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Conjunctivitis in Cats

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the tissue coating the eye and lining the eyelids. Normally, the conjunctiva is moist and glistening with tiny blood vessels coursing through the semilucent tissue. It serves as a protective barrier for the eye by trapping debris and helping to prevent invasion of viruses and bacteria.

Conjunctivitis is a common eye problem in cats. It may be the only eye disease present, or it may be associated with other diseases or eye problems.

Causes

  • Viral eye infections, such as herpesvirus or calicivirus
  • Chlamydial eye infections
  • Bacterial eye infections
  • Corneal diseases
  • Abnormalities of tear production
  • Eyelid infections or abnormalities
  • Exposure to foreign material such as plant material, fibers, sand and chemicals
  • Environmental irritants
  • Trauma
  • Idiopathic, meaning that no cause is ever defined

    What to Watch For

  • Redness of the eyes
  • Eye discharge
  • Swelling of the conjunctiva
  • Squinting or excessive blinking

    Diagnosis

    Conjunctivitis is usually diagnosed based on physical exam findings. Your veterinarian will probably perform the following tests:

  • Fluorescein staining to detect superficial abrasions or ulcers on the cornea
  • Schirmer tear test to determine if your cat is producing sufficient tears
  • Thorough exam of the conjunctiva, external eyelids, and the third eyelid

    In some situations, additional tests may be recommended, such as:

  • Bacterial cultures
  • Tests for viruses
  • Tonometry, which measures eye pressure (glaucoma test)
  • Conjunctival scrapings to evaluate the cells of the conjunctiva
  • Conjunctival biopsy (rarely performed)
  • Certain blood tests if the cat is also ill

    Treatment

    Treatment involves symptomatic therapy for the conjunctivitis and instituting treatment for any underlying causes.

  • The eye may be thoroughly irrigated to remove any irritating substance.
  • Foreign material should be removed.
  • Tear production abnormalities are treated with medication.
  • Eyelid infections and abnormalities may require either medication or surgery.
  • Since secondary bacterial infections are a common concern, antibacterial eye ointment is frequently prescribed.
  • In many cases, anti-inflammatory eye medications are also indicated.

    Home Care and Prevention

    Once diagnosed and started on medications, the eyes should be checked frequently for improvement. Most cases of conjunctivitis improve within 24 to 48 hours after medication is begun. If you notice that your cat is not improving, consult your veterinarian.

    Unfortunately, many causes of conjunctivitis are not preventable but veterinary examination and treatment usually resolves the disease rapidly and maintains your cat's eyes and vision.

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