Unlike dogs, which depend on several senses to navigate this world, cats rely primarily on eyesight to perform their natural hunting behavior. If a problem develops, prompt diagnosis and treatment can often prevent loss of sight. It’s important that you have your cat checked regularly by your vet, but you should also be alert to any symptoms your cat is showing that would indicate possible eye problems.
In some cases, visual impairment will be easy to spot. You might see you cat trip when going up or down stairs, or witness the cat bumping into furniture or having trouble locating the food bowl or cat box. If you notice these symptoms, a trip to the vet is essential to help prevent the problem from getting worse. However, some times the symptoms are subtle. You might see a change of eye color, tearing, squinting, cloudiness, or unequal pupil sizes. A healthy cat has bright, clear eyes with equal-sized pupils, pink tissue lining the eyelid, and the third eyelid (the nictitating membrane or “haw”) should not protrude. Other symptoms might include discharge, excessive blinking, crustiness, tear-stained fur, closed eye(s), hair loss on the eyelids and pawing at the eye. If you witness any of these symptoms, bring your cat to the vet right away – early treatment can prevent blindness.
Common Feline Eye Disorders
These are some of the symptoms of the more common eye disorders seen in cats:
Conjunctivitis: Inflammation of the eyes, which may appear swollen and red, due to a bacterial, viral or fungal infection of the eye’s outer layer or inner surface of the lid. Other potential causes include chemical irritants, trauma or injury, allergens. Your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics or steroids to treat the condition.
Cataracts: Diabetic and geriatric cats may occasionally develop clouding or opacities in their lenses. Cataracts block light from reaching the retinas. Blindness could result. Your vet will look for the underlying problem, including an infection or genetics. Some, but not all, cataracts can be surgically removable.
Glaucoma: Cloudy, enflamed or even enlarged eyes because of high fluid pressure within the eyeballs. One cause could be blocked drainage of the eye’s watery fluid (the aqueous humor), a disorder that might be inherited. It is a rare disorder for cats and may be a symptom of another problem. Special ophthalmic solutions may be used to treat glaucoma.
Keratitis: A cloudy and watery eye due to an inflamed cornea.
Third eye protrusion: The third eye, a thin membrane, becomes visible, and may be triggered by a variety of problems.
Retinal disease: Degeneration of cells in the retina can lead to partial or full blindness
Watery eyes: Stained fur around the eyes may indicate to much tear production, blocked tear ducts, or some other problem.
Bulging eye: A bulging eye can be the result of a trauma or accident, or perhaps an eye tumor.
Prevention and Treatment
Some cats naturally experience crusty buildup around the eyes. Your vet can show you how to clean away the gunk with a damp cotton ball. You must use a fresh wipe for each eye, and wipe in the direction away from the corner of the eye. You occasionally may have to snip away extraneous long hairs around the eyes that might block vision or cause poking. If you witness some form of unnatural discharge while grooming, call your vet right away.
Treatment might include topical applications. Only use eye drops, ointments or eye washes that your veterinarian has prescribed. Sometimes, eye problems are a symptom of various infectious diseases, including:
cryptococcus (a yeast-like fungus commonly found in soil)
feline immunodeficiency virus
feline infectious peritonitis virus
feline leukemia virus
toxoplasma (a parasitic organism)
The treatments of these diseases vary, and some, although manageable, are incurable. Your vet can test for these diseases and advise you on the best course of action, taking into account your cat’s overall health and age. In some cases, you may have to quarantine your cat away from others to avoid spreading an infection.
Another threat to feline eyesight is retinal detachment, in which the retina detaches from the underlying tissue. Causes include high blood pressure, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism and trauma. Sometimes, treatment can restore partial vision, but often, blindness results. This is most common in elderly cats.
The key to protecting your cat’s eyesight is early detection and treatment by your vet.
Dr. Paul has a strong interest in avian and exotic animal medicine and surgery, as well as small animal internal medicine and surgery.
He has provided services for numerous breeders, kennels, aviaries, and mini zoos.