Ace is being treated for polymyositis, also called extraocular myositis. He is the black dog in the photos. The condition is caused by an allergic reaction where the dog’s extraocular muscles in the back of the eyes swell. As a result of the swelling, the whites of the eyes bulge and make the dog look really goofy as you can see in the bottom photo of the golden retriever, submitted by a reader.

I wrote about my dog’s swollen eyes a few months ago. I’ve gotten a surprising amount of search engine traffic from people desperately looking for a reason why their dog’s eyes would be swollen. I was in the same position. With polymyositis, the eyes can flare up so quickly it’s scary. When I first noticed Ace’s swollen eyes, I knew nothing about polymyositis – either did his regular veterinarian or the on-call person at our local emergency vet clinic.

The good news is polymyositis is not life threatening. I spoke with a canine eye specialist who reassured me that although this condition would take awhile to treat, Ace would recover just fine. It doesn’t really affect the dog much except when it’s at its worst. Before I treated Ace, his eyes were so swollen he had a hard time seeing. He was depending on one eye because it was too difficult for him to see straight when his eyes were bulging out in opposite directions.

Black lab mix with swollen eyes, called polymyositis or extraocular myositis

Black lab mix with swollen eyes, called polymyositis or extraocular myositis

When my dog’s eyes were totally bulged, I didn’t take any pictures. I was too worried about my dog at the time. At its worst, the whites of both eyes were swollen all the way around and under the eyelids.

All the research I’ve come across says young retrieving breeds are the most likely to develop polymyositis, which could be a reaction to anything – grass, carpet material, dust, wheat – who knows. It’s most common in female golden retrievers under 3 years old. Vets can do an allergy test to determine possible allergens once the dog is off medication. The specialist I’ve worked with said to go with a skin test because it is the most reliable and effective. A blood test can’t detect the same information.

For anyone who has a dog with swollen eyes, take your dog to a vet. You won’t find the answers you need by searching Google. I can give you answers only based on what I’ve learned, but I am not a vet. And if your vet has not heard of polymyositis or extraocular myositis (mine had not), then find a canine eye specialist who can give you the answers you need.

My dog has polymyositis

Here is my experience with polymyositis with my 65-pound, 2-year-old black lab mix:

Ace was diagnosed with polymyositis around October 1, 2008. He was on a heavy dose of Prednisone (80 mg daily), which decreased the swelling in his eyes dramatically after about 11 days. Two weeks later I decreased the dose by half as told, but his eyes swelled again. I repeated the process, returning to the heavy dose. His eyes went back to normal, so after another two weeks I decreased the dose again. Like the first time, his eyes swelled again.

Next, Ace was on the heavy dose (80 mg daily) for a month straight. He is now in the process of slowly being weaned off the Prednisone. By slowly, I mean slowly. Just to make sure his eyes won’t flare up again, I am cutting his daily dose in half each month over a six-month period. His eyes are not fully back to normal, but hopefully they will continue to improve with the Prednisone. The chances of the polymyositis reoccurring are much less likely the longer he stays on the Pred. Luckily, Prednisone is not an expensive drug, even without pet insurance.

Golden retriever with swollen eyes due to polymyositis or extraocular myositis

Polymyositis often reoccurs two or three times per dog over several years, but the specialist I worked with said she has never seen it reoccur more than three times. The longer a dog is on Prednisone, the less likely it is for the myositis to come back.

In all cases, dogs must be weaned off Pred slowly. Prednisone is a steroid, so when a dog is on a high does, his body stops producing the natural steroid hormone called cortisone. If a dog is suddenly taken off Pred, his body won’t have enough cortisone, and he will be vulnerable to infections. In extreme cases, he could go into shock or a coma.

Some of the side effects to Prednisone are nasty. My dog is a totally different dog on the drug. But the benefits of the drug are worth it in Ace’s case. Now that he’s on a lesser dose, the side effects have started to decrease already. Here are some side effects I noticed:

My dog was always hungry

This dog was ravenous. Ace is normally not food crazy. Before Prednisone, he would skip meals if he wasn’t hungry. On Prednisone, he ate his food in seconds even though I increased his meals by a cup or two a day. He stole from the counters and begged like he’d never eaten in his life. My dog ate from the litter box, raided the garbage, tried to eat all the snow in our yard and ate the pockets from my jeans and coat (where I’d kept some treats).

My dog was always thirsty.

My dog has always been obsessed with water. But add the drug and he’s even worse. I had to ration his water because he would literally never stop drinking. This dog was finding water in all sorts of places and drinking it – entire toilet bowls, tipping over our water glasses, licking the snow off my shoes, etc.

My dog had to pee all the time.

Yup, as in every hour. And this dog had to go a lot!

My dog was always tired.

Some dogs actually get more energy on Pred. Ace was very mellow. He heeled better, chilled out a little during agility and was more content to just lie around the house. It was actually kinda nice.

My dog became more vulnerable to infections.

Because of the way Pred works with the body’s immune system, Ace developed an infection on his stomach that probably started as something as tiny as a scratch. The Prednisone suppresses a dog’s immune system. This infection required another trip to the vet and antibiotics. Make sure your vet knows your dog is on the drug before she gives him live vaccinations because your dog’s immune system will not be functioning normally.

My dog experienced muscle atrophy – a decrease in his muscle mass.

I first noticed Ace’s muscle mass decreasing in his back. His spine stuck out even though he was eating more and exercising less. His stomach and chest were bloated from water retention. And then his bones started to show in his head and face as he started developing “Pred head” where the muscle around his head also decrease. Dogs with Pred head have an odd shaped head with the sides sunken in and the bone sticking out on top. Ace’s head was starting to look almost triangular. It was awful because I know people were thinking, “All she does is run that dog and not feed him enough.” My dog was always starving and he looked so thin. The good thing is the dog’s body returns to normal once he’s off Pred, and Ace has already started to improve.

Should I give my dog Imuron (Azathioprine)?

For some dogs, Prednisone does not take care of the polymyositis. One option is to give them a drug called Imuron (also called Azathioprine). This drug is more powerful than Pred, so make sure you understand the side effects before giving it to your dog. I decided even though Ace’s eyes are not perfect, I would rather continue with the Pred and not go with Imuran. The side effects of Imuran are not worth it in his case. If his condition were life threatening or if he were an older dog, it might be different. But he doesn’t even know his eyes are swollen and he is a 2-year-old dog with several years ahead.

Some potential side effects of Imuran include high risk of infections, nausea, vomiting, hair loss and an increased risk of developing cancerous growths.

If your dog has swollen eyes, make sure to take him to a vet and get a professional’s opinion. If you think your dog has polymyositis, feel free to send me a picture, and I can tell you right away if that’s how my dog’s eyes looked. I can answer any questions based on what I’ve gone through with Ace, but for treatment and diagnosis, consult with a canine eye specialist.

Also, see my previous post on my dog’s swollen eyes.

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  1. Lindsay Stordahl Author on September 17, 2011

    If it is in fact polymyositis, she should be OK. Just give it some time. Ace’s eyes went back to normal faster, but maybe he had a milder reaction. He was also on a smaller dose – 80 mg daily vs. 110. He was very mellow and tired when on the prednisone too. Don’t take it personally, your dog is just feeling drowsy. This is only temporary. Try not to feel bad, as our dogs mirror our feelings and actions so much. Try to stay positive. Take her for short walks and do the things she enjoys.

    Once she is off the pred, her body will get back to normal.

    I hope she feels better soon! If you don’t see improvements, try to find a second opinion from another specialist. I know that’s hard because there are not very many canine eye specialists. But you want to make sure the diagnosis is correct.

  2. Linze on November 20, 2011

    I know the dates on this story are from 2008, however those photos look just like my dogs eye were yesterday. I must say I was hysterical and took him to the emergency animal hosptial. I was told it was called chemosis. I am unsure if these two mean the same thing. They told me it was from an allergic reaction, but to what no one will know. It started in his L eye and once given a steroid injection the swelling went down significantly. His floppy part of his ears however are still swollen and heavy. After I was under the impression this shot had worked and the allergic reaction was over with I noticed his R eye start to swell. I am extremely nervous in regards to this because just as in your post I was told they can flare up again. It happened so quickly. My golden retriever (Koby) has a history of allergies. Nothing ever this severe though. Usually he is just always so itchy and constantly scratching. Koby has hypothyroid and also has a history with seizures. His is on 2 different medications to control both. I get extremely nervous in regards to pumping medication into my dog. I was told by my vet about prednisone I however do not want it to negatively impact him. Has Ace had any flare ups since this post was written? How did you ween him off the pred or does he still take it? Thank you so much for writing this story and I hope to hear back from you.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on November 20, 2011

      From what I understand, chemosis is a general term that includes many kinds of eye irritations that result in swelling. So, everything from conjunctivitis (pink eye) to what my dog had to other things.

      It sounds like your dog has something different than what my dog had because my dog’s ears were not affected. If your dog doesn’t get better soon I would recommend you see a canine eye specialist or speak with one over the phone as I did.

      Ace has not had any more flareups since this post was written, so it’s been about three years! I slowly weaned him off the Pred by cutting his dosage in half every month over the course of about six months until he was getting half a tab every other day and eventually none.

  3. Linze on November 20, 2011

    I failed to mention that I myself was told to give him benadryl. When I gave him 4 25mg capsules yesterday evening within a few hours the swelling went down in his R eye. This morning his ears however are still swollen/heavy, but both eyes seem to be back to normal. I am just worried about another flare up because as I said it started in his L eye and steroid shot was given and the swelling seemed to go down shortly after. But I am questioning why after the shot was given did his other eye swell when the medicine was already in his system. Now the only answer I’ve come up with is I was told the shot was good from 12-24 hours. I took him to the animal hospital and by the time they got the shot in his system I would say it was around 11AM yesterday morning when I noticed the R eye start to swell this was around 1AM so my only conclusion is that the shot started to wear off. Were swollen/heavy ears also a reaction with Ace? Just the floppy part.

  4. Lindsay Stordahl Author on November 20, 2011

    Ace had no swelling in his ears. He does get a lot of ear infections and he has skin allergies in general, too. But he did not have swollen ears when he had swollen eyes.

    I would take your dog into his regular vet on Monday and get a second opinion if you don’t get all of your questions answered. Thank you for checking out my blog, and I hope your dog feels better soon!

    • Linze on November 21, 2011

      Thank you for your advice. I had an appointment with my regular vet today and she seems to think he had some sort of allergic reaction. It’s tough to say as mentioned my poor guy has quite a few medical conditions. I myself am just very stressed and nervous over the situation that occurred. Since writing this post both of Koby’s eyes have stopped swelling. I just pray that it does not return. I’m glad to hear Ace is doing well!

      • Lindsay Stordahl Author on November 21, 2011

        I’m glad Koby’s eyes seem back to normal. I hope he doesn’t have anymore issues.

  5. Adrianne on January 21, 2012

    Hi there Lindsay,
    Thank you for all the info. My dog Lexi’s eyes began to swell a few days ago. They were also a bit bloodshot. I rushed her in to the vet 3 days after they first began to look strange. At first they just seemed like an allergy or something. Her reg vet guessed that it could be either extraocular myosotis or glaucoma because her eye pressure tests were high. Our vet got us in the very next day with a specialist and Lexi was diagnosed with extraocular myosotis. She has been on prednisone for 2 days and I am hopeful that her eyes will begin to go down a bit soon. It has made me feel better and more positive after reading your blog knowing that your dog has recovered just fine. That first night that we thought she may have glaucoma I was devastated since she is such a young dog (only 1 year & 4 months.) I wish I had read your blog before I did so much glaucoma research. I am still so confused about the cause of this problem. The specialist had told me this was an autoimmune disease but you had mentioned it was a result of an allergy. Did you ever find out what allergy your dog had that caused his extraocular myosotis?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on January 21, 2012

      So glad I could help. I am no doctor, but I understand that allergies are an exaggerated immune response.

      The specialist told me that my dog’s extraocular myositis was caused by an unknown allergy. We never figured out what. There was really know way to know. She also said it rarely comes back again. So, that is also good news! It’s been a few years now and my dog has been great!

      I hope your pup is back to normal soon!

  6. Diana Delaunay on February 6, 2012

    Lindsay,

    We have been fostering a mom & 9 puppies since their birth on 9/17/11. One has been adopted and we have been working hard on getting the 8 remaining pups to their forever homes. Chula, the mom just got adopted last week. Amelia one of the pups started with bulging eyes on Thursday. The vet gave her eye drops and prednisone, she thought it may be glaucoma. She also recommended that we take her to another vet in town because she didnt have the instrument to measure the pressure in her eyes. The other vet stated no pressure in her eyes or tumors of any kind. she did increase the prednisone.
    The two vets that saw her have not seen a case like this one. You did mention its rare. Can you please send me the # of your eye specialist?

    Thank you for this wonderful info which you have share with us….I will send you the picture of Amelia.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 6, 2012

      I got your email. I will find the number of the specialist. Based on the pics, it looks exactly like polymyositis. I know it looks bad, but if that is what this pup has, it is not as bad as it seems!

  7. Luz Hurtado on February 21, 2012

    I have a small dog. I LOVE MY PETUNIA.

    Thank you for this information.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 21, 2012

      Happy to help! I hope Petunia is feeling better soon!

  8. Dennis on March 11, 2012

    My girl was diagnosed with extraocular mysositis. She is a 22 month old golden retriever. Her eye symptoms started with a glassy appearance. Initially, the vet treated it as an eye allergy, and recommended bathing, feet cleaning, etc. As the condition worsened, it was treated as an infection. The condition worsened, so I left the dog at the vet with instructions to figure it out. This process was very disturbing. To our vet’s credit, and with consultation, he was able to diagnose it and began treatment with Prednisone. She was the vet’s first patient with the diagnosis. The eyes bulged at least as much as the retriever’s picture and turned more outward. Her vision was impacted as evidenced by the fact that she could not catch a ball if thrown even gently into the air.

    To the gentlemen’s comment about the dangers of Prednisone, I have looked at every web page on the topic and there is no better alternative. The no treatment option may cause permanent eye damage.

    My vet said he prescribed Prednisone at the low end of dosage level, and compared to the other bloggers, much lower. She was prescribed 30mg per day. After two weeks her eyes returned almost to normal, but as her dosage was reduced to mg 20mg, the bulging increased so her dosage has, again, been increased to 30mg. It has been 3 weeks now at 30mg and her eyes look almost normal and we are hoping we can soon start to decrease the dosage.

    During treatment Prednisone at the 5 week mark, her weight has decreased from 70 to 65 pounds. Her energy level is very low, to an extent she often doesn’t even get up to greet new arrivals to the house. She experiences extreme hunger symptoms and begs seriously. Our biggest worry has become the possibility of eating materials that may obstruct her tract. Fortunately, she has passed or vomited everything so far.

    According to the literature, the disease is rare and golden retrievers are most likely to get it, with labs next most frequent

    Great web site as it has given descriptions that are very close to my experience.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 17, 2012

      Thanks for sharing your experience. I hope your dog is feeling back to normal.

      • Jill Martin on March 28, 2012

        Dear Lindsay,

        I found your website last week right after may male Doberman’s eyes started bugging out of his head. He is 19 months old and had been neutered 8 days prior (a stress event). We live in Nicaragua so we are quite limited as to the extent of veterinary help available. An opthalmic vet is not on. The vets here are good as far as it goes but the vet I took Ziggy to treated me in a very condescending manner and just said ” si, si, si” when I asked him if he had ever heard of this disease. Instead he suggested that the dog had been urinated on by some type of fox and prescribed Prednisone and Rimadyl. On the Rimadyl website they emphatically say that its use with Prednisone is not advised. I phoned the vet and asked about that and he said that if I wasn’t going to trust in him and was going to believe everything I read on the internet that that was up to me. Obviously this vet is not for me! Trying to find a vet that speaks any English is very difficult here. My Spanish is marginal in everyday situations but this certainly goes beyond my limited abilities. I have not and will not administer the Rimadyl. Have started the Prenisone though. Could you please send me the name, phone number and email of your Othamologist specialist as I feel I need to talk to him/her. Your website is great by the way.

        Thanking you in anticipation

        Jill Martin

  9. Sandy on May 30, 2012

    Dear Lindsay,

    I am so glad you have written this blog. This is so helpful since there is not much out there on this eye condition. Our 7 month old golden retriever was diagnosed with extraocular polymositis on April 28th. She started on 60 mg of Prednisone daily and then we dropped to 40 mg daily after 2 1/2 weeks since her eyes looked normal again. Unfortunately, her eyes started to bulge after about 5 days on the lower does, so now she is bumped back up to 60 mg daily. I think it was too much of a drop in her dosage. So, she has been on the 60 for 1 week now – slowly they are improving but not quite back to normal yet. She is not tolerating the Pred very well. She is extremely bloated, very tired, hungry, thirsty, has the pred head. I feel so bad for her….I told my vet my concern about the side affects and he suggested putting her on Azathioprine along with the Pred – that way we can taper her off the Pred quicker, but then she will be on Azathioprine – which made no sense to me. Since it is an anti cancer drug, there are a lot of side affects and puts her at more risk for infection, etc….. I called my vet this morning and told him we just want her on the pred and we do not want to add any more additional meds. She is improving so we know the Pred works, it just has nasty side affects. I just hope there is no permanent damage done to her after she is off the prednisone since she is so young. It’s basically getting the dosage amount correct when it comes time to taper them down. At first, I think they mentioned 10 mg less a day for 2 weeks, then I’m not sure what the dosage is from that point. What was your vet reccomending once the eyes were back to normal ?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on June 1, 2012

      We cut the dosage in half every two weeks, and he never had his eyes flare up again when I did it that way. The side effects do go away. The bloating goes away. The head goes back to normal. My dog actually returned to normal within a week or two, if I remember right.

      • Sandy on June 28, 2012

        Hi Lindsay,

        I have one more quick question – when your dog lost his muscle on the top of his head and it became bony, did they eyes appear to bulge more ? Now that the top of her head is sunken in more, her eyes appear buggy again.

        Thx

  10. Sandy on June 8, 2012

    That is really good to know that they go back to normal that quickly. Chelsey had blood work done yesterday and her liver counts are sky high. The vet said we have to put her on Azathioprine, so we can wean her off the Pred quicker. She hasn’t tolerated the Pred well since the beginning and it shows. I started her last night on it – he said after a week, we will taper the Prednisone down. I am hoping it will get her eyes back to normal – they don’t seem to be going down any more. Now I am worried about the side effects from the Azathioprine.

    I’m glad your dog hasn’t had a reoccurence – that’s very hopeful.

  11. belinda on August 5, 2012

    about 4 years ago my dog had his lower eyelids turn completely inside out, he couldnt see/.put him on antibiotics for about 2 weeks and surgically had his tissue removed,now its happening again.has anybody ever had this experience before,i want to know if i can rince with saline?

  12. Sandy on August 6, 2012

    Hi Lindsay,

    Our 10 month old Golden retriever is still being weaned off the prednisone from her extraocular Polymyositis. SHe has been on Pred for 3 1/2 months. I have noticed that she has developed a twitch (shaking head) every once in a while – maybe once every 3 weeks it happens. It doesn’t last long ( 1-2 minutes), but my vet can’t explain it. I wondered if your dog ever experienced anything like this being on the prednisone this long…..

  13. Nicole on December 22, 2012

    I can’t thank you enough for this information. My 1year old lab woke up one morning with bulging eyes and after reading this the vet and I determined that he has EOM. I am 6 weeks into the treatment with prednisone. The side effects he has are really troubling me but I hope it is worth it in the long run. He is only on 80mg a day now but his eyes seem to be bulging slightly again. His case seems to be exactly like Ace’s. Your information is greatly appreciated!!!!! Thanks, Nicole

  14. Joshua llanes on February 21, 2013

    Experiencing this one right now. Hopefully he’ll be ok tomorrow. My is mild. Just a little swelling around the eyes.

  15. aubree on February 23, 2013

    my dog a cross breed daschund-beagle has his left eyelids swollen and is reddish he is 6months old and is very playful. what do i do?. please help

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 24, 2013

      If it doesn’t go away soon, I would call the vet and schedule an appointment. It’s most likely an allergic reaction or a minor infection.

      • maria on April 21, 2013

        my dogs eye is swollen and shut all the way i dont know what could have happend to her?

  16. jaclyn on April 26, 2013

    i have a question.. we noticed my 4 yr old pit was having problems with his 3 eye lid in both eyes. we thought it was bc he was depressed from being in a basement bc our house got destroyed in sandy. well now we have back home and he has 2 other pitbulls to play with. and he is still having this issue. we took him to his vet that said wait a month and lets see if it gets better if not he can go on steriods. i called back a month later and she said to take him to an eye specialist bc it got progressively worse. they took bloodwork bc that was cheaper than a MRI and that was 2 days ago. since than he is lethargic cries to go up stairs and just restless do you know if this is signs of this? he hasnt lost muscle mass in his head. well none i can see.

  17. Juan Garcia on September 5, 2013

    Thanks for posting this, my 7 month old golden retriever Dagny has the exact same thing. Vet said it was scleritis and might be auto immune related since she tested negative for glaucoma or anything tick related ( so of course I freaked out). He referred us to an eye specialist specialist and she said it was most likely an allergic reaction (bug spray, tree bark, etc. but no way to tell for sure). She’s on allergy meds, and only 15 mg of prednisone. Her eyes look EXACTLY like the golden in the picture but they started improving after a couple days of the meds (still bulging but the swelling went down considerably).

    Wish I saw this thread earlier, would’ve saved me a lot of anxiety. I recommend that anyone experiencing the same to just immediately go to the specialist. Since my vet didn’t know what it was it just freaked me out even more.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on September 6, 2013

      Yes, that’s what I hear from others. The general vets don’t know what this is. Best to go to a specialist.

  18. Anna Smith on September 10, 2013

    Thanks do much for the postings. Almost 3 weeks ago we took our dog to the vet because hid eyes started to bulge. We were given drops and were told it was an allergic reaction. I kept looking on line and as soon as I saw the pictures knew he had this. Called the vet and was told I was mistaken. Took him back the next day to the vet that specializes in eyes snf he confirmed my diagnosis. Been on 50 mg of prednisone for 2 weeks and looking better but not back to normal yet. He is now losing weight and I feel his spine and shoulders do easily. He goes back for a checkup next week. Anyone else experience weight loss from extra ocular myositis

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on September 10, 2013

      The weight loss is muscle atrophy from the prednisone. It is normal. Once your dog is off the prednisone, his body will go back to normal.

  19. Anna Smith on September 10, 2013

    Thanks for responding. I sure hope this is the case because I was told prednisone causes weight gain.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on September 10, 2013

      I suppose every dog is different, and this would be a good question for your dog’s vet.

      In the case of my dog, the Prednisone made him very hungry. So he did try to eat more. It also made him thirsty, and it caused his body to retain water (yet he had to pee all the time, in massive quantities). So, while his muscles were decreasing in mass, causing his spine and other bones to stick out, he was also looking more “swollen” through the chest due to the water retention.

      I imagine every dog reacts differently, but that was my dog’s experience. He was back to normal very soon after I took him off the Pred. Hope your pup is feeling better soon! I’ve never been on Prednisone long term. I imagine it is no fun!

  20. Anna Smith on September 10, 2013

    Thanks Lindsay our dog went from 63 down to 58 in 2 weeks but we did not increase his food. Did your dog lose weight that quickly?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on September 10, 2013

      It’s been a few years, so I don’t remember how quickly, but that sounds about right. Sending your dog my get well wishes!

  21. Anna Smith on September 10, 2013

    Thanks for taking the time to answer questions and help everyone out.

  22. Anna Smith on September 23, 2013

    Thanks again for taking the time to have this site and answer questions. We took our dog back to the vet on Friday and his prednisone was dropped again down to 12.5. He actually wanted to play yesterday for the first time in over a month. Fingers crossed it looks encouraging.

  23. Patty on November 7, 2013

    Can this happen to. Only one puppy. Eye. Please. Help me.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on November 8, 2013

      I imagine it usually happens in both eyes since it’s an allergic reaction to something in the environment. What has your dog’s vet suggested?

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