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Diseases of the Eyes in Cats

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Understanding Your Cat's Vision

Your cat's vision is unlike anything in the animal world. Few animals can match your cat's ability to locate and follow moving targets including their prey, a toy, or a predator. As a result, a feline's eyes are among its most important physical attributes. This is also why maintaining your cat's eye health is so vital to her quality of life.

Like all animals, cats can develop diseases, and sometimes, a disease develops in the eyes. Here are seven of the most common types of diseases of the eyes in cats, and what you need to know about them.

Eye Infections

Infections are one of the most common diseases to affect the cats' eyes. A cat can develop an eye infection when she is exposed to bacteria, viruses, fungi, and in some cases, even parasites.

If a cat has an eye infection, the most common signs will include swelling, redness, squinting, discharge, and pawing at the infected eye. Not all eye infections are treated the same. Treatment depends on the underlying cause of the infection.

Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is when the pink membrane of the eye, the conjunctiva, becomes swollen and inflamed. A cat with conjunctivitis will squint and/or blink persistently. The tissue around the eye may become reddened and the eye will release a discharge. The most common cause of conjunctivitis in cats is the herpes virus, but other viral and bacterial infections also can increase the risk.

Treating conjunctivitis in cats is usually done on an outpatient basis and the type of treatment depends on what is causing the disease. Options can include oral and topical antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications. Surgery also is an option, but it usually is reserved for very serious cases.

Ulcerative Keratitis (Corneal Ulcers)

Ulcerative keratitis is an open sore type of wound in the cat's cornea, the clear layer of the eye through which light enters. When a cat has a corneal ulcer, the affected eye will appear cloudy. Other signs include redness, squinting, pain, and occasional discharge.

Treatment for ulcerative keratitis depends on the severity of the disease. Superficial corneal ulcers will usually respond positively with the right antibiotics and pain medications. If the corneal ulcer is deep, then surgery may be needed.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a condition where pressure in the eye builds up because the fluid that enters the eye cannot exit. This condition is most commonly caused by an infection, trauma, an inflammatory disorder, a tumor, or an abnormal shift in the lens of the eye. Symptoms can include pain, redness, discharge, and cloudiness in the eye. In very severe cases, you can see that the affected eye is larger than the healthy eye.

Glaucoma is considered an emergency in cats because if treatment is not administered quickly, a cat could lose her vision. Treatment is based on what is causing the glaucoma, along with medications to help reduce the internal pressure of the eye.

Cataracts

When the lens of the eye starts turning cloudy, a cat is developing a cataract, which ultimately will block light from reaching the back of the eye. This results in diminished eyesight or even blindness in more severe instances.

A veterinarian will usually recommend surgery to repair a cataract. But, if your cat is older and you don't want to risk it, your cat should be able to adapt to her poor vision if she remains an indoor pet.

Exophthalmos

Exophthalmos is a disease in which the eyeball protrudes, or bulges, from the orbit of the eye. Most of the time, this condition is caused by a mass growing behind the eyeball. Other than the swollen eye, the most-common symptoms of exophthalmos include fever, pus in or around the eye, lethargy, inability to close the eye, corneal inflammation, discharge, and pain when opening the mouth.

If a cat has exophthalmos, the treatment will depend on what is causing the condition. If it is being caused by a cancerous mass, then surgery and/or radiation and chemotherapy will usually be recommended.

Enophthalmos

Whereas exophthalmos causes the eye to protrude, enophthalmos is a disease that causes the eyeball to recess back into the skull. This is most commonly the result of the eyeball losing some of its volume, which causes the eyeball to shrink. Breeds with long, narrow heads are most at risk for this disease.

Treatment for enophthalmos is based on what is causing the condition. For instance, if dehydration is the cause, then intravenous infusion can help, while if it is being caused by a cancerous mass, then surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation therapy will be the typical treatment.

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.