Tuesday, August 18, 2009 1:03 PM

The Eyes Have it: Eye Problems in Cats

Eye problems seem to show up in cats every now and then, sometimes with no warning. Many of these are not serious issues; however, it is useful to know what the problem may be in order to decide whether or not to take the cat to the veterinarian. Following are some of the most common eye disorders that affect cats (people and dogs, too):

Conjunctivitis: Otherwise known as "pinkeye", this is an infection of the inner surfaces of the eyelids. Irritants such as foreign objects, allergies or an upper respiratory infection may set the stage for opportunistic bacterial infection. Symptoms include inflammation, blinking, soreness and redness. Unless infection is present, there is probably not going to be any discharge of pus. There may be a watery discharge, though, as the eye tries to rid itself of the irritation.

Corneal Abrasion: This is brought on by some minor trauma to the eye, such as a scratch; it is common in litters of kittens who regularly beat the crap out of each other without restraint. If you notice a kitten pawing at its eye and the eye is tearing and squinty, this is probably the problem. It will heal on its own, as long as infection doesn't set in. It's probably best to check with your vet, just in case.

Corneal Keratitis and Ulcer: Abrasions of the cornea can progress to keratitis quite easily, which can then lead to ulcer. It is very important to treat this early, as blindness can result. The eye will look pretty bad, even at the keratitis stage, so it's best to start treatment as soon as symptoms appear.

Dark Staining around the Eyes: This usually occurs in Persian breeds, due to the snub-nosed (brachio-cephalic) style of the face. The tear ducts are basically being squeezed, since a cat is supposed to have a snout (albeit a small one) that allows for normal tear duct orientation and function. There are special eye washes available, so consult your vet.

Watery Eye (Epiphora): This can be caused by irritation or an upper respiratory tract infection. Sometimes, the cause is a foreign object in the eye; check with your vet to ascertain the cause before treatment.

Glaucoma: An increase in fluid pressure behind the eye, due to inflammation or tear duct drainage issues. Other causes are disease of the lens or anterior portions of the eye. One or both eyes can be affected; bulging or enlarged eyeballs are the usual cues. This disorder can lead to blindness, so it's best to have the cat checked out as soon as you notice it.

Bulging eye: Usually affects one eye only. Swollen tissue or a tumor behind the eye are the usual causes.

Cataracts: More common in older cats, the lens becomes clouded, then milky-white. Outdoor cats are more prone to this than indoor cats. Diabetes mellitus can also be a cause. Note, however, that some clouding of the lens normally occurs in animals 10 years of age and older, and is not a cause for concern. If your cat seems to be having problems with vision, get her to the vet's for a check-up; this is not a normal part of aging.

Blepharitis: Red, swollen eyelids, sometimes with discharge and/or crusting. Usually, the cause is a scratch to the eyelid that becomes infected.

Entropion: The bottom eyelid turns inward, and the lashes irritate the cornea. This can be caused by injury, but is often a congenital defect; usually, surgery is the treatment.

Third Eyelid: The nictitating membrane is a neat protective membrane that protects the cat's eyes. You will usually only see it if your cat wakes suddenly from a deep sleep; it recedes very quickly. If it is in view at other times, something is wrong. Often, it is a respiratory infection; sometimes, not. Get to the vet's, pronto.

Tomorrow, I'll go over some treatments you can do at home for mild eye irritations.
Chat later!

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Amanda has worked with animals for many years and has always had cats in her life. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two excellent cats.
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