Dogs are overachievers as far as their body make-up is concerned. They have tails, four feet instead of two, and extra eyelids when compared to humans. Do you know exactly how many eyelids do dogs have? You’re about to learn about them, their use, and what you should know about them!
All dogs actually have 3 eyelids. They have the upper and lower lids like humans do, complete with eyelashes, and then they have thin, inner membranes that are their third eyelid. It is set inside the other eyelids. Sometimes you can see the third eyelid if you look really carefully, but you most often won’t. Below, you’ll learn about eyelid use, its role in a dog’s life, and any health issues you should know about relating to their eyelids.
Why do dogs have eyelids?
Why do humans have eyelids, hmmm? Dogs have eyelids for the same reasons that we humans do: protection! Eyelids protect our eyes (a precious resource for finding food, avoiding predators, and generally staying alive), and a dog’s needs are a little different than ours, evolutionarily speaking, so they have three.
Eyelids work by closing and opening over the eye, The insides of eyelids are lubricated, and the lids will close, replenish the lubrication and then open again. If there is debris on the eye, extra lubrication will come to the area and help you blink it away.
What’s a dog’s third eyelid for?
Also known as the nictitating membrane or haw, your dog’s third eyelid sits on the inside corner of their eye and will close over the eye in a translucent covering when it’s needed. Think of it as a see-through eyelid! Since dogs in the wild spend their time hunting lightning-fast prey, the time it takes for them to blink their outer lids would lose them their supper! This is where their translucent eyelid comes into play. To us humans, it looks as though dogs don’t have to blink (especially when they’ve got that puppy dog pout going…)
Sometimes we can see it sitting in the corner of the eye (depending on the dog breed). But, you are most likely to see it if your dog is falling asleep and their eyes are starting to close. Or, when they are struggling to wake up or stay awake. It’ll often appear that their eyes are all white, though it does depend on the dog, too.
Will my dog’s third eyelid go away?
Nope, a third eyelid is permanent! While it is common to see a puppy born with a third eyelid, they’ll grow into their eyelids (sounds weird, we know) and it’ll soon go from a large covering over the side of their eye to a corner detail that you may not even be able to see.
When a puppy is in its first few weeks, that eyelid may be showing in a really obvious way. If this is the case, you can always talk to a vet about it (more on that in a minute). More often than not, though, it’s just a pup who hasn’t figured out how to retract this eyelid yet!
Dog eyelids health issues
With more eyelids come more responsibility. Or, something like that. Since dogs have 3 eyelids per eye to take care of, there are more possible complications to know about with that third eyelid. The main potential problems could be:
- Allergic Conjunctivitis (aka Pink Eye)
- Cherry Eye
This is a fancy term for when a dog’s eyelid rolls inward on itself. This is common with Golden Retrievers, for example. It just means that the edge of the eyelid has gotten caught on a dry patch of the eye and the outer part of it rolled over the edge, trapping it rolled in.
This is often resolved by your dog rubbing his eye with his paw to work it out. Humans, your fingers will just get in the way, so leave your dog to it! It often looks like the edge of his eye is rounded out and it may be a bit red with some discharge. This is relatively common and should resolve itself. If you notice it happening a lot, though, you may want to talk to your vet about it.
This is when the eyelid itself gets inflamed and it can be very red and itchy for your dog. Usually, the membrane is irritated because it’s got some debris trapped in it, and this causes it to swell up a bit. It’s often a sign of an allergy in your dog (similar to how humans get red and runny eyes in allergy attacks). Sometimes it can even get infected, which means you’ll see colored discharge in it, too. Since it’s itchy and uncomfortable, you’ll notice your dog picking at it a bit more. If you notice it happening a lot, you’ll want to talk to your vet about it.
Allergic Conjunctivitis (aka Pink Eye)
Just like in humans, Pink Eye is when the membrane on the inside of the eyelid gets infected. It often will itch and will be weeping with a yellow color. Pink Eye is contagious between dogs just like humans, too, so be careful if you have more than one dog at home! This often will pass with time, though you can check with your vet if you want to make sure. Heat compresses are often great, and sometimes antibiotics are helpful, too.
This is the most common issue with most dogs. Cherry eye is when the tear duct (aka the membrane) gets infected or blocked and a red growth appears within the third eyelid’s spot. You’ll want to get a vet involved if you notice this swelling happening in your dog’s eye (or both eyes).
Why can I see my dog’s third eyelid?
We’ve mentioned already that you shouldn’t really be able to see a dog’s third eyelid in most cases unless you’re looking specifically for it. But, sometimes you will be able to see it even at a distance! This could mean a few things:
- Your dog is happy
- Your dog is sick
- Your dog is tired or half-asleep
When your dog is happy, he’ll relax, and this includes his third eyelid! It’ll close over the eye as he enjoys your awesome ear scratches or cuddles. His furry eyelids will often follow suit if he gets really into it! Cute, huh? While it may freak you out at first since it looks like zombie eyes, it’s harmless and a sign of great love! Awwww!
If you can see the third eyelid and it looks…wrong, this is a sign that he is sick! It could be one of the above-mentioned illnesses, or it could be something like an overdose on a medication that he is on. With both illness and potentially an overdose, you’ll find other symptoms, too. For instance, swelling or weeping in the eye, squinting, or discharge that is colored.
If your dog is tired, either about to fall asleep or attempting to wake up when you call him, this is where you may also see him open his eyelids and his third membrane is still receding to the corner of his eyes.
What happens if my dog’s third eyelid won’t retract?
Sometimes, especially in puppies, it appears as though the third eyelid is half-covering their eye. This often means they’ve forgotten about it (kinda like a tongue blep) and they’ll blink it clear once they feel like it! It’s important not to try to do it for them with your finger because it can damage their eye. Remember, it’s translucent, so they can still see you and function perfectly fine.
If the eyelid is constantly there and it seems out of character, you’ll want to take your dog to the vet to make sure that everything is okay. It could be a dry eye (in which case, it needs a bit of help), or it may need a closer inspection to make sure your dog’s eye is okay. After all, a closed third eyelid is often a sign that something is potentially wrong with the eye since your dog is using that third eyelid to protect the eye!
How to take care of dog eyelids
One of the cool things about dog eyelids (turns out there’s a lot of cool stuff to know about, right?) is that they don’t really need anything from us, humans! No grooming or cleaning required! Dogs take care of their own eyelids, and it’s your job to simply keep an eye — see what we did there? — on their eyelids and eyes to make sure that everything seems okay.
Dogs and their eyelids are pretty fascinating, and understanding what’s a problem and what isn’t is crucial to helping him stay healthy and happy! Plus, now you know a cool fact for trivia night or as an ice breaker if you need one.