Category: eye-disease-cat

Eye medication: how to give to your cat

Eye problems in cats are quite common. Tears quickly wash out any treatment put in the eye so eye drops need to be given several times a day. This means you will have to learn how to give the treatment at home.

Some drops only need to be given once a day, others up to six times daily. Always follow the instructions given to you by your vet very carefully. Never give more than the recommended dose and, if at all possible, try not to miss treatments.

You will find it easier to hold your cat at a comfortable working height. Try placing your cat on a table or raised surface. If the surface is slippery, put a carpet tile or towel down so that your cat feels more secure. If your cat struggles a lot, you may need to wrap your cat in a towel or blanket to prevent them scratching you. You will need to get a friend to help you – one of you will hold the cat whilst the other steadies the head and puts the drops into the eye.

  • The person holding the cat should grip the cat’s head firmly under the chin and tilt the head upwards.
  • The other person holds the dropper bottle in one hand and opens the cat’s eye using the thumb and forefinger of the other hand.
  • Position the dropper bottle a few centimetres above the eye and squeeze gently to release the right number of drops.
  • Avoid touching the eye with the bottle nozzle.

Ointments and creams are slightly more difficult to apply because they are thick like toothpaste.

  • Hold the cat and open its eye as above.
  • Holding the tube of ointment above the eye, squeeze out some ointment and let it drop onto the eye to lie between the lids.
  • Detach this ‘worm’ of ointment from the tube by pulling the ointment down against the lower lid.
  • Always avoid touching the eye with the nozzle.

As long as the treatment falls on the eye somewhere it does not matter where. When your cat blinks the drug will spread all over the surface of the eye.

The eye is one of the most sensitive parts of the body and putting anything into an eye may cause discomfort. However, eye drops and ointments are designed for use in the eye and any discomfort will be slight. Your cat may blink a lot or have a ‘watery eye’ for a few moments after you have put the drops in.

On rare occasions your cat may paw at the eye(s), rub its face along the floor or the white of the eye may become red and sore. If so, stop the treatment immediately and contact your vet.

Always continue the treatment for as long as your vet recommends. Eye problems often appear to get better very quickly once treatment starts but if you stop treatment too soon the problems may come back.

Most owners get quite good at giving eye drops with a bit of practice, but if you really can’t do it yourself tell your vet. They may be able to prescribe a different drug which does not need to be given so often or which can be given by mouth instead. In some cases a nurse may be able to help you, or your cat could be admitted for a few days to be given treatment.

Corneal ulcers – a sore eye

Although cat’s eyes have a number of differences which improve night vision, the basic structure is much the same as a human’s. Consequently cats can suffer a similar range of eye diseases to humans. Because the eye is complicated, delicate and very sensitive, all eye problems require immediate veterinary attention. One of the most common eye problems in cats is a corneal ulcer.

A corneal ulcer is a hole in the clear covering of the front of the eyeball (the cornea). Sometimes only the top layer of the cornea is affected but the damage may go deeper and be more difficult to treat. There will often be a layer of dead tissue over the wound and the surface of the eye may appear cloudy. Usually ulcers increase in size slowly but on rare occasions the wound can become infected with dangerous bacteria. These bacteria can produce chemicals which eat away at the surrounding normal tissue causing permanent blindness within a few hours.

In many cases the cause of the ulcer is uncertain. Most are caused by a scratch from another cat during a fight or something rubbing on the eye such as a piece of grit or grass seed caught under the eyelid or eyelashes or hairs growing in the wrong place on the eyelid. Bacterial or viral infections can cause damage to a normal eye as well as making problems worse following physical injury.

Ulcers can be very painful and your cat may hide or become unusually aggressive if it has one. The affected eye is usually very watery unless the ulcer is caused by a lack of tears. Your cat may blink frequently and the membranes around the eye may appear red and inflamed. Sometimes the third eyelid (a protective membrane under the main eyelids) will cover the surface of the eye when the eye is open.

Your vet will try to identify the cause of the ulcer in order to choose the best treatment. The eye must be examined carefully to make sure there is nothing rubbing against the eye. Local anaesthetic drops may be put in the eye to make your dog more comfortable whilst the eye is examined.

Your vet will then put a few drops of dye into the eye. This dye sticks to the damaged areas and will show your vet how far the corneal ulcer extends.

The choice of treatment depends on the type of injury and how far it extends. A foreign body (like a grass seed) in the eye can be removed.

For minor ulcers you may be given a cream or eyedrops to speed up the healing process.

If the damage is more severe your vet may need to keep your cat so that an anaesthetic can be given. During the operation any dead tissue will be cut away and a protective layer put over the wound to encourage it to heal. The third eyelid may be sewn across the eye until the ulcer has healed or a clear soft contact lens can be fitted.

An Elizabethan collar may be necessary to prevent your cat rubbing the eye and causing further damage. Antibiotic drops or cream help tackle any infection and other drugs may be used to reduce the inflammation. As the eye heals, the area around the ulcer may become redder and small blood vessels start to grow across the eye surface to help the healing process.

Your vet may ask you to put drops or ointment into your cat’s eye to help with healing. This is relatively straightforward in most cats with a bit of practice.

  1. You will need someone to help you hold your cat firmly.
  2. Then you should grasp your cat’s head with your left hand and tilt it upwards.
  3. With the thumb and finger of the holding hand, the eyelids should be pulled gently apart and the medication given with the other hand.
  4. The tip of the tube should be held parallel with the eye surface, not pointed directly at it.
  5. A squirt of cream or a few drops of fluid are carefully placed on the surface of the eye
  6. The eyelids are closed and rubbed gently to spread the medication over the whole surface of the eyeball. Be careful not to touch the surface of the eye with the tip of the dropper or tube because this may damage the eye or spread bacteria from the eye back into the contents of the bottle.

The likelihood of successful treatment depends on the type of ulcer and how advanced the condition has become. Early treatment gives the best chance of a good recovery. When the ulcer has healed there may be a small indentation or white scar left on the eye surface, but this is unlikely to affect your cat’s eyesight.

If your cat’s eyes appear sore or red or if any abnormal discharges are present you should make an appointment to see your vet immediately.

Conjunctivitis in cats

If your cat has a sore or red eye, or there is discharge from the eye, then it is important to contact your vet. Your cat may have an infection in the eye, but a discharge can also be caused by a foreign body (such as a grass seed) caught under the eyelid. It is important that diseases of the eye are treated quickly to prevent any permanent damage being done.

The conjunctiva is the pinkish surface surrounding the eyeball. The third eyelid is an extra protective eyelid in the cat and is also covered by conjunctiva. In normal cats the conjunctiva is not readily visible. In conjunctivitis this membrane is inflamed and becomes red and swollen. Conjunctivitis can affect one or both eyes.

Cats with conjunctivitis usually have a discharge from their eye(s). This can be clear and watery or thick and greeny/yellow in colour. The conjunctiva is often more visible and may be swollen, partially covering the eye. The eye(s) may be held half closed and the third eyelid is more prominent.

A number of different conditions will cause conjunctivitis. Many are sudden in onset and easily treatable. Others cause a long term disease which can be more difficult to control.

  1. Irritants, trauma (e.g. cat fights) and foreign bodies (e.g. grass seeds) can cause conjunctivitis. In most cases treatment is rapidly effective once the cause has been removed.
  2. The most common causes of conjunctivitis in cats are infectious agents. These can be viruses (usually one of the cat flu viruses), bacteria and a group of organisms which resemble bacteria (most commonly Chlamydia).
  3. Disease of the immune system can also cause conjunctivitis. These diseases are rare in cats but can be difficult to treat.

Usually your vet will be able to tell that your cat has conjunctivitis by a simple examination. They will want to examine the eye closely to ensure there is no damage nor foreign body. If there is no obvious traumatic cause most cases will respond to drops or ointment containing antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs. If a foreign body is present then this obviously needs to be removed.

If the signs are not getting better with a few days treatment, or appear to improve only to get worse again when treatment stops, more investigation is required. Your vet will want to take a swab from the conjunctiva to look for infection. In some cases a blood sample may also be required.

If there is no infection then it can be helpful to look at a sample of cells from the conjunctiva. This sample is obtained by gently scraping the surface of the conjunctiva with a cotton wool swab or spatula. If a larger sample is required, then a section of conjunctiva taken surgically may be necessary.

In most cases conjunctivitis is treated by application of drops or ointments to the eye. Sometimes with particularly stubborn infections antibiotic treatment may also need to be given by injection or tablet.

If you are able to treat your cat’s eyes this can be done at home but regular treatment is essential. Most drops or ointments need to be administered at least 3-6 times a day. Two people are usually required to give drops to a cat, one to hold them still and the other to give the treatment. If you have any doubts as to how to give the medication prescribed, please ask your veterinary practice to give a demonstration. If you are unable to treat your cat appropriately your vet may arrange to keep it in the hospital for a few days to ensure that effective treatment is given.

Cataracts in cats

Cataract is a disease of the lens of the eye in which the normally clear lens becomes opaque or white. You may see the whiteness of the eye when you look at your cat. This interferes with vision and can result in blindness. In some cases, if the cataract is causing significant problems, an eye specialist may be able to operate on the eye to remove the cataract.

Light enters through the front of the eye and is focused by the clear lens onto the retina, at the back of the eye. Information from the retina is transmitted to the brain when processing occurs.

For the lens to work correctly it must be perfectly clear. When a cataract develops, the lens becomes opaque (like frosted glass) or even completely white. Light cannot pass through so well and vision is reduced. Severe cataracts cause blindness.

Cataracts most commonly develop in cats after severe inflammation in the eye, or as a result of poisonings or nutritional imbalances. Some cats are born with cataracts or develop them soon after birth and they may develop due to nutritional abnormalities, or trauma. Diabetes mellitus is a common cause of cataract in dogs but it rarely causes cataract in cats. Lens opacification increases with age and almost all older cats will be affected to some degree although this may not affect their lifestyle at all.

Usually owners are alerted to the fact that their pet may have a problem when they notice a whiteness of the eye. If eye disease develops gradually animals are often able to adapt well and use their other senses to help them get around. Cats have very good hearing and a sense of smell and can use these to compensate for poor vision to some extent. In familiar surroundings it may be almost impossible to tell that a pet cannot see. If you are worried about your pet’s vision you can test it yourself using some simple exercises:

  1. Observe your cat carefully in the home environment and out of doors
    Does he appear to be having any visual difficulty?
  2. Throw light, silent objects (e.g. a ball of cotton wool) in front of your cat’s eyes
    Does he see and follow these?
  3. Construct a small obstacle course in the home, or move furniture around and away from the usual positions
    Does he see and avoid these obstacles the first time?

Repeat the above tests in daylight and in subdued lighting.

If you are concerned about the results of the report them to your veterinary surgeon and ask for a check-up for your pet. Diagnosis is usually straightforward, and based upon visual testing and examination of the eye by a vet/ophthalmologist. Additional tests may be required to check for other causes and other eye diseases.

Cataracts are treated by removing the lens from the eye. The lens is surgically removed by a specialist eye surgeon. There are several different techniques but one of the most popular is known as phacoemulsification (the use of ultrasound waves to break up the cataract). Once the lens has been broken up fragments can be removed through a small incision in the eye. Other surgical techniques are also possible and may be indicated in certain cases, eg when lens of the eye has become displaced.

Following surgery the aftercare is very important. Eye drops may be required for several months and must be applied regularly at home. If cataracts are present in both eyes, they may be removed at the same time, thus avoiding the need for further surgery in the future.

Blindness in cats

Just like people, cats normally use their vision for getting around, as well as hunting and interaction with other cats. However, a cat with poor vision or even total blindness can lead a comfortable and fulfilled life.

If a cat loses its sight slowly, behaviour changes are harder to detect because the cat is able to adapt to the disability, learning where furniture and other obstacles in the home are. Sudden blindness is much easier to spot. If your cat is bumping into objects it is obvious that they cannot see normally, but actually this may only happen when furniture is moved, or when doors which are normally opened are closed. This is because cats are able to remember the normal layout of their familiar environment, only getting caught out when it is changed.

If your cat is losing its sight you may notice that it is more hesitant and that is reluctant to jump down from a height. Your cat may even climb down by gingerly reaching the feet down first. Most cats are usually happier climbing up onto objects. Cats with reduced sight may walk in a crouched position with their body closer to the ground and stretch their necks out further, using their long whiskers to feel their way. In some cats with vision problems, you may notice a change in the appearance of their eyes, which are discussed in the section below.

You may notice changes to your cat’s eyes with or without apparent changes in their vision. A milky or cloudy appearance to the eyes can be caused by cataracts, (which is when the lens in the eye becomes white instead of clear). Cloudy eyes can also caused by glaucoma, a raised pressure inside the eye, or uveitis which is the medical name for inflammation inside the eye.

Eyes may be red due to high blood pressure causing bleeding inside the eye, or due to glaucoma, uveitis or a growth in the eye.

Some conditions affect the retina at the back of the eye – if this is damaged the glow from the back of the eye appears more intense. Retinal detachment may be caused by high blood pressure.

In a blind cat the pupils are usually very large and do not contract down to the normal slits in bright light.

If you have noticed a recent colour change in one or both of your cat’s eyes, you should take your cat to your vet to have an eye examination. In many cases, your vet will be able to tell you what is wrong and can therefore advise on the best treatment.

In some circumstances, your vet may recommend that you are referred to a specialist veterinary ophthalmologist. The ophthalmologist is better equipped to be able to diagnose certain conditions, and will be able to offer treatment advice and specialised procedures. Some conditions will be managed with eye drops or oral medications, and all conditions are more successfully treated when diagnosed early on in the course of the disease.

As your cat won’t cooperate with reading a chart, testing vision in cats can be tricky, even for your vet! There are several tests which a vet will perform, some of which you can try at home.

  1. Gently wave a hand towards the eye – this would cause a normal cat to blink. It is important not to create an air current when waving a hand, as even a blind cat will sense this and blink their eye as a reflex.
  2. Shine a bright focused light suddenly into the eye. A normal cat will be dazzled and blink, squint or turn their head away. A blind cat usually continues to stare ahead.
  3. Shine a laser light rapidly over the floor or wall in front of your cat, or drop cotton wool balls from a height beside the cat. A normal cat can’t resist watching the movement.
  4. Closely observe your cat’s behaviour, as mentioned earlier.

Cats with visual impairment function very well in familiar surroundings, and it is important to keep the lay-out of the home consistent. With sudden blindness, it is best to initially confine your cat to one room with food, water and a litter tray available (but all separated from each other). As your cat adapts to one room it can gradually be allowed to explore more and more of the house. Keep the litter tray, food, water and bed in the same place, and if your cat gets disorientated, place the cat in a familiar place such as in their bed so that they can realise where they are and start again.

A clean litter box should always be provided, even if you allow your cat outside. This provides them an opportunity to relieve themselves inside in a safe place should they feel anxious about venturing outside. It also is a useful point of reference as they will be able to smell it from quite a distance away. The garden can be enclosed to make your cat safe.

Safety within the home can be improved by blocking potential hazards such as fireplaces, window ledges and balconies. Ensure that doors to the outside are kept shut. Check that windows are secure as some blind cats can be very adventurous. It may be best to leave toilet seats down.

Some blind cats no longer feel secure jumping up onto things. If your cat has a favourite place such as on a tall sofa or bed, you might consider providing a ramp or a low stool or chair to make the climb easier. Cats do love high resting places. Consider providing a stool or shelf where your cat can feel elevated, although they may still help themselves to the couch or your comfy bed!

Some blind cats will still use scratching posts, and one or more should be provided. Cat gyms can be helpful as these provide a scratching post, a place of elevation, a place to play and a place to rest.

It is important to spend time interacting with your cat, through stroking or playing. Toys with bells or rattles are useful as the cat can follow them, and some cats also like cat-nip impregnated mice, or squeaking mice on elastic.

Blind cats can have a very happy and fulfilled life, with a little help from their owners. Your vet will provide the best advice about health matters and nutrition. Other advice and support is available – often from owners of other blind cats. The main cat rescue organisation is Blind Cat Rescue –

  • Natasha Mitchell (2008) Caring for a blind cat. Cat Professional Ltd (ISBN 0955691311).
  • There are also many blogs and websites which give advice about caring for a blind cat.