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A Guide to Corneal Ulcers in Cats

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What to Do If Your Cat Has Corneal Ulcers

The cornea is the transparent part of the eye that covers the iris and pupil. It is the part of the eye that allows light into the eye, and without it, a cat's vision would be impaired. A corneal ulcer, or ulcerative keratitis, is a painful condition in which the deepest layers of the cat's cornea are lost or damaged.

If you have noticed that your cat is squinting her eyes and/or tearing excessively, take her to the veterinarian to make sure she doesn't have a corneal ulcer. This guide will help you gain a better understanding of how corneal ulcers can affect your cat and what your treatment options are if she's diagnosed with it.

What Causes Corneal Ulcers in Cats?

The most-common cause of corneal ulcers in cats is trauma to the eye. This tends to occur when a cat scuffles or plays with another cat or dog in an aggressive manner. Of course, this is not the only potential cause for this condition. Other causes include:

  • Infections (most commonly viral)
  • Systemic diseases
  • Inability to close the eyelid completely
  • Foreign matter in the eye
  • Chemical burns
  • Facial nerve paralysis
  • Tear deficiency

Although ulcerative keratitis may develop in any age or breed of cat, the most-common breeds to develop the condition are brachycephalic breeds, or those with short faces (this includes Himalayans and Persians).

Symptoms of Ulcerative Keratitis (Corneal Ulcers) in Cats

When a cat has a corneal ulcer, the most-common signs and symptoms include:

  • Squinting
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Film over the eye
  • Discharge from the eye
  • Red and inflamed eye
  • Eyes are kept closed
  • Pain in the eye
  • Pawing at the head or eye

How Are Corneal Ulcers in Cats Diagnosed?

If you notice your cat showing one or more of the above signs and symptoms, take her to your veterinarian as soon as possible. When you speak to your veterinarian, provide all of the information you have, including when the symptoms started and any incidents that may have led to your cat's condition.

Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination of your cat and may use diagnostic dyes to help find corneal ulcers or erosions.

Other tests can include taking samples of the eye fluid to look for any signs of bacteria or fungi. The test may be necessary to determine whether your cat has conjunctivitis. Blood tests also can be performed to determine whether your cat has a viral infection.

Treating Corneal Ulcers in Cats

If your veterinarian diagnoses your cat with ulcerative keratitis, treatment depends on the severity of the condition. For instance, if the ulcer is deep and/or growing, then your cat may have to be hospitalized to undergo a surgical procedure. Another possibility is that your veterinarian will be able to remove the loose layers of the cornea using a sterile cotton swab.

Your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics and anti-inflammatory pain relievers to help reduce the risk of infection and help with the pain. A topical medication also can be prescribed increase your cat's tear production. In some cases, contact lenses can be inserted as a means of reducing irritation to the eyelid.

After your cat is diagnosed and treated by your veterinarian, you should limit your cat's activity at home so her eyes have a chance to heal, which in superficial cases may take about a week. In severe cases or post-surgical situations, you should limit your cat's activity for at least two weeks.

About the Author

Dr. Evan Ware

Dr. Evan Ware is a veterinary practitioner in Phoenix, Arizona. He received both his undergraduate degree in microbiology and his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from The Ohio State University.

Dr. Ware is currently the Medical Director of University Animal Hospital (VCA) and is also the owner of two other hospitals, including Laveen Veterinary Center and Phoenix Veterinary Center. His areas of expertise include orthopedic medicine and surgery, veterinary oncology and chemotherapy, and general and advanced soft-tissue surgery.