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Cat Eye Infection: Symptoms and Treatment Options

Cat sad with eye infection
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Cats have excellent vision and are masters of seeing well at night. They use their eyes to survey the world around them and, perhaps, stare you down if mealtime is late.

Cat eye infections are often uncomfortable and painful. A veterinarian must promptly diagnose and treat eye infections to restore good eye health and prevent more serious eye problems.

What is a Cat Eye Infection?

Cat laying on a rug has big eyes

A cat eye infection is an eye problem that can be caused by infectious agents, such as viruses and bacteria, or noninfectious causes, like trauma. It can affect one or both eyes.

The symptoms of a cat eye infection, which we’ll discuss later in the article, resemble those of other eye diseases, such as conjunctivitis (inflammation of the lining of the eye). Therefore, it can be difficult for a pet parent to know whether their cat has an eye infection or another eye problem.

By performing a comprehensive eye exam, veterinarians can distinguish between an eye infection and other eye diseases. 

Causes of Eye Infections in Cats

Cat having eye cleaned with a wipe

Regardless of age or breed, all cats can get an eye infection. The causes of eye infections in cats can be categorized as infectious or non-infectious.

Infectious causes of feline eye infections are often viral (like feline calicivirus or feline herpesvirus) but can also be bacterial.

A few non-infectious causes of cat eye infections include:

  • Trauma
  • Allergies
  • An eye tumor 
  • Conjunctivitis
  • A foreign body stuck in the eye
  • Corneal abnormalities, such as corneal ulcers

Cat Eye Infection Symptoms

Cat rubbing eyes sitting on a windowsill

Cats prefer to hide symptoms of illness if they can, but eye infection symptoms are hard to hide. If you notice any of the following symptoms, take your cat to your veterinarian for further examination. 

  • Squinting 
  • Cloudy eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Excessive blinking
  • Rubbing at the eyes
  • Excessive eye watering
  • Redness in the whites of the eye
  • Discharge from the eye that is thick or discolored (yellow, green)
  • Swollen third eyelid (located in the inner corner of the eye)

You may also notice some behavioral changes in your cat. For example, your cat may be less playful and isolate itself from you. Your cat may also become quite moody because their eyes are so uncomfortable.

Diagnosing Cat Eye Infections

Cat at the vet having eye infection diagnosed

Eye infections are bothersome to cats, so don’t delay scheduling an appointment with your veterinarian to have your cat’s eyes examined if they are showing symptoms of an infection.

Your veterinarian will want to know the history of your cat’s eye problem. Provide as much information as you can, such as when you first noticed something wrong with your cat’s eyes and what symptoms you have observed.

Your veterinarian will then perform a physical exam and comprehensive eye exam. For the eye exam, they will use an instrument called an ophthalmoscope to examine all parts of your cat’s eyes. They will also perform a few eye diagnostic tests to determine the potential cause of the eye infection.

A fluorescein stain test is typically used to detect damage to the cornea, the clear protective covering of the eye. Your veterinarian will apply the stain to your cat’s cornea, turn off the light and look for a fluorescent green stain. A green stain indicates corneal damage, which could be causing an eye infection. 

Your veterinarian will also take a few small samples from the affected eye (skin and discharge) to look for signs of infection with a microscope.

Because viral diseases in the body can cause an eye infection, your veterinarian will also perform bloodwork to check your cat’s overall health.

Cat Eye Infection Treatment

Cat at the vet getting treatment for eye infection

You’ll want to start treating your cat’s eye infection as quickly as possible, but don’t start any treatment before going to your veterinarian.  

Over-the-counter medications and home remedies for cat eye infections are not always effective and may cause more harm than good. For example, you should never use Neosporin in a cat’s eyes. It is toxic to cats and causes life-threatening allergic reactions.

Your veterinarian will prescribe the most appropriate eye medicine for your cat, according to what has caused the eye infection. Many treatments for eye infections are applied directly to the eye as either an eye drop or ointment. 

Antibiotics are given to treat bacterial eye infections, and antiviral medications will treat viral eye infections.

Surgery is recommended if a foreign body is lodged in the eye or if serious damage to the cornea is present. 

Regardless of an eye infection’s cause, anti-inflammatory eye drops help to relieve pain and discomfort by reducing inflammation. These drops may delay the healing of corneal damage, though, so your veterinarian will examine your cat’s cornea before prescribing eye medicines.

If your cat has a lot of eye discharge, your veterinarian will recommend gently wiping away the discharge with a warm, damp cloth. Fortunately, most eye infections in cats heal well and quickly.

The cost of treating eye infections in cats can vary widely and depends on the cause and severity of the infection. With diagnosis and treatment, the cost of treating an eye infection in cats can cost several hundred dollars.

How to Prevent Cat Eye Infections

Cat at the vet getting a vaccine to prevent eye infections

There are a few relatively easy things you can do to lessen your cat’s risk of eye infections.

Vaccination can prevent viral eye infections. The FVRCP vaccine, a core vaccine for cats, protects against feline herpesvirus type 1 and feline calicivirus, among other common cat viruses.

Keeping your cat’s nails trimmed is also helpful. Cats’ nails are sharp, so keeping them trimmed will lessen the likelihood of your cat scratching its eyes with its nails.

Conclusion

Eye infections in cats are serious and require prompt veterinary care. If your cat has symptoms of an eye infection, don’t delay in scheduling an appointment for your cat. The sooner your veterinarian can diagnose the infection, the sooner your cat can get the treatment they need for much-needed eye relief.

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