Your kitty constantly winks at you, and you've noticed her rubbing her eyes. It's allergy season, which has your own eyes burning and itching as well. Could your kitty simply be suffering from allergies, or is there a more serious problem going on? Cat eye care is an important factor in the overall health of your pet, and understanding cat eye problems can help you prevent serious complications to your cat's vision.
While cats aren't quite as susceptible to eye problems as dogs tend to be, when cats do develop eye problems they are often chronic, notes Animal Eye Care. Here are six eye disorders you're likely to encounter:
Also known as "pink eye," conjunctivitis occurs when the mucous membrane that lines both the outside of the eyeball and the inside of the eyelid becomes inflamed. As with pink eye in humans, this condition is highly contagious, although the feline version can only be passed between cats.
- Causes: Conjunctivitis typically results from an upper respiratory illness caused by either a virus or a bacterial infection, says Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.
- Signs and symptoms: The most telling symptom is runny eyes. Eye discharge might be clear or be gray, yellow, green or even a dark, rusty red color. The inside of the eye may appear swollen and/or reddened, and either one or both eyes may be affected. Other signs of upper respiratory illness, such as sneezing or nasal discharge, might also be present.
- Treatment: Typically, conjunctivitis is treated with topical antibiotics in the form of drops or ointment. If an upper respiratory illness is present, your vet may treat that as well. One type of infection that often results in this eye disorder is FHV-1, or Feline Herpes Virus. If this is determined to be the cause, your veterinarian may prescribe further treatments to control this virus and prevent further flare-ups.
2. Additional Eye Infections
Conjunctivitis is not the only eye infection your cat can experience. Other eye infections are common ailment in cats. They're often the result of an upper respiratory infection that spreads to the eyes. Whether or not eye infections are contagious depends on the underlying cause of the infection.
- Causes: Eye infections can be caused by a number of culprits, including bacteria, viral infections, fungi and parasites.
- Signs and symptoms: Rubbing and squinting are common signs that your cat might have an eye infection. Other symptoms include redness and swelling, eye discharge, as well as sneezing and nasal discharge.
- Treatment: Typically, your vet will treat the underlying infection that's causing the eye discomfort. For mild infections, it's not uncommon to focus on treating the symptoms by providing rest, keeping the eyes clear of discharge, and providing a healthy diet and plenty of hydration. Severe infections might be treated with topical ointments or eye drops, and possibly also systemic antibiotics.
While cats don't generally suffer from the type of allergies that result in itchy, watery eyes, irritants in their environment can produce a similar effect.
- Causes: For cats, eye irritants can include strong fragrances, such as perfume, cleaning chemicals, tobacco smoke and dust. Just about anything that gets in your cat's eye can cause an irritated reaction.
- Signs and symptoms: Watch for signs of discomfort such as squinting or rubbing, as well as redness and discharge.
- Treatment: If it's clear that irritation is causing your cat's symptoms and she's willing to allow it, try rinsing out her eyes with an eye-wash solution. However, because symptoms of irritation are nearly identical to those of more serious conditions, it's best to consult your vet if you notice any signs of eye discomfort. It's also a good idea to remove the irritant from the home if you are aware of what is causing her discomfort.
4. Corneal Ulcers
A potentially serious condition, corneal ulcers are open sores on the surface of the eye which may cause the affected part of the eye to become cloudy in appearance.
- Causes: Corneal ulcers can result from eye injuries, chronically dry eyes, or anatomical abnormalities. They can also be caused by eye infections, especially those that go untreated.
- Signs and symptoms: Besides cloudiness in the affected area, signs of corneal ulcers include rubbing and squinting, obvious eye pain, redness and discharge.
- Treatment: Mild ulcers often heal once the underlying cause is treated, though your vet might also prescribe antibiotic ointment or drops as well as something to relieve your cat's pain. Ulcers that go deep into the eye may require surgery. With proper treatment, corneal ulcers are usually curable, but if left untreated they could result in permanent blindness and even disfigurement.
This condition results from pressure in the eye caused by a buildup of excess fluid. Glaucoma is a serious condition that should be treated as quickly as possible in order to prevent permanent blindness or disfigurement.
- Causes: A number of things can prevent eye fluid from draining, leading to the buildup that causes glaucoma. These include anatomical abnormalities, eye infections, inflammation, eye trauma and tumors. Some cats have a genetic predisposition toward this disorder, in which case it's not uncommon for both eyes to be affected.
- Signs and symptoms: Cats experiencing glaucoma will generally show signs of significant pain, which may include eye rubbing and squinting, withdrawing from people and yowling or crying. Eyes may appear cloudy, runny or reddened. In severe cases the eyeball itself may appear swollen.
- Treatment: If you suspect your cat might be suffering from glaucoma, get her to a vet immediately. The sooner fluid is drained to relieve eye pressure, the better the chances of saving the eye. In mild cases, glaucoma resolves itself once the underlying cause is dealt with, but more severe cases may require ongoing management to prevent excessive fluid buildup. In the worst cases, it may be necessary to remove the eye.
A cataract is a cloudy area that develops on the eye lens, blocking light from reaching the back of the eye, which results in loss of vision, and in some cases blindness.
- Causes: While cataracts can simply be a result of aging, they can also be caused by diabetes mellitus or by inflammation of the eye's uvea. Cataracts may result from an electric shock or exposure to radiation or a toxic substance. They can also be an indication of calcium deficiency.
- Signs and symptoms: A cataract will give the eye a milky, cloudy appearance. However, cataracts typically aren't visible until they're advanced enough to significantly impair vision, in which case your cat may show signs of vision loss, such as bumping into objects or moving slowly, especially in dim lighting. If cataracts are caused by diabetes mellitus, your cat may manifest symptoms like weight loss, excessive thirst and frequent urination.
- Treatment: You should see a vet to rule out non-age-related causes, which will need to be treated separately if present. As for the cataracts themselves, surgery to remove them and restore vision is an option, although you may find that your cat is able to adapt well to vision loss as long as she's kept indoors and out of dangerous situations.
Cat Eye Care
If your cat is showing any signs of eye problems, it's important that she visit a vet right away. Because various conditions share so many symptoms, it's impossible to diagnose eye problems correctly without an examination. Trying to guess what the problem is or waiting to see if it will clear up on its own wastes time that could be crucial to saving your cat's eye if the condition turns out to be serious.
Regardless of whether your cat shows any signs of eye problems, good cat eye care can help prevent such problems from developing in the first place. Feeding your cat a high quality meat-based cat food, staying up-to-date on vaccinations, keeping her indoors and limiting her exposure to strange cats who might be contagious can all go a long way toward protecting your cat's eyes—not to mention her overall health and quality of life.
Jean Marie Bauhaus
Jean Marie Bauhaus is fiction author and freelance writer and editor living in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She writes frequently about pets and pet health in her home office, where she is assisted by a lapful of furbabies.