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  • Post published:28/05/2021
  • Post last modified:28/05/2021
Close up of a tabby and white cat looking away from the camera

Eye infections in cats can be uncomfortable and sometimes even painful. If your cat has an eye infection, they may have any number of symptoms. How can you know when your cat may be suffering from an eye infection and what can you do about it?

Signs Your Cat Might Have an Eye Infection

Not all cats with an eye infection may exhibit the same symptoms. In fact, your cat may only have one or two clinical signs of an infection. Generally, though, a cat with an eye infection may have any of the following:

  • Redness in the white of the eye
  • Discharge that can be either watery or thick or clear, yellow, or green in color
  • Excessive blinking, winking, or keeping an eye closed
  • The third eyelid may be covering part of the eye
  • Pawing at the eye or rubbing it on surfaces
  • The eye may take on a cloudy appearance
  • Sneezing or nasal discharge
  • Light sensitivity

Infections of the eye can be quite irritating for your cat. A cat that is suffering from one might also be exhibiting behavioral changes, such as hiding more and being more temperamental.

Potential Causes of Eye Infections in Cats

Your cat’s eye problem could truly be an infection, having a bacterial or viral cause, but not all eye infections are actually infectious in nature. There are some types of eye ‘infections’ that can be caused by things that aren’t bacterial or viral. Possible causes of eye infections can include:

Calicivirus

The ‘C’ in the FVRCP (sometimes called a feline distemper or a 3-way shot) vaccine, calicivirus is a virus that can cause both upper respiratory and oral infections in both domestic cats as well as wild cats. It is highly contagious from cat to cat and is commonly seen in both shelter and cattery environments.

Feline Herpes Virus

Yes, cats can get herpes. In fact, it’s quite common in cats. Feline herpes virus is the causative agent for a disease process called feline viral rhinotracheitis, the ‘FVR’ in the FVRCP vaccine. While feline herpes virus is not transmissible to people, once a cat gets it they have the virus for life.

Conjunctivitis

Literally meaning ‘inflammation of the conjunctiva’, this is most similar to pink eye in people. However, you can’t get pink eye from your cat. Conjunctivitis can occur on its own or it can be seen in association with other eye disorders, such as calicivirus and feline herpesvirus.

Corneal Ulcers

Your cat’s eye, just like your own eye, has a thin layer covering the front portion of the eye called the cornea. If your cat accidentally scratches their cornea, they can form a painful ulcer.

Treatment Options for Your Cat’s Eye Infection

Whether your cat’s eye infection is caused by an infectious or non-infectious agent, the treatment is most often standard. Most home remedies or over-the-counter topical treatments won’t be effective at fully clearing the infection, so a veterinary visit is in order. To make sure they pick the right medication, your vet will want to stain your cat’s eye to check for any corneal scratches or ulcers. A few drops of a non-toxic, fluorescent dye is placed in the eye and a black light is shone on the eye. Any corneal ulcers will hold on to the dye and will shine a yellow-green color. Checking for any ulcers or scratches is important because it will determine if your vet will prescribe eye drops with a steroid or without one. Eye drops that contain a steroid can help relieve the pain and inflammation associated with the infection, but it will also delay the healing of a corneal ulcer and may actually make it worse. For this reason, a vet will always want to stain the eyes before prescribing anything.

Once the testing is complete your vet will prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointment. The drops tend to be easier for cat owners to apply at home, but ointment, because of its oil base, stays in the eye longer than the drops do. So, although both are effective, if you are able to apply it, ointment is the better treatment option.

Preventing Eye Infections in Cats

Looking at the potential causes of eye infections, it may seem like preventing them would be a daunting task. But there are things you can do to prevent your cat from suffering from one.

Since most of the truly infectious causes are preventable with vaccinations, keeping your cat up to date on their vaccines, regardless of indoor/outdoor status, can help stave of infections. Even if your vet suspects that your cat already has feline herpesvirus, keeping their FVRCP updated can minimize flare up. Most flare ups of herpesvirus are self-limiting, meaning they resolve without treatment. If your vet suspects that this is the culprit of your cat’s eye problems, they may recommend an immune supplement called L-Lysine. This is a safe supplement that can be given either as a treat or chew, as a gel your cat can lick off their paw, or even granules you can mix in with their wet food. L-Lysine can be given throughout your cat’s life to prevent flare ups. Keeping your cat’s claws trimmed, especially their front claws, can also help prevent any corneal ulcers or scratches from exuberant grooming.

Eye infections usually aren’t serious, but they are unpleasant for your cat to endure. If you suspect your cat is suffering from an eye infection, don’t delay in calling your vet to make an appointment for them.

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