Knowing the stages of eye development in puppies is important so to be prepared and know what to expect. Recognizing early signs of problems is fundamental considering that not always things may go as smooth as thought. All puppies are born with their eyes sealed shut and this is to protect the eyes from harm considering that puppies are born quite helpless and undeveloped.
Puppy's Eyes at Birth
When a batch of puppies are born, they all will have their eyes closed. This is a protective mechanism considering that puppies are born helpless and underdeveloped. This is totally normal as puppies are in their neonatal stage at this point.
On top of not being able to see, puppies are also unable to hear as their ear canals are closed. Puppies depend heavily on their mothers during their first weeks considering that they are unable pee or poop on their own and they are unable to regulate their body temperatures. They also do poorly in the locomotion department, considering that they even struggle to crawl when born.
This is the price to pay for the shorter gestation period seen in many altricial animals (puppies, kittens etc). This is in great contrast with precocial animals in which the young are relatively mature and mobile from the moment of birth (lamb, foals and calves), but endure longer gestation times.
The eyes in puppies are shut at birth and for several days after birth for a very good reason: the eyes are very fragile and undeveloped at this stage. Mother Nature therefore protects these developing, immature eyes by allowing them to only open once the puppies are physically and emotionally ready.
Did you know? Although your puppy's eyes are closed during this stage, puppies may exhibit some "blinking" movements under the eyelids in response to light.
Puppy's Eyes Opening
The average time frame for a puppy's eyes to open occurs in general between 12 and 14 days of age. It's not unheard of though for some puppies to open their eyes as early as 8 days or as late as 15 days.
In general, small dogs such as toy and miniature dog breeds tend to open their eyes a bit earlier compared to some large and giant dog breeds. Of course, these are just general guidelines as each puppy develops at his own pace and there are developmental variables.
For instance, consider that when mother dog mates at different intervals, her eggs may be fertilized at different times, leading to puppies that are a bit slower to develop since they have been conceived at a later time.
While in most cases, it's just a matter of time, should all the litter have opened its eyes and one or two puppies appear to be behind, it's always a good idea to check with a veterinarian to rule out infections or congenital eye problems.
Puppies showing swelling under their eyelids should raise a warning flag. These puppies may have a conjunctival (the membrane lining the eyelids) infection. The eyelids of the affected pups are often crusty due to a yellow discharge seeping from the opening between the eyelids. Mother dog may be seen often licking the eyes of affected puppies. See your vet as these pups may need topical antibiotics. Failure to seek prompt treatment may lead to irreparable damage to the eyes (corneal damage and blindness).
Early Eye Development in Puppies
As puppy eyes open, they will initially have a cloudy look. This should clear in about 24 hours. The eyes in puppies at this age will be blue in color.
About a day or two after the eyes have opened, a puppy's ear canals open up as well. This sensory development paves the path to the puppy transitional stage which is a time of great growth and exploration.
Although this is an exciting time and it's great to see puppies exploring the world around them, caution is needed during this time. Although puppies are starting to see, their eyes are still quite vulnerable during this stage. Exposure to bright lights should be avoided.
For instance, if you are using a heat lamp, consider that the light emitted may be too strong for a puppy's eyes. Building a hood with aluminum foil (punch several holes with pen) around the heat lamp may create a more subdued lighting condition, suggests Beth J. Finder Harris, in the book "Breeding a Litter, the Complete Book of Prenatal and Postnatal Care." Care is also needed in not using flash when taking pictures of the puppies during this delicate stage.
As puppies develop, their eyes should change color. In general, their final color shows up at about two months of age. Puppy eyes are expected to have fully developed and be fully functional roughly at around 10 weeks of age.
Did you know? Premature puppies or puppies who open their eyes early may not have fully developed tear ducts. Affected pups will have eyes that are not glistening, and therefore, appear rather dry and dull. These pups may need an ophthalmic solution from the vet to prevent the cornea from drying.