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Eye Discharge and Other Eye Problems in Cats

Your cat 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 attention.
  • 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 183).
  • 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 Eyelids.
  • 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.

WebMD Veterinary Reference from "Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook"

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