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Ophthalmia Neonatorum in Kittens

By: Dr. Bari Spielman

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Ophthalmia neonatorum is an infection of the conjunctiva (the thin layer of tissue that lines the eyelids) or cornea (the transparent structure that makes up the front part of the eye). It occurs before or just after the eyelids open in kittens, usually during the first 10 to 14 days of life.

This infection is often associated with Staphylococcus bacteria in dogs and cats. In kittens, it is may also be associated with feline herpesvirus. Vaginal infection of the mother at the time of birth and an unclean environment predispose the baby to this infection.

What to Watch For

  • Upper and lower eyelids are fused together and bulge outward from the accumulation of discharge that is trapped behind the eyelids.

  • If a small opening is present between the eyelids, a thick, creamy discharge may be seen on the kitten's face.

  • Ulcerations of the cornea and conjunctiva may occur, although scarring and opacification of the cornea are more common.

  • Rupture of the cornea with collapse of the ocular structures is a severe manifestation of the disease.

    Diagnosis

    A full physical examination of the dam and neonate are important. Tests may include:

  • Complete blood count (CBC), biochemical profile, and urinalysis on the mother
  • Bacterial culture of the neonate's ocular discharge and the dam's vaginal discharge
  • Fluorescein staining of the eye to look for evidence of corneal ulceration
  • Specialized testing for the presence of herpesvirus in kitten and possibly the mother

    Treatment

  • The eyelids must be opened manually to allow treatment. This is most often accomplished via administration of warm, wet compresses and gentle manual separation of the lids.
  • The eyes are then flushed with warm saline to remove discharge.
  • Warm, wet compresses may help prevent the eyelids from closing again.
  • Broad spectrum topical antibiotics are applied to the eyes for at least a week.
  • If the kitten is systemically ill (uncommon), then systemic antibiotics may also be considered.

    Home Care and Prevention

    Your veterinarian may order warm compresses to help prevent the eyelids from closing again and to keep the face clean. Apply all medication as directed by your veterinarian. If your pet appears to show signs of systemic illness, like lethargy, decreased appetite or reluctance to nurse, vomiting or diarrhea, contact your veterinarian at once.

    Keep the newborn's environment clean and examine each kitten every day for signs of illness.


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