Just like many of us, cats can also have health problems with their eyes. Healthy eyes should be bright and clear, with the area surrounding the eyeball white. Eye problems are harder to tackle compared to others, so if you ever notice that something is different about your feline companion’s eyes, the first piece of advice we can give to you would be to take him or her to the vet.
Your cat’s eyes are one of the animal’s most important physical attributes. In the wild, your cat would be able to track the prey’s moves and make a clean kill, which would provide him or her with sustenance, sometimes for a couple of days. Of course, sight and smell are also essential, but your cat’s eyes have the unique ability to see when many other animals (and humans, especially) can’t – at night.
Let’s look at some facts about eye diseases and several general signs that should give you a clue as to whether or not you have to take your pet in for a check-up.
When you should take your cat to the vet
Although eye disease can be caused by a variety of factors and can evolve differently, there are some symptoms that could show up in many of them. These range from red inner eyelids, a dull eye surface, cloudiness within the eyeball, and excessive tearing or discharge, to tear-stained fur around the eyes and a noticeable ‘third eyelid’ across the eye surface.
The veterinarian will use a series of tests to determine just what kind of medical condition your cat is suffering from. For example, corneal ulcers can be detected by fluorescein, while the level of tear production can be assessed using the Schirmer Tear Test. If glaucoma is suspected, the ocular pressure needs to be measured. Finally, to ensure that the basic components of the eye are in good health (from the lens to the retina), the vet could use an ophthalmoscope to look inside the organ.
Feline eye disorders can differ in terms of their severity to the exact part of the eye that has been affected. In this particular section, we will look at some of the most common disorders that can affect your cat’s eyes and that are, unfortunately, rather often diagnosed in many vet practices.
The most commonly diagnosed eye problem is conjunctivitis, which basically means that the conjunctiva (the mucous membrane lining the inner surface of the eyelid as well as the outer surface of the eyeball) is affected by inflammation. In case you didn’t know, this is one of the most frequent eye disorders diagnosed in humans and other species, too. Conjunctivitis can or cannot be contagious depending on what has caused it. If the cause is an irritant or allergen (such as a synthetic house cleaner or pollen), conjunctivitis isn’t contagious, at least not initially. However, it often develops bacterial complications if it goes untreated, and that’s when it can become contagious. Runny eyes are the most noticeable symptom of conjunctivitis.
Eye infections can be caused by germs like bacteria, fungi, viruses, and even parasites. These can be characterized by an array of signs from discharge, swelling, squinting, and redness, to pawing at the infected eye. Keep in mind that, since not all infections are caused by the same pathogens, the treatment must differ depending on this aspect, as well as the degree to which the eye has been affected.
Exo- and enophthalmos have nothing in common with infections, at least not when it comes to their underlying cause. In theory, they are eyeball displacements in the sense that exophthalmos involves the eye protruding whereas enophthalmos happens when the eyeball recesses back into the skull. The latter can be caused by anything from dehydration to cancer while exophthalmos can be caused by edema, fluid retention, bleeding behind the eye, abscesses or infections of soft tissues, or cancer.
Cataracts and glaucoma
These two can and are more likely to occur in older cats. Cataracts can be seen in dogs more frequently than in our feline friends. This disease consists of the development of an opaque spot in the pet’s eyes, which prevents the light from reaching into the retina. The opaque spot can grow and grow until it blocks out light entirely, and therefore, your cat can lose sight in one eye. Surgery can be performed to repair the cataract. However, if your cat is older, you might not want to risk surgery since many older pets have other medical conditions that could make it hard if not impossible for them to survive an operation.
Glaucoma is caused by an excessive buildup of pressure in the eyeball. It can be the outcome of trauma, infections, a tumor, or an inflammatory disorder. Some of its symptoms range from pain and redness to cloudiness in the eye and discharge. You might also be able to notice that one eye is bigger than its healthy counterpart. Glaucoma can be a life-threatening emergency and treatment has to be administered quickly, especially if the condition is a consequence of trauma. Otherwise, the cat can lose vision in that eye. Intra-ocular pressure must be lowered through medication, but if that doesn’t work and if any complications occur, the eye might have to be removed surgically.
Some medical conditions can lead to feline blindness, and these can be the inflammation of the uvea (uveitis), retinal detachment, and corneal lacerations. Uveitis is usually associated with FeLV, FIV, and FIP, but also a host of other infectious organisms. Some of its symptoms are enlarged eyes, inflammation of the eyeball, as well as swollen third eyelids.
Retinal detachment is a condition where the retina is separated from the underlying tissue, which ultimately leads to an oversupply of fluid between the two layers or leakage. It’s common in cats that have high blood pressure or are suffering from kidney disease.
Corneal lacerations are caused by trauma and happen more often in outdoor cats. All of these three – uveitis, retinal detachment, and corneal lacerations – can lead to blindness if they are not treated as soon as possible. In many cases, the vision can be partially or entirely lost by the time the assistance of a vet is sought.
Since the treatment of each medical condition that we have described in this article differs largely from one to the other, we’d like to give you some advice on how you can make sure that your cat’s vision is kept on par throughout the animal’s life.
If possible, keep your home clean and dust-free and take your cat to the vet as soon as you notice any discharge, swelling, or redness in the eyes. Because uveitis, for example, which can cause blindness, is associated with some of the most common infectious diseases of cats, you should look into getting your pet vaccinated.
Of all of the eye problems we’ve tackled, infections are the easiest to treat if they are diagnosed in due time. You probably interact and play with your cat daily, and you pet your feline buddy, too. That’s when you have the opportunity to look into the animal’s eyes and see whether they are clear and bright and whether there’s any discharge present.
Keep in mind that some breeds will have eye discharge on account of their anatomy (e.g., Persian cats), but you can ask your vet on how you can make the difference between physiological (normal) and pathological discharge – in terms of color, amount, and density, for example.
Cats’ eyes can be affected by a myriad of problems just like human eyes can. To make sure that eye vision is never lost, you should take your pet in for regular check-ups, especially if he or she is older.