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Eye Problems In Cats: What Every Owner Needs To Know

Feb 25, 2018 · ·
  1. Anne
    A cat's eyes are more than a window to the feline soul. The eyes are amazingly intricate organs that provide our little predator with critical sensory input. Unfortunately, eyes are also very delicate. They may not need constant grooming or require any special routine care, but when eye problems occur in cats, owners have to take notice and act quickly.

    Interview with Dr. Alexandra van der Woerdt, DVM - board certified by both the American and European Colleges of Veterinary Ophthalmologists.
    We recently talked to Dr. Alexandra van der Woerdt, DVM, about eye problems in cats. Dr. van der Woerdt is an award-winning veterinarian who is board certified by both the American and European Colleges of Veterinary Ophthalmologists. In a series of questions and answers, she shares important information about eye problems in cats and what owners should be aware of.

    What are the most common eye problems in cats?

    Dr. van der Woerdt: There are several eye issues that vets see in cats. Conjunctivitis is a common condition that affects many cats and it basically means an infection of the inner side of the eyelid and the surface of the eye itself. There can be many reasons for conjunctivitis in cats, and it's imperative for owners to consult a veterinarian as soon as symptoms appear.

    Feline Herpes virus is a common cause of eye infections which can have severe consequences for the eyes. This is especially common in cats that were born "on the streets" or come from shelters. The Herpes virus typically affects young kittens and shows itself as an upper respiratory infection. I am sure you have seen kittens that are sneezing and have watery eyes? That is often the work of the Herpes virus.

    A kitten blinded by feline herpes virus. Read more about eye problems in cats
    Feline Herpes virus affects the tissues that line the eyes and thereby causes inflammation of the conjunctiva. It can cause the formation of corneal ulcers as well. Severe complications can occur if secondary bacterial infections get into the corneal ulcers. These can lead to corneal ulcers that are so severe that they can actually cause a corneal perforation. These kittens' eyes literally rupture, ending in blindness.

    What types of eye issues require immediate veterinary attention?

    Dr. van der Woerdt: Immediate veterinary attention is indicated in case of any type of trauma to the eye(s) or surrounding tissues, sudden color change of the eye(s), or squinting/discharge that persists for more than one or two days.

    In young kittens with viral-induced ulcers with secondary bacterial infections, immediate aggressive treatment can make the difference between a blind eye and an eye that will have great vision for the rest of the cat's life. Do not delay treatment and get any kitten with eye symptoms to the vet immediately.

    Can eye problems be a symptom of other underlying medical issues?

    Dr. van der Woerdt: The eyes can be the "window to the rest of the cat's body". There are several conditions which can first manifest themselves in changes in the eyes. Anterior uveitis (inflammation of the iris) is often associated with systemic diseases. Systemic hypertension often manifests itself first as bleeding in the eye or a decrease in vision.

    Only your veterinarian can diagnose eye conditions. He or she will also perform an overall check that will help them decide the cause of the cat's eye symptoms.

    What are the typical eye problems vets see with senior cats?

    Dr. van der Woerdt: There are fortunately not that many issues that typically arise with cat eyes as they age. They do of course get a very dense lens (nuclear sclerosis) as they get older. This may show as a mild cloudiness, but will have no significant effect on vision and does not require any treatment.

    The older the cat gets, the more likely though it is that it may develop systemic diseases that may involve the eyes as well. It's important to have regular veterinary checkups for senior cats and monitor them for changes, including in the eyes.

    How can an owner tell when a cat doesn't see well anymore?

    Dr. van der Woerdt: Cats adapt extremely well to a gradual decline in vision and many owners are not aware of vision loss until they do some significant moving around of furniture in their house. I have known blind cats who carry on as usual, including jumping on top of refrigerators!

    Signs that owners may see are likely to be subtle until significant vision loss is present. The cat may play less with his or her toys, hesitate more when jumping on things, misjudge distances when jumping, and things like that. But these may also simply be signs of aging and unrelated to cat eye problems. The most important thing that owners can do is seek veterinary care if they suspect there may be an issue with the eyes.

    How does a vet diagnose loss of sight (partial or complete)?

    Dr. van der Woerdt: Vision testing can be difficult in cats as it requires the cat's cooperation, and not all cats agree with it. Vision testing that is typically done in a veterinarian's office is the response to hand motions or evaluation of things like whether or not cats track falling cotton balls (no noise associated with that). I find that especially breeds such as the Persian cat often simply ignore what I am doing although they see just fine. Cats are cats!

    Many of our members deal with chronic feline herpes. What can you tell us about ocular herpes in cats?

    Dr. van der Woerdt: Feline Herpes virus is the most common cause for eye infections in cats. They typically get this as young kittens and the virus goes dormant in the body. It can resurface in times of stress or as the cat ages with a decrease in the immune system.

    It is difficult to protect cats from this as the virus is so common. Especially if cats come from a shelter environment, they will likely have been in contact with the virus. It is always a good idea to keep cats with active disease (sneezing, red, watery eyes) separated from the other cats.

    Feline herpes is a very frustrating disease because we can never cure it. Eliminating stress is important in cats prone to recurrences. Fortunately, medications are available nowadays that only need to be given a few times per day, rather than the 6-8 times with the traditional medications.

    Are there any zoonotic eye infections that cats can infect their owners with?

    Dr. van der Woerdt: The one zoonotic eye disease that comes to mind is Chlamydophila, which has zoonotic potential especially for immunocompromised people. This will typically show up as conjunctivitis in both cats and people.

    When should a cat owner consider asking for a referral to a certified Veterinary Ophthalmologist? What can they do that our regular vets can't?

    Dr. van der Woerdt: The specialist has equipment that the general practitioner does not have. But more important than that, a specialist has undergone many years of additional training and a rigid examination process in the field of veterinary ophthalmology and will have a wealth of knowledge and experience about this one organ, the eye, that a general veterinarian is unlikely to have.

    Many ocular diseases can be treated by general veterinarians. Referral to a specialist is a good idea if no improvement is noted in the condition despite treatment.

    We'd like to thank Dr. Alexandra van der Woerdt on behalf of TheCatSite community for taking the time to answer our questions!

    If you're worried that your cat may be suffering from an eye problem, please do not delay medical care. Call your vet, describe the symptoms and follow professional medical advice.[/float]

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    Candybee, Docs Mom, LifeWithOliver and 4 others purraised this.


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  1. Vallen
    My first cat was a rescue cat. My nabber rescued him from the cinder block foundation of her house with the rest of his litter his mother is a stray cat.
    The mother abbaned them under her house do to not being able to get them out of the cinder blocks they where in, my nabber herd them for three days be for she relised something was wrong.

    On the way to his first vet appoment mom and I started to throw out names to see if he would responed finaly he responed to Ron more then once and from that poit on would come to his name being called.

    At the vets office the vetanarian noticed he was cross eyed and though that he was just part simeas.

    Five munths latter he is showing signs of being a big cat I mean he was 5.4 lbs and was as long as my fore arm and was as tall as most fully grown cats.

    Six months latter and he is now 6lbs well looking nice and helthy all tho at this a day latter he started to show sines that he was not well and we rushed him to the vet ER.

    After a hefty vet bill it was time to pull the plug he was too far gone to save and as last far well he gave me a nice big hug be for acting up again. The vet said he had a parasite that is common to find in most cats just most of those cats imunesistem can natraly fend it off. and the crossed eyes of my cat was an indacater of the cat not fighting off this parasite.

    In the end I balled my eyes out and it seamed like Ron new his time was up and thanked me for giving him the best life he could have till then.
  2. nunnc84
    I rescued a shelter cat, with runny eyes, and green/yellow drainage. The vet gave me an antibiotic sab for her eyes, after two weeks; I told him it wasn't curing anything. Once the ointment stopped going in the symptoms come back.
    So he gave me an oral antibiotic to give her twice a day. Her eyes still need wiped; twice a day. Her tears freely flow. She still has tear staining, the antibiotics have helped tremendously.
    This might sound bad, well, I'm not sure my vet knows what he is doing. If she has underlying ulcers, or corneal involvement; how would I solve that?
    I wish I had a picture. Her rust stained tears block her ducts, if I don't wipe her eyes with a warm cloth. The antibiotics have kept the tear stains away from the rims of her eyes. Will she be on antibiotics forever?
  3. Sharon2665
    Our cat went blind about 1yr ago due to retinal detachment with no known cause. Then he had a day where he sneezed a lot and had blood from his nose. Vets thought it was infected teeth which he had chronic problems with so teeth came out. Last week he had both eyes removed because he had bleeding behind his eyes, edema and debris that would not clear up. Come to find out he has a fungal infection called cryptococcosis which comes from dirt or bird droppings. Our cat NEVER goes outside but does like to sit in the open window. Only place he could have gotten it. Only can tell what it is from a tissue test as blood work doesn’t show it. So just beware as vets never ever thought of this fungus even though his eye problems are common with an infection of it. Even the eye specialist didn’t mention it. If we would have known earlier his eye sight might have been saved and almost certainly his eyeballs.
      tarasgirl06 purraised this.
    1. tarasgirl06
      I am so very sorry, @Sharon2665, that your cat (and your family) had to go through this. Hoping this danger will be publicized far and wide, not only to alert all of us cat lovers to it, but also to show the cat-hating bird fanatics that not only do they lie about the dangers to birds from cats, but they can educate themselves as to this danger to cats from birds!
      Vallen purraised this.
  4. Babyroxasman
    Ruby has feline herpes. Her left eye is always watery and i'm wondering if she sometimes is blind in that eye. I once waved my winger right infront of it and she didn't even look at it.
    I've also tried when it wasn't runny and she could see it just fine
    1. tarasgirl06
    2. Babyroxasman
      Yea she's been checked out. We just give her L-lysine and that usually helps with the running
  5. LifeWithOliver
    Many feral kittens in our area have eye problems. This is a most helpful article. Thank you very much.
      tarasgirl06 and Shane Kent purraised this.
  6. tarasgirl06
    Thanking you for yet another educational and informative article everyone who cares about/for cats should read! In my work advocating for cats in need of loving permanent homes I see a lot of kittens and cats with conjunctivitis at all stages. I also advocate for blind cats. It's so important to get kittens and cats checked out thoroughly by vets as soon as they are adopted/taken in!
      LifeWithOliver, Antonio65 and TurkishAngora purraised this.
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