Eye Problems in Cats

Why You Should Visit the Vet Soon

Working at an animal hospital, we used to always recommended clients whose cats suffered some sort of eye problem to be seen within 24 hours. Reasons behind this were the risks involved with delaying potentially-aggravating eye problems could lead to blindness. Should your cat have an eye problem and you do not see any improvement within 24 hours, please have your cat seen by a vet; it could save his vision.

Cat’s tears are produced by special glands found on the eyelids. Their main function is to lubricate the eye and prevent bacteria from causing infections. Usually tears evaporate and the excess is removed by a drainage system that delivers the excess to the nose. So when the tearing is apparent it most likely indicates a problem.

Some Causes of Cat Eye Problems

Foreign debris in eye:

Just as in humans, cats get foreign matter in their eyes. The fact that a cat’s eyes are so large makes them more prone to irritation. Common foreign matter consists of dust, grass, seeds, hair and dirt.

Veterinarian Explains Eye Infections

When a cat has foreign matter in the eye, you can help by flushing the eye with cool water for about 10 minutes. Should the matter still be present, a Q-tip may be used to gently allow the debris to stick to the cotton. However, only allow a veterinarian to remove something sharp that is penetrating the eye, such as a thorn. Should the eye still appear teary and irritated and the cat keeps pawing at the eye, the object may not have been completely removed or a corneal abrasion may have occurred. In other words, the cornea may have a scratch, or worse an ulcer, and veterinary attention will be needed.

Corneal scratch:

When a cat’s eye surface is scratched, a cat will feel pain, will rub the eye, squint and not tolerate the light. Such scratches may be caused by eyelashes rubbing against the cornea or foreign bodies stuck in the eye.

Should a mild scratch occur, it usually would heal itself within 24 to 48 hours.

If no improvement is seen within 24 hours, though, it is vital to have a veterinarian check the eye before a corneal ulcer derives, further complicating the prognosis. A veterinarian will stain the eye with a dye to look for corneal scratches. Never treat a corneal scratch with eye drops designed to treat conjunctivitis. The cortisone found in some of these products may cause blindness.

Nictating membrane protusion:

If you have ever found your cat waking up suddenly you may have noticed the presence of a whitish membrane covering the inner corners of it’s eyes.

This is called the nictating membrane or third eyelid and it is rarely visible normally. However, if it remains protruding even with the cat is wide awake then this may indicate a problem. Causes may be an infection behind the eyeball, bleeding behind the eyeball or the presence of a tumor behind the eyeball.

When the third eyelid is protruding in only one eye, suspect a problem with that particular eye. If both eyes are involved then it could possibly be a systemic illness. Such illnesses may be Haw’s syndrome which affects young cats, usually under the age of two, following some form of upset stomach. This disorder usually spontaneously resolves within a couple of months.

Another syndrome is Horner’s syndrome where the cat also exhibits a sunken eye following a neck nerve injury or a middle-ear infection.

Blocked tear ducts:

Suspect this disorder when the cat’s eye is tearing but there is no redness.

This blockage may be congenital or can occur in cats prone to cat fights and injured eyelids. The tear ducts may also be blocked by thick secretions due to chronic eye infections or dirt or seeds.

A blocked tear duct is diagnosed by a vet by staining the inner corner of the eyes with a special dye. When tear ducts are working properly, the excess tears should be delivered to the nostril, so if the dye does not appear at the nostril then the tear duct is obstructed. Blocked ducts may require the veterinarian to flush them and then treat the underlying cause.

Cat breeds that are flat-faced such as Persians and Himalayans are prone to excess tearing that stains their fur because of their facial structures and narrow tear ducts. Tetracycline may help relieve the staining. In some cases, a low dose tetracycline can be added to the cat’s food long term. Ask your vet for the best course of action.


In this case the eyes are red due to inflammation. Discharge may cause the cat to rub its eye insistently as they are itchy. Eye discharge is usually clear when irritated by dust or allergens and is purulent when there is a secondary bacterial infection. In some cases, the secretions turn into crust and seal the eyelids shut. When both eyes are involved a virus may be the culprit. If the inflammation begins in one eye and then progresses to the other then it may be due to chlamydia or mycoplasma.

Crusty sealed eyes can be loosened by applying warm compresses. Neosporin opthalmic ointment may also be helpful.

Severe cases must be directed to the veterinarian promptly for a full course of antibiotics.

Noenatal conjunctivitis:

Baby kittens usually open their eyes around the tenth to twelfth day. When the eyes appear sealed shut by crust, however, then suspect an eye problem. A kitten affected by conjunctivitis will also have eyes that seem to bulge.

Should a kitten suffer from this disorder you must not allow the eyes to seal shut, rather, please consult with your veterinarian as soon as possible to prevent potential eye damage.


While symptoms of keratitis may be similar to those of conjunctivitis, the main distinguishing feature is that keratitis causes pain while in conjunctivitis causes itchiness.

A cat with keratitis will squint, rub the eye in pain, exhibit discharge and the third eyelid may protrude.

Keratitis often occurs when a corneal ulcer is left untreated and causes a secondary infection. Another cause is the feline herpes virus, which causes a respiratory infection with eye involvement.

Persians and Siamese are prone to develop a form of keratits where a brown or black spot appears on the cornea (sequestrum). Such a spot must be removed by the veterinarian. Untreated cases of keratitis may progress into partial or complete blindness.

Senior Nuclear Sclerosis

As cats age their eyes may develop a bluish tint. This does not usually impair vision and therefore no treatment is necessary. However, a spot that appears opaque may be a cataract requiring treatment.


An opaque spot in the cat’s eye that prevents light from reaching into the retina. These are more common in dogs than cats but may require attention if they interfere with vision.


This condition occurs when there is an excessive build-up of pressure in the eyeball. There will be tearing, squinting and redness with the affected pupil appearing larger the other and will also feel harder when pressed on. If left untreated the eye may buldge and the retina may be damaged. Eye pressure readings by your vet may diagnose glaucoma. Glaucoma is a critical condition where the intra ocular pressure must be lowered as soon as possible to avoid complications. Severely affected eyes that have lost vision may be better off removed.

Iris Melanoma:

Should you notice a black spot in your cat’s eye, have it evaluated by your veterinarian or have a referral to a ophthalmologist specialist. In some cases such spots are malignant melanomas which may require enucleation (removal of the eye).


While in glaucoma the eye when pressed feels hard and in uveitis it feels soft. The cat also will manifest pain with squinting, watery eyes, some redness and a small pupil. Prompt treatment is required as it may lead to blindness.

Sunken Eye:

Cats who are dehydrated or have very rapidly lost weight may exhibit sunken eyes. Other causes are tetanus, a neck nerve injury or a middle ear infection.

Retinal Disease:

Cats start having trouble seeing at the night. They may refuse to go out or may be reluctant to jump and play in the nighttime. They may keep their head low so the whiskers can be used to detect nearby objects.

A lack of taurine in the diet may lead to retinal disease. This occurs in cats that are only fed tuna or are vegetarian. Other causes include toxoplasmosis, FIP, fungal infections, etc. Treatment is contingent upon identifying the underlying cause.

The eyes play a vital role in a cat’s life. They are prominent granting a great vision for stalking and hunting. Paying close attention to a symptom suggesting an eye problem can help preserve your cats vision.

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