Cat Eye Infections: Recognizing & Treating Your Cat’s Symptoms

When it comes to your cat’s eye health, knowing the symptoms of eye infection is instrumental in protecting her vision and quality of life. There are a variety of different causes for feline eye infection, including bacteria, a virus, or even fungi. Depending on the area of the eye that’s infected, your vet will be able to determine the cause, type of illness, and method of treatment.

Common Types of Cat Eye Problems

Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KCS or ‘Dry Eye’): KCS, also known as ‘dry eye’, refers to any condition that impairs your cat’s ability to produce adequate amounts natural tears to keep the eye moisturized and functioning properly.

Conjunctivitis: If your cat has conjunctivitis (more commonly known as pink eye), the pink membrane or conjunctiva that covers the inside of her eyeball and the inside of the inner eyelids is inflamed; signs include swelling and redness, and discharge may be present. This condition is usually the result of a virus or bacterial infection.

Blepharitis: This condition refers to an inflammation or infection on your cat’s eyelids, notably the outer skin and middle portions of the eyelids, including the muscle, connective tissue and glands. Frequently, blepharitis is caused by allergies, congenital abnormalities, infections, tumors, and on occasion, inflammatory disorders.

Stye: Similar to the sties that humans suffer from, this condition is the result of an infection of the sebaceous glands in the eyelid. They typically form near the edge of the eyelid and are characterized by a red, sore lump that resembles a pimple or boil.

Keratitis: The medical terminology for inflammation of the cornea (the clear outer layer of the front of the eyeball); more specifically, non-ulcerative keratitis refers to any inflammation of the cornea that doesn’t retain fluorescent stain, a special dye that is used to identify ulcers of the cornea. Symptoms include a cloudy or watery appearance to the eye.

Third Eyelid Protrusion: If you notice that your cat’s third eyelid becomes visible or crosses her eye, it may be indicative of a wound, worms, diarrhea, or a viral infection.

Watery eyes: In the case of watery or runny eyes, the fur around your cat’s eyes may appear matted or stained with tears due to an overproduction of tears or blocked tear ducts. This may be indicative of feline allergies or an underlying medical condition.

Understanding the Anatomy of Your Cat’s Eyes

Understanding the anatomy of your cat’s eyes is especially valuable when caring for your pet’s infection. Not only will you have a better comprehension of her condition, but you will be able to discuss the details of illness in more thorough detail when you visit your vet’s office. Below, a breakdown of your cat’s ocular features:

  • The third eyelid: Although it is not immediately visible under normal circumstances, the third eyelid refers to a thin viscous layer that covers most of your cat’s outer eye.
  • The sclera: This is the medical terminology that refers to the whites of your cat’s eyes.
  • The cornea: Identified as the clear covering that protects your cat’s outer eye, this transparent coating is comprised of seven layers to shield one of your cat’s most delicate organs.
  • The conjunctiva: This refers to the pink connective tissue that is attached to your cat’s eyelids and sclera.

Causes of Cat Eye Infections

There are many different factors to be taken into account when understanding the causes and symptoms behind your cat’s eye infections. For example, did you know that eye infections can affect one eye (known as a ‘unilateral’ infection), or both eyes (known as a ‘bilateral’ infection)?

Feline eye infections can also indicate underlying health conditions, including systemic illnesses such as calcivirus or feline herpesvirus. No matter how mild or serious the signs, it’s important to act quickly if you believe your cat has an eye infection – in addition to relieving her from any discomfort, you may also be protecting her from long-term damage, either to her vision or from other health issues she may be suffering from.

Here are several possible causes for your cat’s eye infection:

  • Feline Herpes Virus (FHV-1) and other viral infections
  • Bacterial infections
  • Allergies
  • Breed/Genetics
  • Parasites
  • Pink eye (conjunctivitis)
  • Trauma or injury to the eye
  • Fungus
  • Foreign objects/materials (such as dust, dirt or your cat’s own hair)
  • Irritants (such as chemicals, smoke, or shampoo)
  • Ulcer/keratitis or corneal infection
  • Kittens are especially prone to infection due to their weak immune systems, they are particularly vulnerable at birth if the mother had an infection or if they are raised in an unsanitary condition.

In other cases, what appears to be an eye infection may actually be indicative of other underlying health conditions, such as glaucoma, genetic abnormalities, poisoning, tumors, and even vitamin deficiencies. Your vet will know what tests to run to determine the cause and treatment for your cat’s eye condition.

Symptoms of Feline Eye Infections: Identifying Conditions

In order to differentiate between a healthy cat and one who is suffering from an eye infection, it’s essential to know how to recognize a ‘normal’ cat eye. First and foremost, your cat’s eyes should appear clear and bright, free from swelling or puffiness.

Secondly, it’s fine if you notice a bit of sleep in the corner of her eye – as long as it’s not excessive. Her pupils should also be equal in size, and there should be no signs of swelling, bulging or cloudiness.

Below, a few symptoms to be mindful of:

  • Showing signs of pain or discomfort
  • Rubbing or scratching at the eye or surrounding area
  • Redness and swelling occurring around the outer eyelid, third eyelid or conjunctiva
  • Profuse tearing of the eyes
  • Eyelids appear crusty, which may result in the eyes becoming ‘stuck’ shut
  • Extreme sensitivity to light
  • Excessive squinting or blinking
  • An inflamed, raw or meaty appearance around the eye (usually indicative of conjunctivitis)
  • A thick, thin or watery discharge
  • A change in the eye’s appearance (for example, cloudy or milky)

What to Expect at Your Veterinarian’s Visit

Based on your cat’s overall condition and a thorough examination, your vet will be able to determine the cause for your cat’s eye condition. In order to make a proper diagnosis, your vet may conduct a variety of different tests, including serologic analysis, to identify the cause, condition, and proper method of treatment. This exam may include, but not be limited to, the following tests:

  • Taking a culture or specimen: If your vet notices a discharge from your cat’s eyes, he or she may perform a culture to determine the origin of illness, disease or infection.
  • Fluorescein eye stain: Utilizing a specially-formulated orange dye known as fluorescein, your pet’s physician can detect any foreign bodies or ulcerative conditions in your cat’s eyes.
  • Blood/urine analysis: Most often, your cat’s exam will routinely include a blood or urine sample to check for any underlying health issues or systemic diseases.
  • FIV testing: If your cat is prone to frequent eye infections, your vet may recommend a FIV blood workup to rule out feline AIDS.

Cat Eye Infection Treatment

As is the case of any illness or condition, taking your cat to the vet and providing a course of treatment in a timely fashion is one of the single most important things you can do as a pet owner to ensure your pet’s health.

When it comes to eye infections, any signs of sickness should be tended to immediately to avoid further health complications. Below is a helpful checklist to follow when tending to your cat during recovery:

Always Listen to Your Veterinarian

If your vet has prescribed any medication for your feline friend, it’s essential to follow his or her instructions exactly as indicated. Be sure to ask plenty of questions regarding your cat’s meds, particularly if you’re unsure as to administer them. Dosage schedule, proper diet, and other general guidelines may be reviewed during your visit.

If you have questions, call the office – it’s always better to be safe than sorry, especially when it involves prescription medication. One thing to keep in mind: never use eye drops intended for humans under any circumstances, as they are not designed for cats and can be potentially dangerous.

A few treatments your vet may prescribe for your cat’s eye problems include:

  • Antibiotics in the form of drops or ointment may be prescribed for bacterial infections
  • If your cat is suffering from a fungal infection, your vet may write a prescription for anti-fungal medication
  • Although the majority of viral infections dissipate on their own, your vet may prescribe a topical anti-viral cream or drops if the infection is viral in origin
  • For more serious or underlying health conditions (such as feline cancer, FIV, tumors or illnesses requiring surgery), your vet will outline a course of treatment or the next step to ensure her quality of life
  • In some instances, you may wish to consider homeopathic remedies to treat your cat. Although they are not a cure for most diseases or conditions, there are many all-natural supplements and dietary sources that can help support your cat’s eye health while ensuring she has a long, healthy life.

A few tips for helping your beloved kitty through the recovery process:

As any pet owner knows, part of caring for your sick pet is providing comfort and reassurance during her recovery. Simple things you can do – including providing a quiet environment, a warm place to sleep, and a proper diet – can make all the difference when she’s not feeling well. Here a few easy ways you can ensure your cat’s comfort while she is getting over her illness:

Keep her eyes clean: If your cat has any discharge or crustiness around her eyes, wipe away with a damp 100% pure cotton ball. Never use eye washes or any other moistening agent besides water unless instructed by your vet, and be sure to discard the cotton ball immediately to avoid spreading germs or cross-infection of other pets.

Keep a tidy home: Just as we do for our own family members, keeping your cat’s sleeping area clean and free of debris is essential for a full recovery. Additionally, be sure to keep her bowls and toys clean and sanitized; boiling most food dishes and chew toys in hot water kills most germs.

Wash your hands: It’s essential to keep your hands as sanitized and germ-free as possible during her treatments, particularly if you are administering eye drops or other meds directly. Not only will you protect her from further infection, but you can also help prevent spreading illness to your own family, as some feline infections may be transmitted to people.

Provide a warm compress: There are few things more soothing to your cat’s eyes than a warm compress. Run a clean washcloth or rag under lukewarm tap water and place gently over your cat’s eyes to relieve pain and discomfort.

Use an Elizabethan collar: Also known as E-collars or cones, your vet may suggest this specially-designed collar during your pet’s course of treatment to avoid the potential dangers of scratching or rubbing the eye area.

Monitor your pets in multiple-cat households: If you happen to have more than one cat in your home, be sure to watch out for signs of eye infection, as most feline infections are highly contagious.

Finally, if your cat is diagnosed with a serious illness such as FIV or feline herpes virus, it’s especially helpful to provide loving and supportive care to your pet. Such conditions may require intravenous fluids to manage dehydration and a course of oral antibiotics for secondary bacterial infections.

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