When most people think of puppies, they envision cute, playful 2-month-old canines. But, unless your pet dog has babies or you foster puppies, you’re likely unaware that puppies are born blind, deaf, and virtually immobile.
Puppies develop rapidly during the first eight weeks of their life, but they are incredibly vulnerable at birth. At first, these tiny, helpless beings depend entirely on their mother. Then, as the weeks go by and their senses develop, they slowly gain independence.
So when do puppies open their eyes? Read on to learn the essential milestones of a puppy’s vision development and when to expect to first see those adorable puppy eyes.
When puppies are first born, they are unable to see and hear. Likewise, their bodies are fragile, so their mobility is largely restricted. Their only strong sense is their scent, so puppies navigate the world by smell until their eyes open and their ears unfold.
Puppies quickly learn the scent of their mother and littermates to help them stay close by. If they lose this scent, such as if the mother goes away, puppies can become distressed and cry out. This is why puppies need to stay with their mother during this critical time. If a puppy becomes an orphan, their only chance of survival is to have a human caregiver bottle feed them around the clock.
Unlike human babies, newborn puppies will not open their eyes shortly after birth. This is because dogs are born before the retinas and optic nerves fully develop. Therefore, their eyes remain closed to protect them from bright light.
The gestation period of a dog is just 58 – 68 days, far shorter than the nine-month pregnancies humans have. Therefore, there is not enough time for all of a puppy’s organs to develop before birth. As a puppy grows in its mother’s belly, the vital organs like the heart, kidneys, and lungs develop first, so less critical organs like the eyes develop later.
Most puppies’ eyes start to open around 2 weeks old, but they do so gradually. You may first see small cracks appear between the eyelids that slowly grow bigger until the entire eye is open. This process can take up to 2 days and usually occurs between ten to fourteen days old; however, it varies from puppy to puppy.
For multiple puppies in a litter, you’ll likely notice their eyes opening at different times as each puppy grows at their own rate. Typically, the larger the puppy is, the quicker it develops. Therefore, the runt of the litter is usually the last one to open its eyes. The development of puppy eyes differs from breed to breed too. Some dogs, like Fox terriers, may not open their eyes until they are around 21 days old.
In answer to how old are puppies when they open their eyes, note that orphan puppy eyes may open slightly later than pups with mothers. This is because mama dogs frequently clean their puppies by licking them. Thus, they will lick over their eyes, adding lubrication so they can open easily when ready. However, for puppies without a mum, it can be slightly more difficult for the eyelids to unseal.
Even when a puppy’s eyes have opened, development is not yet complete. The optic nerves continue to develop for several more weeks, so their vision remains blurry and sensitive to light between 2 to 6 weeks old. What’s more, when their eyes first open up, they can only see images close up; then, over time, they start to recognize things in the distance.
This slow development is no problem, though, as puppies spend this period nursing and sleeping and are not yet steady enough to move on their feet anyway. In addition, during the age of 2 to 6 weeks, a puppy’s scent remains its most developed sense, which they continue to rely on heavily. Moreover, vision develops quicker than hearing as their ears open at around 18 to 20 days.
Between 6 to 8 weeks, a puppy’s sight becomes much clearer, enabling them to recognize their mother, littermates, and human caregivers. Close-up images appear sharper, but their farsighted vision is still developing, so faraway objects may look fuzzy. Their eyes are not super sensitive at this age, but it’s still best to avoid bright lights.
By eight weeks, a puppy’s nearsighted vision should be fully developed. Things in the distance may remain blurry until they reach 16 weeks old, but they can distinguish faces and objects well enough to react to sudden movements. Therefore, their vision is good enough to start playing and exploring their surroundings.
Along with their vision, a puppy’s other senses, like hearing, are almost fully developed by this age. Plus, their mobility is good enough to walk and run, though they may still be wobbly on their feet. In addition, by 8 weeks old, puppies are fully weaned, so they are ready to be adopted or sold.
Aside from breed and size, sometimes a puppy will open its eyes later than usual. The most common reason for a puppy’s eyes not being open at around two weeks old is infection. If you notice one puppy still has its eyes closed while its littermates eyes are fully open, check for signs of infection. Discharge, pus, swelling, and bumps are common signs.
Eye infections like conjunctivitis can be dangerous in newborn puppies and can lead to blindness if not treated. However, if you suspect an eye infection or a problem with a puppy’s development, avoid trying to open the eyes yourself. Never force a puppy’s eyes open as it can cause pain, create an infection, or worsen an existing one.
Instead, take the puppy to a veterinarian who can check to see if they are developing correctly. Sometimes, puppy eyes are slow to open because of crustiness keeping them shut. So if you notice any crusting around their eyes, you can gently wipe it with a damp cotton wool pad. This might help loosen the crusting and lubricate the eye enough to open naturally.
Once a puppy’s eyes are open, you should keep an eye on them while they continue to develop. Puppies can pick up infections at any time, and eye disorders are possible. So if you notice anything concerning, such as discharge, swelling, cloudiness, or a white film over the eyes, call your veterinarian ASAP.
Whether your pet dog has just had babies or you’re fostering orphans, it’s essential to know how old puppies are when they open their eyes. Understanding how a baby dog’s vision develops will help you ensure they are growing well and allow you to detect any problems. Also, remember that puppies are incredibly vulnerable, and medical issues can become severe quickly. So, if you have any concerns, don’t hesitate to contact a veterinarian.
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