles control the up, down and sideways eye movements, the oblique muscles control the clockwise and anticlockwise movements, and the retractor muscle controls the third eyelid. A weakening of the muscles that regulate eye movement in dogs causes it to shift from its normal position, resulting in a lazy eye. The following factors may contribute to the weakening of the eye muscles:

Inherited genes: lazy eyes are more common in some breeds than others. This is mainly due to inherited weak eye muscles. Dogs breed with a high risk of developing lazy eyes include Pugs, Boston terriers, Akitas, Shar Peis, Irish Wolfhounds, and Golden Retrievers.

Injury & trauma: lazy eyes can be the result of an injury to a dog’s head or eyes. Any injury to a dog’s head that results in the malfunction of the nerves or muscles that control eye movement, will cause lazy eyes. A serious head injury from a fall, car accident or being struck in the head can cause lazy eyes in dogs.

Tumors: tumors can also cause lazy eyes in dogs, although this tends to be rare. Lazy eyes can be a result of a tumor growing in a dog’s head and pressing against the nerves and muscles.

Nervous system dysfunction: lazy eye can be caused by anything that negatively affects the nervous system. An inflammation of the nervous system, either due to trauma, brain injury, infection, illness, etc., can cause lazy eyes. 

Vestibular disease: Another cause of lazy eye in dogs is vestibular disorder. A dog’s balance is controlled by the vestibular system, which is located inside the ear. A dog can develop lazy eyes when the vestibular system is disrupted.

[4] Do dogs outgrow lazy eyes?

It’s easy to assume that because a lazy eye is a muscle disorder, the muscles will get stronger and the lazy eyes will go away. Well yes, puppies can outgrow lazy eyes, but this rarely happens. In most cases, they need some form of treatment to help with the problem. In humans, a lazy eye is sometimes treated with an eye-patch. The eye-patch covers the good eye, while the weak eye is forced to grow stronger. 

The problem is approached differently in dogs. Instead of ignoring your dog’s lazy eyes, and hoping they would outgrow it, take them to the vet for an examination. Since lazy eyes can have different causes, especially if your dog suddenly developed one, the vet will run some tests to diagnose the cause of the problem. 

[5] What are the signs that a dog has an eye problem?

Dogs can develop eye problems just like we do. Conjunctivitis, cataracts, injuries, and glaucoma, among other problems, are some of the eye problems that dogs suffer. Eye diseases in dogs can be as a result of aging, disease, accident, and inherited disorders.  In fact, as your dog ages, they become more susceptible to eye problems, which can range from mild issues to vision loss. 

A dog’s eyes might be affected by a variety of illnesses, although the signs are often the same. Squinting, redness and scratching at the eyes are some of the most obvious signs that something may be wrong with your dog’s eye. Sometimes, you may notice some discharge, tearing, or cloudiness.

Here are some of the common signs of an eye problem in dogs:

  • Red and swollen eye: this is an obvious sign that your dog is having trouble with their eyes. If they paw at and scratch their eyes, then they really need a vet to examine their eyes.
  • Squinting: a dog will squint for different reasons, sometimes it may be due to their mood. But other times it may be because of something more serious like a foreign object in their eye, an eye infection, corneal ulcers, pain, trauma or an eye infection. 
  • Discharge: thick or watery discharge from your dog’s eye can also have different causes. It can be due to an inflammation of the lining of the eye, it can be caused by conjunctivitis, or any injury, or an allergy, or a foreign object lodged in the eyes. 
  • Cloudy eye: this is mostly seen in senior dogs. Sometimes the dog is fine, and has no problem with the eyes. But sometimes, cloudy eyes may be due to cataract or nuclear sclerosis. Nuclear sclerosis doesn’t cause any pain or vision loss in dogs, so no treatment is required for it. 
  • Unequal pupil sizes: this is usually a sign of an underlying disease, probably a corneal ulcer, a head injury, an inflammation of the eye, etc. The medical term for this is Anisocoria, and it can have different causes. 

Other symptoms of eye problems in dogs include sensitivity to light, color changes in the eye, swelling and puffiness, rubbing, pawing or scratching the eye, tearing. You should consult with your veterinarian if your pet is showing any of these signs.

[6] What to do if you suspect your dog has lazy eye

If you observe any odd movement of your dog’s eyes or suspect that your dog has lazy eyes, consult your vet as soon as you can. Your vet will run some tests to be able to conclusively identify amblyopia and identify the source of the problem. After which a treatment plan will be recommended, if one is necessary. Lazy eyes are often a minor problem in dogs and don’t affect their lifestyle. So, even if your dog has a type of lazy eye that cannot be treated, they will still have a happy life, and you have no need to worry. 

[7] How is a puppy lazy eye treated?

The cause of lazy eye will determine the treatment. Some lazy eyes do not need any form of treatment, while some will require therapy or surgery to correct the underlying cause. The treatment for lazy eye in dogs will depend on the cause. 

A dog who was born with lazy eyes doesn’t need any form of treatment. But, if a dog’s lazy eye is caused by an injury or illness, correcting the lazy eye will be tied to treating the injury or the disease. And addressing the disease or injury will eventually correct the lazy eyes. In this case, the vet will prescribe medications to treat the underlying condition, be it an illness or an injury. 

Conclusion 

If your dog has lazy eyes, it’ll be difficult for both eyes to focus on one object at the same time. The dog may also lose total control of one eye, but this usually doesn’t affect the quality of their life. Sometimes, lazy eyes are caused by an underlying medical condition, or an injury to the eye muscle. Lazy eyes can be treated, and finding the cause will determine the type of treatment the dog needs. If a dog’s lazy eye is inherited or caused by permanent damage to the eye muscle or nerve, then it cannot be treated, and the dog will learn to live with it. Dogs have very alert senses, so lazy eyes are generally not a serious problem for them. 

Photo credits

¹ Photo by Sophie Elvis on Unsplash

James Grayston

My name is James and I love dogs. have owned four Golden Retrievers in the past 15 years. Currently I own two "Goldies"- a five year old and a seven month old. The photo shows me with our youngest when she was about 7 weeks old!