What are Cataracts?
Cataracts may affect one eye or both eyes and are triggered by aging, injury, inflammation, disease and other non-specific causes. When the cat’s eye becomes cloudy, light is hindered from reaching the retina, and visual impairment ensues. In addition to visual impairment or total blindness, cataracts may also cause stress, irritation, and discomfort in some cats as they struggle physically and emotionally with the loss of their sight.
If you look into your cat’s eyes and see a cloudy or milky area, your cat may be developing cataracts. A cataract is a degenerative disorder of the lens of the eye that affects vision. You may notice your cat behaving differently as its vision becomes more impaired. In some cases, your cat may only have a small cataract that is barely noticeable. In severe cases, the whole lens will take on an opaque appearance and blindness will occur. Cataracts are a progressive disease and need immediate veterinary care.
Symptoms of Cataracts in Cats
In the early stages of cataracts, you may not notice any unusual symptoms in your cat. Often, your veterinarian is the first person to alert you to the problem during your cat’s annual wellness visit. Early intervention will help to stem the growth of the cataract and preserve your cat's sight. As the cataracts grow larger, you’ll eventually see a change in the appearance of the cat’s eye. A cloudy, milky spot will appear that can grow to cover the entire lens. You may notice your cat has one or all of these physical or behavioral symptoms:
- Change of iris color
- Uncertain footing
- Misjudging jumps or distances
- Tripping over its own feet
- Bumping into walls or furniture
- Not recognizing family members
- Difficulty locating its litter box
- Difficulty locating its food bowl
- Difficulty navigating stairs
- Unusual meowing
- Exhibiting signs of stress or anxiety
Causes of Cataracts in Cats
Cataracts develop in cats for many reasons, and sometimes, the reason for your cat’s cataracts remains unknown. Some cats carry the DNA that makes them more likely to develop cataracts while other cats may acquire cataracts in their later years due to the aging process, just like humans. Reasons why cats develop cataracts include the following triggers:
- Genetic predisposition
- Inflammation of the anterior uvea
- General inflammation
- Inability to metabolize certain chemicals
- Inability to metabolize certain proteins
- Electric shock
- Exposure to poisons
- Lens luxation
- Malnutrition (kittens)
Diagnosis of Cataracts in Cats
At your cat’s annual wellness appointment, your veterinarian will examine your cat’s eyes for visual signs of cataracts. It may be necessary to dilate your cat’s eyes to get a better look at the internal structure of the eye. Your veterinarian will take a detailed history of your cat’s health and observe how your cat responds to visual stimuli. Your cat may be placed on the floor to see if it is able to avoid impediments and walk with a normal gait. One or all of the following may be required:
- Physical Examination: Your veterinarian will perform a standard physical examination to pinpoint the underlying cause of the cataracts, if possible.
- History: A complete history of your cat will be recorded to learn of any medical or behavioral changes that you may have noticed.
- Blood Tests: A blood test will alert your veterinarian to any unusual or out-of-range results that may be responsible for your cat’s condition.
- Urine Test: A urinalysis may help your veterinarian discover the underlying cause of your cat’s cataracts.
- Ultrasound: In some cases, an ultrasound will be performed to confirm the diagnosis or to aid the veterinarian in deciding if surgery is necessary.
- Eye Dilation: Your cat’s eyes may be dilated in order to give your veterinarian a more thorough view of the cat’s eye structure.
Treatment of Cataracts in Cats
Your veterinarian will create a treatment plan that is best suited for your cat depending upon your cat’s general health, the severity of the cataracts, and the location of the cataracts. The earlier cataracts are noticed, the easier it will be to stop the progression of the disease.
- Medication: If the cataracts are discovered at an early stage, medication may sufficiently treat the condition and deter or avoid cataract growth and eventual blindness
- Healing or Ameliorating Underlying Causes: If underlying disorders like hypertension or diabetes are responsible for your cat’s cataracts, your veterinarian will treat the specific disorder that is causing your cat’s loss of vision.
- Surgery: If cataracts are at an advanced stage, surgery may be recommended to save or restore vision.
- Lens Implantation: In some cases, it is possible to restore your cat’s vision with a lens implant. This procedure is performed on healthy cats that are determined to be good candidates for this surgery.
Recovery of Cataracts in Cats
The recovery period for cataracts in cats depends upon how the cataract is treated. Cats who are on medicines and eye drops will need to be checked frequently. Your veterinarian will evaluate and measure the improvement in your cat’s sight by examining its eyes and noting any shrinkage in the size of the cataract.
If your cat requires surgery, you will need to set up post-surgery appointments to ensure your cat is healing properly. These appointments are as crucial as the eye surgery in returning or improving your cat’s sight. Your veterinarian will decide if or when it’s necessary to use an Elizabethan collar to keep your cat from injuring the affected eye or eyes. Medications may need to be adjusted, and monitoring the effects of medical or surgical treatment is imperative.