Vision problems exist in cats just like in any other animal species, including humans. Sometimes, cats can lose their sight due to age, but in other cases, the cause could be something pathological and that requires immediate medical assistance.
In today’s article, we’re discussing everything you should know about feline blindness – from its most common causes to whether or not your cat might be able to recover at least part of their sight back after losing it.
What causes blindness in cats?
Cataracts is a condition that can affect felines that are living with hypertension and diabetes. Sometimes, it can also be a result of the normal aging process. A cat with cataracts will have a part of its lens opaque, which will make the transmission of light partially or fully impossible.
Cataracts can affect one eye or both or just parts of the ocular globe (lens). Veterinary medicine has evolved so much over the past decades that these days, and depending on the cat’s general health condition, some cataract cases can be solved through surgery. Lens implantation is possible as it is in people.
This is a lesion that can be caused by various factors, with one of the most common ones being exposure and development of Feline Herpesvirus (FHV).
Unlike cataracts, corneal ulcers come with a wide range of symptoms, whether that be eye discharge, conjunctivitis, sensitivity to light sources, or consistent pawing at the affected eye. Treatment is possible, but because cats tend to self-harm themselves, they might have to wear an Elizabethan collar. If the damage is extreme, surgery might be required.
Glaucoma can be an emergency as sometimes, the amount of fluid that accumulates inside the eye can lead to the complete loss of the organ. Moreover, it puts pressure on the optical nerve, the one that is in charge of transmitting the electrical signals from the brain to the eye and the other way around.
This pathology is more common in Siamese and Burmese cats but it can also be caused by infectious diseases such as FeLV, FIP, or FIV – and sometimes even toxoplasmosis. Although the condition itself cannot be cured, there are ways to relieve the pressure and treat the inflammation. Progressive loss of sight is to be expected.
Hypertension can affect cats of all ages, but it is particularly more common in senior pets. Chronic hypertension can have a plethora of negative effects on an animal’s health, including the detachment of the retina, for example, as well as hemorrhages behind the eye.
Hypertension itself can be caused by primary conditions such as heart diseases, kidney pathologies, diabetes, or hyperthyroidism. If your cat is older than 7, you should make sure you stick to your vet’s schedule and take them to the animal hospital for check-ups at least once or twice a year.
Everyone’s vision starts to become poor as they age, whether they are animals or humans. But even though cats do have a likelihood of going blind, especially if they are champions when it comes to longevity, this will happen gradually.
It will take years before a cat loses their sight completely simply because they are growing old. It’s not something that you notice from one day to the next and your veterinarian is likely to update you on the progression.
Some drugs have severe side effects, and there have been cases documented of an antibacterial drug called Enrofloxacin (an antibiotic that works for treating many types of infections).
While this medication still acts in more or less confusing ways, apparently, it can produce retinal degeneration in some cats – not in all, but it’s still a risk that many vets are not willing to take when it comes to the treatment of bacterial infections in this species.
Depending on the extent of damage that the cat’s body has sustained, especially in a car accident, for example, they might lose their sight forever.
Sometimes, it is the ocular globe itself that becomes damaged, whereas in other situations, the optical nerve suffers to such an extent that it becomes incapable of doing its job.
The most common type of eye cancer that cats can develop is called melanoma, and it often affects more than one tissue type inside the eye. Iris melanoma eventually leads to glaucoma or abnormalities of the pupil, as well as chronic inflammation or hypertrophy in the eye.
Some cats can also develop sarcoma, especially after trauma and after having developed chronic uveitis.
Although conjunctivitis is an extremely common eye pathology in cats, dogs, and other animals, if it is left untreated and depending on the type of microorganism that has led to it, it can lead to blindness.
This cause is somewhat rare compared to the others that we have mentioned previously. Still, it is a good idea to keep an eye on your cat’s vision and nothing if something weird seems to be going on.
How to tell if your cat is going blind
Not a lot of cats show clinical signs until they have almost completely lost their vision, and the reason for this is that those that spend almost all their life indoors (in the same space) have a way of getting around objects, furniture, and other obstacles based on other senses – smell and their whiskers being two examples.
However, if your cat does go blind all of a sudden, they will experience some sort of distress, and it’s quite likely that something about their eyes will look a little unique and will get your attention.
Other cats might simply bump into things, especially seniors that have lost their sight progressively, but will not exhibit any worrying symptoms in the short run. You can ask your vet a variety of questions about how a cat with normal eyesight should behave if you don’t have any knowledge on this.
Caring for your blind cat in the long run
Blind cats can become disoriented a lot quicker and easier compared to their counterparts, so it is highly recommended that you keep them indoors only.
Not only does this allow them to live in a safe space, away from predators, but it also prevents encounters with other cats that might transmit parasites, viruses, bacteria, or other diseases.
Blindness doesn’t make cats completely oblivious of what’s happening around them, but it does make them slightly more vulnerable, so try to talk to your feline companion as often as possible and in a reassuring tone.
Keep the feeding station and the litter box in the same place they’ve always been. And even if you keep your cat only indoors, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get them microchipped and fit them with a collar and an ID tag (just in case they get lost).
Enrofloxacin-associated retinal degeneration in cats, K.N. Gelatt et al, 2001, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11422990/
Feline ocular post-traumatic sarcomas: Current understanding, treatment and monitoring, Carissa Wood & Erin M. Scott, 2019, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31446864/#:~:text=Feline%20ocular%20post%2Dtraumatic%20sarcomas%20(FOPTS)%20represent%20a%20very,disease%20progression%20and%20prompt%20enucleation.