Ophthalmia Neonatorium in Dogs
Puppies can develop infections of the conjunctiva, the mucous membrane that lines the inner surface of the eyelids and the eyeball, or of the cornea, the transparent front surface coating of the eyeball. The infection will typically take place after the top and bottom eyelids separate and open, at about 10 to 14 days of age.
Often the source of the infection is from infectious vaginal discharge that is transmitted at birth, but an unhygienic environment can also lead to infection in newborns. Staphylococcus spp. bacteria, or Streptococcus spp. bacteria are usually responsible for infections in puppies. If left untreated, infections of this nature can lead to blindness.
Symptoms and Types
- Eye may develop conjunctivitis, with inflammation, redness, and discharge of the conjunctiva
- Upper and lower eyelids are stuck together due to dried and crusted discharge
- Eyelids are sticking to the front of the eye
- Discharge from the eyes that is puslike, or has mucous (clear fluid) with some pus
- Upper and lower eyelids bulge outward due to swelling and/or fluid build-up in the socket or orbit
- Ulcerated cornea (sores on the surface of the eyeball where bacteria has eaten holes through the coating)
- Collapsed eyeball
- Vaginal infections in the dam (mother dog) near the time of birth
- Unclean environment for the newborn puppies
Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam on the affected newborns, and will need a complete medical history of the pregnancy and birth, as well as a background medical history of the mother that has given birth. If your adult pet, the mother, has had any infections that you are aware of, you will need to share information of the symptoms and the time they began with the doctor. Even if there has not been any indication of infection in the mother, if the symptoms the newborn is presenting appear to be the type of infection that is transmitted through the birth canal, your veterinarian will need to take a culture of vaginal discharge from the mother.
A culture of the eye discharge will also need to be taken for testing, and in order to fully examine the eye for possible trauma or lesions, your doctor will stain the cornea (the coating of the eye) with fluorescein, a fluorescent yellow-orange dye that illuminates the corneal surface, making even minute scratches and foreign objects visible under light.
Your doctor may also order a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis, and an electrolyte panel, in case the newborn has an underlying systemic disease that also needs to be treated.
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Your veterinarian will separate the puppy's eyelids by moistening them and pulling them gently apart. Once the eyes have been opened, your veterinarian will be able to wash the eye and the eyelids to get the infected cellular matter out. To prevent the eyelids from sticking together again, warm compresses will be applied, and will be recommended for home treatment as well. Your veterinarian will also prescribe a topical antibiotic ointment to be applied to the eye.
Living and Management
Apply warm (not hot) compresses to the eyes of affected puppies after returning home to prevent the eyelids from sticking together again, and follow through with the full course of the prescribed antibiotic medication. If it appears that the infection is limited to only one or a couple of the puppies in the litter, you will still need to be watchful for signs of eye infection in the litter-mates that appear healthy, so that you can act quickly if symptoms do appear.
Some bacterial infections of the eye are highly contagious, and you will want to keep the uninfected newborns from contracting an infection. Have your veterinarian advise you on whether you will need to isolate the infected, or uninfected, newborns. (Do not isolate unless it is necessary, since it is important for the social and physical development of the newborn puppy to be close to its mother and litter-mates.) Be sure to keep the eating and sleeping areas in which the newborns and mother occupy clean and hygienic, and wash the mother's nipples often, using only warm water -- no soap, as soap can lead to cracking and bleeding of the nipples -- or as your veterinarian advises.