Puppies from the same litter will open their eyes at different times. In some cases, one eye might open a day or two after the other eye opens.
- Chihuahuas, German Shepherds and Golden Retriever may take 10 days to two weeks for their eyes to open.
- Bulldogs and Maltese puppies can take up to 3 weeks before their eyes open.
- A Fox Terrier generally opens their eyes later than a Cocker Spaniel.
- Smaller breeds tend to open their eyes earlier compared to larger breeds.
Remember to be patient. You should never ever forcefully open the puppy’s eyes unless necessary. Prying their eyes open can make them vulnerable to external substances and cause visual impairment or even blindness.
It is best to allow them to naturally open their eyes.
Newborn puppies do not yet have fully functioning eyes. Their optical nerves and photoreceptors are still developing under their eyelids, along with their central nervous system which receives visual information.
Their tear glands are also developing and if puppies open their eyes too early, there may be insufficient production of tears leading to a condition called ‘puppy dry eye’. This would then require treatment using ointments and antibiotics.
Another reason puppies take time to open their eyes is that their eyelids are also under-developed. As they are important tools in protecting the eye and distributing tears to clean and soak the eyes, immature eyelids can hinder these functions.
- Puppies have three eyelids. The third eyelid, called the nictitating membrane, and their iris are under-developed and are very sensitive to light. Closed eyelids protect these delicate structures whilst they continue to develop in a safe environment.
- Although dogs have an area called the Tapetum Lucidum that allows them to see in the dark, it is still undeveloped in newborn puppies and therefore they won’t be able to see in the dark.
From an evolutionary perspective, the eyelids remain shut during the initial development period to protect the puppy’s delicate eyes. The eyelids ward off harmful substances such as dust and protect them from bright light and UV rays.
It is important to keep puppies in dim-lit areas during their first few weeks of life after birth.
Puppies also have a weak immune response and so they are more susceptible to conditions such as conjunctive infections which can cause blindness. The eyelids provide a protective barrier against such harmful substances.
Even after puppies open their eyes, they will not be able to see clearly yet.
During the first couple of weeks, you and the mother dog will need to look over them as they may accidentally harm themselves or get trapped in narrow areas. It is a good idea to limit the puppy’s range in your house initially to prevent potential outcomes such as eye irritation, eyelash problems and corneal scratches.
Although puppies cannot see clear images yet, they will still be intrigued by objects in their visual field. Keep dangerous household items out of its reach as they could chew on everything they see to understand what it is.
At this stage, feel free to contact your vet to see if the eyes are developing normally.
By the 4th week, puppies start being able to distinguish between shadow and light but will not be able to differentiate between shapes. If by this time your puppy hasn’t opened their eyes, contact your vet to check if there are any issues.
At around 5 weeks of age, the puppy will have a wider visual field and clearer vision.
It will take around 8 weeks for normal newborn puppies to have fully developed vision. Puppies that have premature births or deformed body structures can have abnormal or delayed visual development.
Some signs indicating the presence of infection include:
- Swelling or bulging under the eyelids
- Pus or discharge coming out of their eyes
- White creamy spots around their eyes
If these symptoms appear, take your puppy to the veterinarian as soon as possible to prevent potential visual impairment from infection. The vet may open the puppy’s eyes and apply antibiotic cream to treat the infected area. You may also bring your puppy to a vet if they seem to constantly rub their eyes.
You should also contact your veterinarian if it seems that your puppy has a congenital eye problem such as missing or small eyes, juvenile cataracts, or a detached retina. Dealing with the issue early may improve the puppy’s vision for the future.
There may be a delay when puppies open their eyes due to rheum, also known as eye crust or gunk. This secreted substance that comes from the puppy’s eyes can stick their eyelids together, thereby making it difficult for puppies to separate their eyelids themselves.
If you’d like to try removing the rheum yourself, you may gently wipe their eyelids with a sterile saline solution and a gauze. However, if you are unsure about the procedure to remove rheum, it is recommended to ask your veterinarian for help.
In general, if there seems to be any substance around their eyes, you may try to use a cotton ball that has been dampened by warm water or saline water and using it to gently clean their eyes. If it doesn’t work in one day, you can try again the next day. In any case, do not use water that is too hot or cold.
If you have just received the puppy from a breeder, you should ask if a certified veterinary ophthalmologist has examined the puppy before to make sure there is unlikely to be any serious visual impairment during its adult life.
You should always test your puppy’s vision. You can do so by throwing a cotton ball in front of the puppy silently. This should capture its attention and their eyes should follow your hand whilst you are throwing the ball. If there seems to be no response or any abnormal reactions, you should let a vet check out the puppy’s vision.
An interesting phenomenon that you may notice is that your puppy’s eyes change colour over time. Their eyes may change from a grayish-blue to blue permanently. This is because during their first few months after birth, there will be a gradual increase in melanin, the eye pigment that determines eye color.
Something that you may also see is that their eyes gradually change from being cloudy to clear, at which point they should be able to see more clearly.
Your dog may also develop brown spots on their eyes. Sometimes these are due to natural pigmentation however, other times it could be something serious as another cause of brown spots are tumors. This would require immediate medical attention to prevent future eye problems.
Dogs are an altricial species. This means newborn puppies are not fully developed and heavily rely on their mother or owner during their first few weeks. This could involve helping them poop or slowing their eating habits to prevent choking.
From an evolutionary perspective, it was advantageous for dogs to have under-developed puppies. This is because mothers didn’t have to carry extra weight for longer periods of time which allows them to hunt better or run away faster.
As a result, a shorter period of development whilst inside the mother’s womb was favoured.
Puppies will begin opening their eyes at around 2 weeks old. However, not only does this timeframe differ from breed to breed, but puppies will also open their eyes more slowly as they are still developing underneath the eyelids. This is to ensure that when they do eventually open their eyes for the first time, they are ready to face the world and its environment.
So don’t worry if your puppy is taking over 14 days to open their eyes! Unless there are signs of infection such as swelling or pus, your puppy is likely growing normally at its own pace.
Heather Abraham is an owner of two dogs, one cat, a leopard gecko, and a parrot (who her dad still cannot teach bad words to), and an avid blogger. From the time she was a young girl, she always felt a connection with pets. She brings her love of every type of pet to you, with information on animal nutrition, medication, toys, beds, and everything else in between. Along with newly-on-board veterinarian DVM editor Elena, she puts pups first while offering other various fun tidbits along the way.