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Neonatal Conjunctivitis: Dangerous Eye Disease Affecting Newborn Pups

September 6, 2016

Neonatal conjunctivitis is an infection that involves the area behind the eyelids. Usually occurring about the time when a pup’s eyelids naturally separate, it is most commonly observed somewhere between 10 to 14 days after their birth. When left untreated, the bacterial infection can lead to conditions that can cause blindness.

Neonatal Conjunctivitis Infection in Puppies

Source of Infection
Neonatal conjunctivitis occurs when bacteria gains access to the space behind the pup’s eyelids. The infection: 

  • Most commonly involves Staphylococcus or Streptococcus bacteria:
  • Occurs through either:
    • Pup coming into contact with infectious vaginal discharge at birth, or
    • Through living in an unhygienic environment

When a pup’s eyelids do not open as they should, a condition called ankyloblepharon occurs which predisposes the pup to neonatal conjunctivitis. If this condition is suspected, the infection may affect multiple pups from the same litter.
Any or all of the following symptoms could be an indicator of neonatal conjunctivitis:

  • Purulent discharge occurring at the time the eyes are beginning to open
  • Dried and crusted discharge causing eyelids to stick together
  • Eyelids sticking to the front of the eye
  • Fluid build-up in the socket or orbit causing eyelids to appear swollen or bulge
  • Eye is red and inflamed
  • Ulcerated cornea
  • Collapsed eyeball

When neonatal conjunctivitis is suspected, clients need to know to bring both the mother and all of her pups in for a complete physical exam. Information to diagnose the infection will come from:

  • Background medical history of the mother
  • Complete medical history of the pregnancy and birth
    • Timeline of observed symptoms of the pups
    • Indications of infection in the mother either prior to birthing or after
  • Vaginal culture check for bacteria of mother
  • Culture of the eye discharge
  • Staining the cornea with fluorescein
  • Chemical blood profile may be requested to rule out possibility of underlying systemic disease, to include:
    • Urinalysis 
    • Electrolyte panel

If symptoms indicating neonatal conjunctivitis occur before the pup’s eyelids naturally open, the fused eyelids will need to be opened by the veterinarian. Clients will need to be advised of the following:

  • Opening the eyelids early is necessary in order drain any bacteria and save the eye
  • If the pup is at least 7 days old, the eyelids usually only require gentle pulling to open
  • When a pup is younger than 7 days, opening the eyelids may require the veterinarian to use a surgical tool
  • Since the pup’s tear ducts do not make tears before their eyes naturally open, to prevent against drying of the cornea, the veterinarian may prescribe a topical ointment of artificial tears.

Once the eye has been examined, the eye’s surface and eyelids will need to be thoroughly cleaned to remove any discharge. Until the veterinarian determines that the condition is completely cleared, the eye will require frequent cleaning.
Home Care
Clients need to watch the veterinarian closely in order to understand the regimen they should follow at home to continue the treatment steps of washing the eyes, applying warm compresses and administering eye ointments.
In order to clean and treat the eye, the following supplies are needed:

  • Sterile soft pads
  • Sterile eye wash
  • Warm water
  • Topical antibiotic ointment.

Some bacterial infections are contagious, but isolating an infected pup is not in its best interest as the social and physical development of a newborn requires its mother and littermates. Advise clients that the best steps they can take to keep the infection from spreading requires maintaining a clean and hygienic living environment for both pups and their mother.

When clients are expecting the birth of pups, they need to be aware to watch for any condition that could be suspect of neonatal conjunctivitis. Delaying treatment could lead to corneal damage or even to the total loss of sight in the affected eye.

For more information on methods to treat canine bacterial infections, please contact your Covetrus representative at 855.724.3461.


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