Crusty eyes happen when fluid dries around the eyes, which you might think of as eye goop or eye boogers. The technical term for this is "discharge," and it's usually perfectly normal.
Some dogs are more prone to it than others, some breeds are more likely to have it, and different environmental factors can cause it.
On the other hand, a crusty nose is usually the result of a nose that has cracked and is scabbing over. It can also be caused by an overgrowth of skin, but we’ll get into that more later.
It’s important to note that a crusty nose is not the same thing as a dry nose, which is much more common. A crusty nose will feel scaly to the touch and will likely have discharge that has dried out. You may also notice different colors on certain areas of the nose.
Eye discharge and a crusty nose can be normal, but there are some reasons where it’s considered abnormal and needs to be addressed by a veterinarian.
What Causes Crusty Eyes in Dogs?
Dog’s crusty eyes are caused by eye discharge that dries when exposed to air. The discharge can be triggered by a bunch of different factors from an infection to allergies to more serious issues including conjunctivitis, epiphora and glaucoma amongst other factors.
It most often crops up when doggos are sleeping, so when your bright-eyed and happy pup comes to say hi in the morning, you'll see an unexpected face staring back at you.
Here are the most common causes of crusty eyes and eye discharge in dogs.
Those of us who have eye allergies know how annoying they can be. Dust, pollen, dander, and other environmental nastiness cause itching, red, and watery eyes.
Allergy-caused discharge is usually clear. When those excess tears dry up, they leave the crust behind.
Eye allergies are technically known as "allergic conjunctivitis" and, when left unaddressed, can lead to pink eye. Which, as it so happens, is the second item on this list.
"Your veterinarian may perform several brief tests to rule out diseases with similar symptoms, like eye infections, dry eye, or corneal ulcers. Other details, like your dog's age, breed, and history of itchy skin, can also help point your veterinarian to this diagnosis." - PetMD.
Pink eye is technically just known as conjunctivitis, and it happens whenever something affects the eye and leaves it red, painful, irritated, and otherwise tearing up as the body tries to flush it out and fight off whatever is causing the issue.
While allergens are one possible cause, conjunctivitis is also very commonly caused by viral and bacterial infections.
“One of the most common eye ailments is conjunctivitis, when the pink membrane that surrounds the eye and the lining of the eyelids becomes inflamed… If you see redness, discoloration or discharge, you might want to call a veterinarian.” - The Humane Society of The United States
In these cases, you'll probably need to get it diagnosed at the vet and get appropriate medication to help take care of it. This may be antibacterial eyedrops, or something else, depending on the cause of the infection.
Now, here's the double whammy of dog conjunctivitis. If you suspect your dog has conjunctivitis you should ensure you wash your hands after petting them as humans can sometimes get it from their dogs.
“It may surprise you to learn that, while it's very unlikely that you will catch conjunctivitis from your dog it is possible if the cause of your pup's eye condition is a parasite such as roundworms.” - MVS – Memphis Veterinary Specialists
Can you imagine taking your dog to the vet for conjunctivitis and while there having the vet check your eyes too?
Those little tear ducts you and your fur baby have in the corners of your eyes aren't there to produce tears. They're actually drains, funneling away excess tears into the sinuses and eventually down the back of the throat.
Well, some dogs (and some people) have a condition called epiphora, which means that they have constantly watery, tear-filled eyes. Basically, the glands that produce tears are working overtime all the time, and the tear ducts aren't able to handle disposing of those tears.
"The problem lies in the duct not being able to properly dispose of excess tearing, which is especially common in flat-faced dog breeds. Sometimes, the stream of tears can result in tear stains, aka the darkened fur around the eyes, especially for light-colored dogs. The overabundance of tearing can also lead to infected, smelly skin." - Rover.
While it might be caused by conjunctivitis, it can also be caused by things like ingrown or misplaced eyelashes, tear duct problems, or even glaucoma.
You'll need to talk to your vet to diagnose the specific issue and determine treatment.
An emergency vet visit may be warranted if excessive tearing is accompanied by squinting and pawing of the eye.
“If excessive tearing is accompanied by squinting or pawing of the eye, or if the excessive tearing should occur suddenly, this should be taken as an obvious sign of eye pain, and veterinary attention should be sought at once. Any accompanying loss of vision is also an emergency.” - Veterinary Partner
Have you ever felt like every time you blink, you're rubbing sand over your eyes? Dry, irritated eyes are kind of the opposite of epiphora, but it's still potentially going to cause eye crustiness. Dry eyes have a bunch of different causes.
In dogs, dry eyes can be a serious problem. They don't have a way to handle it, and when every blink risks causing damage to the cornea, you need to get it looked at ASAP.
Officially known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca, dry eyes syndrome can be caused by anesthesia, antibiotics, and tear duct issues, and there can be environmental factors as well.
“This disease can start off slowly with more eye sleep goobers in the morning or can be acute due to a reaction to a medication or if it was missed inadvertently at the beginning of clinical signs” - Dr. Chantale Pinard – American Kennel Club
The biggest risk here is that dry eyes don't produce enough tears, so any irritants that get in the eyes don't get flushed away. This includes bacteria, dust, dirt, and other nastiness. If left untreated, it can even lead to blindness!
One of the most obvious causes of crusty eyes is an eye injury.
Any time the eye gets damaged, the body tries to protect and heal it the only way it knows how: through inflammation, tears, immune system action, and natural healing.
This can be as little as a tiny scratch on the eyelid or eye itself, a bit of dirt jabbing it, or a much larger problem.
I would also classify eye tumors as eye injuries since they can display the same symptoms and have similar treatments.
"In addition to changes in discharge, other signs can include a visible foreign object, scratching or pawing at the face, or a bloody or bloodshot eye. Eye injuries can have serious complications, so see a vet immediately if you suspect your dog hurt their eye." – Rover.
What Causes a Crusty Nose in Dogs?
While much less common than crusty eyes, a crusty nose can still be a problem for some pups. Causes can range from benign to needing extensive care, so it’s important to know what’s causing your pup’s nose to be crusty.
Benign Causes of a Crusty Nose
The benign causes of a crusty nose will likely begin as a dry nose and can be resolved at home when addressed quickly. Left untreated it can lead to a more irritated crusty nose. Benign causes include:
Medical Causes of a Crusty Nose
You’ll need help from a doctor to identify the cause of a crusty nose if it doesn’t appear to be environmentally related. Some of the medical causes include:
A dry nose that is cracked is more prone to having a bacterial or fungal invader setup shop leading to more severe irritation.
Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE). An auto-immune disease that causes your pup’s body to attack its own skin cells. You may also notice your dog’s nose is more prone to bleeding.
“There are several other conditions that also cause crusts and/or erosions on the nose, so it is important to get the right diagnosis. Some other conditions to rule out include: Dermatophytosis (ringworm of the nose), Nasal pyoderma or Mucocutaneous pyoderma (Staph infection on the bridge of the nose), Pemphigus foliaceus (a different immune-mediated skin disease)…, Nasal lymphoma (a type of cancer), VKH-like syndrome (another immune-mediated disease)” - Veterinary Partner
Which Breeds Are At the Most Risk?
Some breeds are more prone to crusty eyes and noses than others. It's partly genetics and partly anatomy. Some dogs have a greater risk of malformed tear ducts or simply have faces that aren't properly set up to handle them.
Flat-faced dogs like pugs, boxers, bulldogs, and similar are all more prone to these issues.
Likewise, dogs with loose skin can develop eye issues when skin folds on their faces trap bacteria or other debris. Breeds like Bloodhounds, Cocker Spaniels, Beagles, Saint Bernards, and certain terriers can all have this issue.
A unique issue for these breeds is something called cherry eye. Cherry eye happens when the glands in the eye fall out of position and, often, out of the eye socket entirely, looking like a mass of redness next to the eye. This isn't a tumor, though it can look a lot like one, but it usually requires surgery to fix.
Dry noses can happen to any dog at any point during their lives. Unlike benign causes of dry and crusty noses, some dog breeds are known to be at a higher risk of crusty nose due to nasal hyperkeratosis.
One of the first things to think about when you're diagnosing your fur baby's eye goop is how bad it is. If it's just a little bit of crustiness, it might be something to bring up at their next checkup, but it's probably not a big issue.
If it's a lot of crustiness, it might be something more important to have looked into. And, if there are other symptoms, like redness, pawing at the face, or weird colors, call your vet for an appointment.
Speaking of colors, different colors mean different things when it comes to eye goop and crustiness.
Clear: This is generally caused by allergies and just general eye irritation. It's usually the most common and least concerning, so you'll probably see it a lot.
Red/Brown: This is the color that crops up when tears are exposed to air and is what causes tear stains in lighter-furred dogs.
White: Similar to clear, white discharge can be caused by allergies, dry eye, and other forms of irritation. It’s usually more dangerous than watery discharge, and you should call your vet if you see it.
Green/Yellow: This is more like pus than tears, and it's a sign that there's an infection going on in or around the eye. At a minimum, you'll need antibiotics for your fur baby, and in extreme cases, they can even lose the eye, so get it checked out ASAP.
How do you know when to see a vet?
"In general, if your dog has watery, clear eye discharge for a day or two but their eyes look otherwise normal, and they are not scratching the eye and are keeping their eyelids open, it is likely nothing to be worried about. Reach out to your vet if your dog has watery eye discharge that lasts more than a few days or if you notice any of the following: red eyes, swollen eyes, rubbing of the eyes, squinting, excessive blinking, head shyness, or colored eye discharge." – Hills Pet.
Basically, anything abnormal or excessive is worth at least a call, and your vet will tell you what to do.
Unlike the eyes, a crusty nose isn’t going to happen overnight. If you notice your pup has a dry nose, take steps to identify when it’s happening.
Always ensure your pup has access to clean water, especially on hot days. So long as there are no infections present, your vet may recommend that you keep your dog’s nose moisturized.
Dog’s Nasal Hyperkeratosis | Emergency Vets USA | 3-Min Video
You can use a nose/paw balm to help rehydrate your pup's dry nose. Two things are important here.
First, given that nose-licking is part of a dog’s everyday checklist, you should make sure to pick a 100% natural option.
There are plenty of dog moisturizing balms options in the market today. As you’ll notice, many claim “100% natural ingredients.” This is both interesting as well as dangerous as anybody can claim that.
Be advised that some of these options may contain “100% natural ingredients” that contain traces of toxic and harmful chemicals due to unsafe manufacturing practices.
Keep in mind that not all ingredients in dog (or cat) products are manufactured using best manufacturing practices so even if they are truly 100% natural, they may not be 100% safe for your dog. The way they are manufactured matters big time.
You should never take "100% natural ingredients" claims as a proxy for safety, harmlessness or non-toxic. We cannot emphasize this enough. We discuss this topic in greater detail here. You can also learn more about what the USDA certified organic seal represents here.
Your best bet will always be to pick a USDA certified organic balm option. Only an endorsement by the world's most reputable organic certifying body can ensure you are getting a harmless and non-toxic product made with USDA certified organic ingredients. USDA certified organic balms are the only lick safe option for your dog.
As we like to emphasize at toe beans, for all dog and cat products that claim “100% organic and natural ingredients,” if they are not USDA certified organic, they may neither be organic nor safe at all. Otherwise, these products would opt to comply with and carry the USDA certified seal of quality assurance.
And the second important consideration here is that even when using a certified organic option, make sure to apply it when your pup is resting so they don’t lick it off. This will ensure that the balm has a chance to work on the skin.
Keep in mind that a vet visit may be warranted if your dog’s nose seems to be getting thicker or crustier over time.
Can You Treat Eye Crust at Home?
Yes and no. A lot depends on what your vet tells you to do.
Cleaning the eye crust off of your dog's face is pretty simple; just wipe it off with a warm wet washcloth or dog eye comb. A warm washcloth will be your best bet if your fur baby's eye is glued shut with the goop.
Don't just rub at it with your fingers, though, since it's a sensitive area. You don't want to push the crust into the eye, scratch the eye, or irritate the area further by introducing bacteria.
Another option is an eye wash. Eye washes are generally eyedrops with lubricating properties, and they may be anything from saline to a glycerin mix. They're designed to be lubricating, non-irritating, and non-toxic, so any excess your fur baby licks up won't do them any harm.
If your dog has signs of something more than just a night's irritation causing crusty eyes, you should talk to your vet rather than try to just deal with it at home.
They may tell you it's fine and you should just keep your fur baby's eyes clean, in which case, you're good to do just that. On the other hand, they may want to bring them in and diagnose the specific cause, and give you specific treatments.
What kinds of treatments? You may be given medicated eyedrops or eye swabs, antibiotics, antihistamines, or other kinds of treatments to apply. Many pups don’t like to have stuff put in their eyes, so an extra set of hands is always helpful.
Pro Tip: Give them a bit of peanut butter to distract them.
Normal discharge should be minimal and should go away on its own, but if the amount increases or changes color, talk to your vet.
Should You Use Cotton Balls?
I'm giving this one special attention because I've seen it go both ways. Some vet sites recommend it since cotton balls are soft, absorb moisture well, and are gentle to use.
Others say you should avoid it because cotton balls are just bundles of fibers, and those fibers can come loose and get in your fur baby's eye, further irritating it.
Personally, I don't recommend cotton balls. There are great alternatives, like washcloths and microfiber cloths, and a whole variety of non-cloth options for cleaning around the eyes. Look for lint-free fabrics to use.
Do you have a dog with a lot of eye or nose crustiness? If so, what have you found out about it, and how have you dealt with it? Let me know if anything in this post has helped you out!
K Marie Alto
K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 50K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-). Read more