The eyes of newborn puppies open at 10 to 14 days of age. Infection behind the eyelids, called neonatal conjunctivitis, can occur before or after the eyelids separate. This form of conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria that gain access to the space behind the eyelids during or shortly after birth.
There is a condition called ankyloblepharon in which the eyelids do not open as widely as they should. This predisposes a puppy to neonatal conjunctivitis. Neonatal conjunctivitis may affect several puppies in the same litter.
Suspect this problem if the eyelids appear swollen and/or the eyelids bulge. A purulent discharge may be present if the infection occurs when the eyes are beginning to open. The discharge may cause the eyelids to stick together.
Treatment: Notify your veterinarian immediately if you suspect neonatal conjunctivitis. Delay in treatment can lead to corneal damage and blindness.
The eyelids (if still fused) should be opened to allow pus to escape. With puppies older than seven days, this can usually be done by gently pulling the eyelids apart. In puppies younger than seven days, your veterinarian may need to open the eyelids with a surgical instrument.
Once the lids are open, the surface of the eye and the eyelids should be cleaned to remove purulent discharge, as described for purulent conjunctivitis. Repeat as necessary. Eyelids that stick together should be manually separated to facilitate drainage. Solutions or ointments prescribed by your veterinarian that contain broadspectrum antibiotics should be instilled into the eyes several times daily. Artificial tears should also be used frequently, as newborns do not make tears before their eyes would naturally open. The artificial tears prevent drying of the cornea.