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Vet Minute: Neonatal Ophthalmia- Puppy and Kitten Eye Infections

Puppy swollen eyes or kitten puffy eyes, need immediate attention. In this Vet Minute, Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services, Dr. Marty Greer, talks about neonatal ophthalmia which are kitten and puppy eye infections that occur before the newborns eyes are open. She also talks about what happens when puppies eyes don’t open and how to open a puppy’s eyes.

Neonatal Opthalmia

What Causes Eye Infections in Puppies?

Neonatal ophthalmia is a genuine ophthalmic emergency, one of the few that we see in puppies and kittens. We do tend see more cases of neonatal ophthalmia in puppies than we do in kittens. What happens is bacteria gets behind the eyelid before the eyes are open at around 10-14 days of age and it causes an infectious process back there. The concern is that unless we get the eyelids open and the newborn puppy eye infection under control, that we can have permanent vision loss as a result. We’ve actually seen in some puppies where both eyes are affected and the puppy is officially blind for the rest of its life and there is nothing we can do because of the damage done under two weeks of age.

When Should Puppies Open Their Eyes?

If the eyelids aren’t open by 14 days you should talk to your veterinarian about getting them open or you should work on this yourself. We frequently see this in litter situations where the female has had mastitis or metritis which is an infection of the uterus or some other bacterial exposure in the whelping box or some other bacterial exposure that has happened in the environment of the very young puppy.

Why Are My Puppies Eyes Swollen?

The noticing thing that you’ll see is that the eyelid, one or both, will start to bulge on a puppy so it will look a little bit puffy and then it will look a lot bulgy. And this requires immediate opening of the eyelids.

How to Open Puppies Eyes

Now you can do this yourself with a warm compress across the puppies eyelid and then some gentle traction with a dry gauze or a dry terry to gently pry the eyelids open. If you can’t do it yourself for whatever reason, either it’s something you don’t care to do or you’d prefer to have a veterinarian do it, of course that’s important that you go in and have this done immediately. This is not something that should wait through the weekend. You want to get the eyelids open as quickly as you possibly can, then we use warm compresses to keep them open, and then a topical antibiotic eye drop or eye ointment in the eye as well as an oral antibiotic. So it’s really important that this gets done, it’s pretty noticeable.

Should I Help My Puppies Open Their Eyes?

It’s really important that as soon as you see any kind of puffiness or swelling behind those lids, you get those lids open. You will not cause damage to the puppies or kittens vision by opening the eyelids prematurely. There is no harm in that. There is a lot of harm in leaving them closed, either for longer than two weeks because that’s when they normally should be open or as soon as you see any kind of swelling behind the eyelids. So don’t wait, this is an emergency.

If you need help or have additional questions on neonatal ophthalmia in puppies and kittens, call us at 800.786.4751.

Written by: Marty Greer, DVM

Director of Veterinary Services

Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, has 40+ years’ experience in veterinary medicine, with special interests in canine reproduction and pediatrics. She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Iowa State University in 1981. She’s served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services since 2019. In 2023, Dr. Greer was named the Westminster Kennel Club Veterinarian of the Year.

If you need help, call us at 800.786.4751.