Structure and Function of the Eyes in Cats

Below is information about the structure and function of the eye. We will tell you about the general structure of the eye, how the eyes work in cats, common diseases that affect the eye, and common diagnostic tests performed in cats to evaluate the eye.

What Is the Eye?

The cat’s eyes are the receptors for the special sense of sight.

Where Is the Eye Located?

There are two eyes, located on the left and right sides of the face. Considerable variation exists among species of animals relative to the position of the eyes, the size of the orbit (the bony cavity that contains the eyeball), and the size and shape of the palpebral fissure (the opening between the eyelids). In the feline species there is good conformity to these structures, although in some breeds such as the Persian and Burmese, the eyes appear to protrude more from the skull and appear to have larger openings for the eyes.

What Is the General Structure of the Feline Eye?

The eye is formed by three concentric (circular) tunics or layers of tissue. These are the outer fibrous tunic, the middle vascular tunic and the inner nervous tunic. The fibrous tunic is the outermost layer of the eye and is made up of the sclera (the white of the eye) and the cornea (the transparent covering of the front of the eye). The vascular tunic represents the thick middle layer of the eye and is commonly referred to as the uveal tract. It is made up of the choroid (the thin, dark, blood-vessel containing layer behind the retina), the ciliary body (that makes the fluid in the front chamber of the eye and helps to support the lens) and the iris (the tissue that makes up the pupil). The pupil is the opening (or black dot) in the center of the iris that regulates the amount of light received by the eye. The inner nervous tunic of the back of the eye is the retina. The retina acts like the film in a camera and transmits electrical images through the optic nerves to the brain.

The interior of the eye is divided into three chambers or compartments referred to as the anterior (front) chamber, posterior (back) chamber and vitreous chamber. The anterior chamber is located between the cornea and the iris, and contains aqueous humor (a clear fluid produced by the ciliary body). The posterior chamber is located between the iris and lens and also contains aqueous humor. The vitreous chamber is behind the lens and in front of the retina. It is occupied by vitreous, a gel-like substance that helps to maintain the round shape of the eye.

Other important structures of the cat eye include the following:

What Are the Functions of the Cat’s Eye?

The function of the eye is to allow the animal to see or have vision. The ability to see is dependent on the actions of several structures in and around the eyeball. When you look at an object, light rays are reflected from the object to the cornea. The light rays are bent, (refracted) by the cornea and directed through the pupil to the lens, and then through the vitreous to the retina.

The lens’ job is to make sure the light rays come into focus sharply on the retina. The resulting image on the retina is upside-down and it is the brain’s responsibility to turn the image so that you see the image correctly. The retina contains millions of light receptors called rods and cones. Rods are sensitive to dim light and cones are sensitive to bright light and colors. The retina converts light energy into electrical signals and sends them to the brain via the optic nerve, which is the nerve that runs from the eye to the brain. In the brain the electrical signals are translated into an image that is perceived in an upright position.

What Are Common Diseases of the Feline Eye?

Despite the relatively small size of the eyes, any disorder that might impact sight is considered serious. A surprisingly great number of diseases affect the various structures and portions of the eye. The most common of these include injury and trauma, conjunctivitis (inflammation of the conjunctiva or “pink eye”), corneal ulcers, cataracts (the loss of normal lens transparency), glaucoma (high pressure within the eye) and keratoconjunctivitis sicca (also called KCS or “dry eye” and caused by a lack of tear production). Inflammation of the inner uveal tract – anterior uveitis – is also a common condition. There are also a large number of degenerative and inherited diseases of the eye, particularly of the retina that can lead to loss of vision or blindness. A variety of tumors affect the eyelids and internal ocular structures.

What Types of Diagnostic Tests Are Used to Evaluate the Feline Eye?

Veterinarians and veterinary ophthalmologists use a number of different tests to evaluate the eye. Specific tests are designed to evaluate selected segments and functions of the eye. A thorough ophthalmic examination using an external light and ophthalmoscope is very important. In addition, the following tests are important diagnostic tools: