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Eye Infection in Newborn Dogs

Ophthalmia Neonatorium in Dogs

Neonatal ophthalmia in dogs refers to infections that affect the conjunctiva, the membrane covering the inner surfaces of the eyelids and the eyeball, or the cornea, the transparent front surface of the eyeball. These infections typically occur once the upper and lower eyelids separate and open, usually around 10 to 14 days after birth.

The primary source of infection is often infectious vaginal discharge transmitted during birth, although unsanitary conditions can also contribute to newborn infections. Staphylococcus spp. or Streptococcus spp. bacteria are commonly responsible for these puppy infections. If not treated promptly, such infections can progress to blindness.

Symptoms and Types

  • Conjunctivitis may develop, characterized by inflammation, redness, and discharge from the conjunctiva.
  • Upper and lower eyelids may stick together due to dried and crusted discharge.
  • Eyelids may adhere to the front of the eye.
  • Discharge from the eyes may appear pus-like or contain mucous (clear fluid) with some pus.
  • Swelling and/or fluid build-up in the socket or orbit may cause the upper and lower eyelids to bulge outward.
  • Ulcerated cornea may occur, manifesting as sores on the surface of the eyeball where bacteria has eaten holes through the coating.
  • The eyeball may collapse.

Causes

  • Vaginal infections in the mother dog (dam) around the time of birth.
  • Unsanitary environment for the newborn puppies.

Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical examination of the affected newborns and will require a comprehensive medical history of the pregnancy and birth, along with the mother’s medical background. If the mother dog has previously experienced any infections, it’s crucial to provide details about the symptoms and onset time to the veterinarian. Even in the absence of evident infection in the mother, if the symptoms observed in the newborn suggest a potential infection transmitted during birth, the veterinarian will need to collect a culture of vaginal discharge from the mother.

Furthermore, a sample of the eye discharge will be obtained for testing. To thoroughly assess the eye for possible trauma or lesions, the veterinarian will apply fluorescein, a fluorescent yellow-orange dye that highlights the corneal surface, making even tiny scratches and foreign objects visible under light.

Additionally, your veterinarian may recommend a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis, and an electrolyte panel to identify any underlying systemic diseases that may require treatment in the newborn puppy.

Treatment

Your veterinarian will gently separate the puppy’s eyelids by moistening them and carefully pulling them apart. Once the eyes are opened, the veterinarian will cleanse the eye and eyelids to remove infected cellular matter. Warm compresses will be applied to prevent the eyelids from sticking together again, and you’ll likely be advised to continue this at home. Additionally, your veterinarian will prescribe a topical antibiotic ointment to be applied to the affected eye.

Living and Management

Upon returning home, apply warm (not hot) compresses to the eyes of affected puppies to prevent eyelid adhesion, and ensure the full course of prescribed antibiotic medication is completed. Even if only a few puppies in the litter show signs of infection, remain vigilant for symptoms in apparently healthy litter-mates to enable prompt intervention if necessary.

Certain bacterial eye infections can be highly contagious, necessitating precautions to prevent transmission to uninfected newborns. Seek guidance from your veterinarian regarding the need to isolate either the infected or uninfected puppies. However, isolation should only be considered if absolutely necessary, as it’s crucial for the social and physical development of newborn puppies to remain close to their mother and litter-mates.

Maintain cleanliness in the eating and sleeping areas shared by the mother and newborns, and regularly wash the mother’s nipples with warm water only, avoiding the use of soap to prevent nipple cracking and bleeding, unless otherwise instructed by your veterinarian.

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