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Cat eye health: how to look after your cat’s eyes

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Although cats are known and loved for being independent, this quality means that, as a cat owner, you need to keep a close eye on their health.

Cat eye problems can often go untreated, so it’s vital that you know the warning signs that suggest that your cat may have an issue.

Petplan gives you an insight into some of the eye conditions that your cat is most likely to develop, symptoms to look out for and general advice on cat eye health that all pet owners can follow…

General care for your cat’s eyes

Make sure they are clear, bright and that the pupil size is equal. When checking the structure of your cat’s eyes, the outer part of the eyeball should be white, with the coloured part, the iris, surrounding a dark black pupil. Using a damp cotton ball, wipe the eyes outwards to remove dirt or discharge from the inner eye. Be sure to use a clean cotton ball for each eye to avoid transferring bacteria. Be careful as it is easy to scratch the cornea (the transparent part of the eyeball).

If any of the following problems appear, seek veterinary advice as soon as possible:

  • Discharge
  • Tearing
  • Closed eyes
  • Cloudiness or change in eye colour
  • Third eyelid is visible
  • Pawing at the eye

Common cat eye conditions

Cats can pick up a range of different infections, or injure themselves whilst roaming outside, especially when they come into contact with other feline ‘friends’. Here are a few common eye conditions that your cat may be suffering from. If you are ever worried about your cat’s eyes, consult with your vet immediately.

Conjunctivitis:

Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the outer layer of the eye. It is by far the most common eye condition in cats. It can be caused by infection andthe most common cause for conjunctivitis in cats is the feline herpes virus (which is part of the cat flu complex, although it doesn’t always have to present as flu.) However bacterial causes, foreign bodies and allergies can also trigger the condition.

Symptoms:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Discharge – watery or pus-like
  • Squinting/ partial closing of the eyes
  • Irritation and pawing at the eyes

Treatment:

  • Bathing the eye in a recommended eye wash
  • Antibiotics to cover any secondary bacterial infections both oral and topical
  • Vaccination – prevents against other viral outbreaks
  • Steroidal eye treatment if inflammatory

Corneal Ulcers:

Corneal Ulcers are a graze on the transparent part of the eyeball, otherwise known as the cornea. Commonly, laceration is the cause, such as a cat-scratch, or a foreign object like a a grass seed. They can be very painful and can rapidly worsen, so it is important that pet owners seek veterinary help as early as possible. As corneal ulcers are difficult to detect, your vet will use a special stain to ensure the correct diagnosis is given.

Symptoms:

  • Squinting or partial closing of the eyes
  • Blinking
  • Watery eyes – occasionally discharge collecting in the corner of the eye
  • Redness
  • Pawing at the eye

Treatment: Depends on the cause

  • Antibiotic drops or ointment
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Surgical debridement or support

Cataracts:

Cataracts are an opacity of the lens. Generally, they are much rarer in cats than dogs and most cat cataracts tend to be inherited. The condition refers to the clouding of the lens of the eye which can vary in severity. It can result in impaired vision or complete blindness. Breeds such as Persian, Birman and Himalayan cats are predisposed to the condition.

Symptoms:

  • Blue-grey cloudiness of the pupil
  • Associated signs with reduced vision (bumping into objects, instability, reluctance to explore new environments)
  • Whilst cataracts are common in dogs with has diabetes mellitus, they are much, much rarer in cats with diabetes

Treatment:

  • Surgery is the only solution to remove the affected lens. Although removing the lens will reduce your cat’s ability to focus, overall their vision is improved
  • If the cataract is non-hereditary, vets will not usually recommend surgery. However, cataracts are painless so your cat will not be suffering.

Discoloration of the Iris:

The iris is the coloured rim of tissue that surrounds the dark pupil at the centre of a cat’s eye. Normally, a cat’s eye colour doesn’t change in adulthood (it is normal for a kitten’s blue eyes to change to a different colour as he or she matures). However, a condition called iris melanosis can result in the development of brown “freckles” or patches of pigment on the iris, usually in middle-aged to older cats. Iris melanosis typically does not cause any problems, but severe cases may result in dysfunction of the iris and sometimes glaucoma (increased eye pressure).

While iris melanosis is usually not a serious condition, it can be confused with iris melanoma, a potentially serious type of cancer. If you see a new patch of dark pigment on your cat’s iris, bring it to your vet’s attention.

Glaucoma:

Glaucoma is a condition where there is an increased pressure inside the eyeball, due to a blockage of the eye’s normal fluid drainage. The excess fluid inside the eyeball causes it to enlarge. Glaucoma will eventually cause permanent damage to the retina and the optic nerve, which are both essential to the sight.

Symptoms:

  • Squinting/ Blinking
  • Dilated pupils, overly large or small and unresponsive to light changes
  • Redness
  • Cloudiness of the eye
  • Vision loss
  • Stickiness

Treatment:

  • Medication which lowers the pressure within the eye
  • Surgery to drain the fluid in the eye
  • In severe, irreversible cases, removal of the eye may be necessary

If you think your cat is suffering from any of the above symptoms or you’re concerned about their general eye health, contact your vet who can provide more information regarding diagnosis, treatment, and recovery.

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