has an eye problem if there is matter in the eye; the eye waters; the cat
blinks, squints, paws at the eye or gives evidence that the eye is painful; or
the nictitating membrane is visible. The first thing to do is examine the eye
and try to determine the cause. Eye problems can go from minor to serious very
quickly. Be prepared to visit your veterinarian if you can’t resolve the
problem right away.
Signs of Eye Ailments
Eye problems are accompanied by a number of signs and symptoms. Pain is one
of the most serious. A cat with a painful eye needs prompt veterinary
Eye discharge: The type of
discharge helps define the cause. A clear discharge without redness and pain
indicates a problem in the tear drainage system. A clear discharge with a
reddened eye could be conjunctivitis, including from
a viral infection. A thick, sticky, mucus or puslike discharge, along with a
red (inflamed) eye suggests possible conjunctivitis as well, including from
chlamydophila. Any discharge accompanied by a painful eye should alert you to
the possibility of cornea or inner eye involvement.
Painful eye: Signs of pain include excessive tearing, squinting (closing
down the eye), tenderness to the touch, and avoidance of light. The cat may paw
at the eye or try to rub it. The nictitating membrane often protrudes in
response to pain. The usual causes of a painful eye are injuries to the cornea
and diseases of the inner eye. These include serious vision-threatening
problems, such as glaucoma and uveitis.
Film over the eye: An opaque or whitish film that moves out over the
surface of the eyeball from the inside corner of the eye is a protruded
nictitating membrane. Causes are discussed in The Nictitating Membrane (page
Cloudy eye: There are certain diseases that change the clarity of the eye,
turning it cloudy or making it seem as if the cat has a blind eye. This
cloudiness can vary from a small, localized haziness to complete opacity of the
eye. Loss of clarity or transparency of the eye indicates an inner eye
disorder. Loss of clarity or transparency, accompanied by signs of pain,
suggests keratitis, glaucoma, or uveitis. Corneal edema, the buildup of fluid
in the normally clear cornea, will give the eye a uniform blue-gray appearance.
This is usually associated with signs of pain. Cataracts are the most likely
cause when the eye is not painful. When the eye is entirely opaque, you might
think the cat is blind in that eye, but this is not necessarily true. A cloudy
eye should receive immediate professional attention.
Hard or soft eye: Changes in eye pressure are caused by disorders of the
inner eye. The pupil may become fixed and unable to dilate or constrict. A hard
eye with a dilated pupil indicates glaucoma. A soft eye with a small pupil
indicates inflammation of the inner structures of the eye (uveitis).
Irritation of the lids: Conditions that cause swelling, crusting, itching,
or hair loss are discussed in The
Bulging or sunken eye: A bulging eye occurs with glaucoma, tumors, and abscesses behind
the globe, and with an eye out of its socket. A sunken eye occurs with dehydration, weight loss, eye
pain, and tetanus. Some breeds, such as Persians and Himalayans, have eyes that
normally bulge somewhat.
Abnormal eye movements: Eyes that focus in different directions or jerk
back and forth are discussed in The Eyeball.
Color change: A change in the color of the eye may indicate the cancer known as melanoma. A yellowish tint to
the sclera could be jaundice.
Do not neglect minor eye ailments. If there is any doubt about the
diagnosis, and particularly if the eye has been treated at home but has not
shown improvement in 24 hours, call your veterinarian. Eye problems can go from
minor to serious in a very short time.