A puppy’s first few weeks are crucial to their health and well-being later in life, and an important aspect of this time is the development of eyesight. A newborn dog enters the world with their eyelids closed and relies on their mother for care and nourishment.
Puppies typically open their eyes approximately 10 to 14 days after birth, sometimes one eye at a time, so it’s important to be patient.
Keep reading to learn about when a puppy’s eyes develop, what to do during those first few days, and how to look out for any potential problems.
Puppy Eyes: How Do They Develop?
“Eye development for…canines is a late-stage process as their gestation is very short,” says Dr. Carol Osborne of Chagrin Falls Pet Clinic in Ohio. In humans, the gestation is around 9 months as opposed to a dog’s 60 days.
At birth, a puppy’s eyes and their central nervous system—and thereby their optical nerves—are still developing. The eyelids remain shut to shield bright light and dust/dirt from entering the eye until development is complete.
Even after puppies open their eyes, their eyesight doesn’t fully develop until about 8 weeks of age.
When Do Puppies Open Their Eyes?
“A puppy’s eyes open at about 2 weeks, or 14 days of age,” says Dr. Osborne. During the transition period between when they first open their eyes to gaining full eyesight (at around 8 weeks old), you’ll likely see gray-blue hued eyeballs.
Keep in mind that not all newborn puppies in the same litter open their eyes at the same time. Puppies of different breeds and sizes typically open their eyes halfway through their second week of life, but each individual pup develops at their own pace. Eye development, the weaning period, and behavioral development are among the main reasons why shelters and rescues adopt out puppies at two months old.
Do not attempt to open a puppy’s eyes during the first few weeks of life—let nature take its course and allow for them to open on their own. If your pup’s eyes don’t open on their own, or if you notice any swelling or bulging underneath the eyelids or unusual discharge from the eyes, bring the puppy to a veterinarian.
What Can Puppies See?
When puppies first open their eyes, the world is a blurry place, according to Osborne. “They are only able to detect shapes and movement.” At this stage, they can only identify other puppies and their mother.
Caregivers may test the puppy’s eyesight by carefully tossing a cotton ball in the air to observe the puppy’s visual response. If the pup follows the motion of the hand and the ball going up and down, she can see.
A puppy’s vision gradually becomes more acute as they get closer to the 2-month mark but, during the transition period, they are sensitive to bright light. It’s vital to keep them in a dimly lit space away from sunlight.
Caring for Newborn Puppy Eyes
Typically, a mother dog cares for a puppy’s eyes. Osborne suggests “monitoring the mom and her litter several times each day” to be sure the mother is taking good care of her litter. If the mother is not present, Osborne recommends very gently wiping away any discharge with a warm, moist cloth or cotton ball.
“Should a discharge and/or anything occur that looks abnormal before or after a puppy’s eyes open, contact your veterinarian and address it immediately to try to protect the puppy’s eyes and ensure normal vision,” she recommends. The first sign of something amiss is crusty build-up around the eyes.
Potential Puppy Eye Problems
Fortunately, eye problems in puppies less common than eye problems in kittens but it is important to monitor your puppy’s eyes throughout development.
According to Osborne, eye infections from bacterial contamination, viral issues, and eye injuries can generally be eliminated by keeping a tidy environment for the puppies. It also helps if the mother is up to date on her vaccinations.
Puppies can be born with congenital defects in their eyes. Some of these may affect their vision while others make the eye look different but have no impact on function. Occasionally, puppies are born blind. As they grow these dogs can have a relatively normal life in the right home but may require additional attention and nurturing as puppies.
Trauma such as scratches from other puppies are common. If a puppy is rubbing or scratching at her eye or is unable to keep the eye fully open she should be evaluated by a veterinarian. Scratches can cause cuts on the surface of the eye, called corneal ulcers, that require medication.
Many dog breeds are known to carry genetic eye problems including Pit Bulls, Labradors, Irish Setters, Australian Shepherds, French Bulldogs, American Bulldogs, and others. If you purchase your puppy from a breeder, make sure that the parents passed their Companion Animal Eye Registry (CAER) examination for any relevant diseases.