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5 Common Eye Problems in Kittens

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Overview

Kittens are born with their eyes closed, with both eyes opening completely by 2 weeks of age. It’s an exciting yet risky time. Kittens have weak immune systems and are still learning about the world, so they are very susceptible to eye issues which can be caused by infections, injuries, and underlying conditions. Let’s take a look at some common eye problems in kittens so you know what to watch out for when welcoming a new feline friend into your home.

Ophthalmia neonatorum

Neonatal kittens don’t open their eyes until they’re about 7 to 10 days old, but they can still experience eye problems even before then. Ophthalmia neonatorum refers to an eye infection in a newborn cat, and is indicated by swelling, crust, and/or pus under a closed eyelid. One or both eyes may be affected. 

Symptoms

Fortunately, the signs of ophthalmia neonatorum are easy to spot, giving you a chance to address the issue before the infection gets worse and damages the eye. Signs include:

  • Eyelids swelling or bulging outward
  • Upper and lower eyelids stuck together with crust
  • Pus seeping from the eye
  • Eyelids stuck to the eye itself

Causes

Ophthalmia neonatorum is commonly caused by a virus or bacteria present in the birth canal or the environment, such as feline herpesvirus (FHV), staphylococcus bacteria, and streptococcus bacteria. Eye infections in neonatal kittens are typically seen in felines rescued from or kept in dirty environments; however, it can also happen in cats who are properly cared for. 

Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam, as well as ask for the medical history of the mother cat. They may also order a blood test to rule out other possible causes and conduct a fluorescein eye stain test to ensure that the eye is not damaged. 

Treatment

Your vet will gently open the kitten’s eyelid to drain the pus, clean the eye, and apply medication. They will likely prescribe an antibiotic ointment to be put in the eye for one to two weeks. Eye infections can be highly contagious. If you have other cats, ask your vet if the affected kitten should be separated. 

Ophthalmia neonatorum can cause permanent damage to the eye if left untreated. But with early treatment and proper care, the infection will clear up and most kittens will go on to have normal vision. 

Average cost of treatment: $200-$300


Eye discharge

A kitten’s eyes are lubricated with a thin film of tears, with any excess fluid draining into the tear ducts. Eye discharge, or epiphora, occurs when there is insufficient tear drainage. It is a symptom of a condition rather than a disease in itself.

Symptoms

Eye discharge may show up on its own or be accompanied by other symptoms. The usual signs of eye discharge are:

  • Dampness or wetness beneath the eyes
  • Crust around the edges of the eyes
  • Reddish-brown staining beneath the eyes
  • Red, swollen, or itchy eyes
  • Skin irritation
  • Skin infection
  • Fur loss around the eyes

Causes

Eye discharge is associated with a variety of conditions, including:

  • Conjunctivitis
  • Eye infections
  • Corneal ulcers
  • Allergies
  • Eye injuries
  • Uveitis
  • Entropion or ectropion
  • Congenital disease

It can also be caused by blocked tear ducts, excessive tear production, and foreign objects in the eye. 

Diagnosis

Your vet will first determine if there is an underlying cause for the eye discharge. Be prepared to provide details such as when it began and if there are other symptoms to help them narrow down the cause. 

Once the more serious causes have been ruled out, your vet will check if there is proper tear drainage by performing a thorough ocular examination. They may use an ophthalmoscope to examine the tear ducts and nearby tissues, as well as look for signs of inflammation or abnormalities. 

A fluorescein eye stain test may also be conducted to assess tear drainage and check for eye injuries. Your vet may use saline to clean the surface of the eye and flush out any foreign objects as well. 

Treatment

Treatment will depend on the cause of the eye discharge. If there is foreign material in the eye, your vet may perform an eye flush. Flushing may also help widen narrowed tear ducts caused by chronic infections or allergies. In many cases, the procedure can be done while your kitten is awake.  

Average cost of treatment: $200-$1,000


kitten eye injury treatment

Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is the most common feline eye disorder. It is characterized by an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the mucous membrane that lines the inner surface of the eyelids and the outer surface of the eyeball. The conjunctiva provides lubrication to the eyeball and has antibodies that may help prevent some eye infections. Many cats will experience at least a mild case of conjunctivitis at some point in their lives. 

Symptoms

Conjunctivitis can affect one or both eyes, and usually the third eyelid as well. The signs include:

  • Eye discharge
  • Squinting
  • Frequent blinking
  • Red and swollen third eyelid

Causes

Conjunctivitis can either be infectious or non-infectious. Non-infectious causes include exposure to certain outdoor plants and environmental irritants such as dust. Conjunctivitis may also develop as a symptom of another condition such as feline leukemia and eye tumors

Infectious causes are the most common, however, brought about by the herpesvirus, calicivirus, chlamydophila, or mycoplasma. And although all felines are susceptible to conjunctivitis, it mostly occurs in young cats. It is also prevalent in multi-cat environments and cats whose immune systems have been compromised by FIV or FeLV

Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will examine your kitten’s eye to ensure that there are no foreign bodies, injuries, or tumors present. They may also check if the tear ducts are blocked and measure tear production and eye pressure. Diagnostic tests such as a corneal stain, conjunctival scraping, and eye biopsy may be conducted as well. Your vet may also perform a blood test if the conjunctivitis is suspected to be a symptom of another disorder. 

Treatment

Most cases of conjunctivitis will resolve on their own without any medication. However, it is recommended to seek veterinary care if your kitten is experiencing discomfort or has eye discharge in order to rule out more serious conditions. Treatment will depend on what is causing the conjunctivitis. 

Average cost of treatment: $200-$1,000


Eye injuries

Kittens are prone to eye injuries and can get hurt in several ways, from trying to satisfy an itch to playing with another cat. Minor eye injuries can become serious very quickly, so don’t hesitate to seek veterinary care if you suspect that your kitten has been hurt.

Symptoms

  • Avoiding bright light or hiding
  • Squinting, blinking, or closing the eye
  • Pawing at the eye or face
  • Redness or blood in the eye
  • Third eyelid showing
  • Eye discharge
  • Clouded cornea
  • Distorted pupils

Causes

There are many ways that a kitten can sustain an eye injury. Some possible causes are: 

  • Accidentally scratching their own eye
  • Playing or fighting with another animal
  • Dust or other foreign bodies
  • Playing with objects in the home
  • Car accidents
  • Chemical splashes
  • Fireworks or other projectiles

Diagnosis

Eye injuries are painful and can only be diagnosed by a veterinarian. Never try to treat an eye injury at home as doing so could make it worse. When you bring your kitten to the vet, provide an account of what happened, including when you first noticed the injury and what may have caused it. 

Your vet will look for the presence of a foreign object. If there is none, they may conduct a full ocular examination to rule out bruising, deeper injury, or corneal damage. To check for possible corneal damage, your vet will apply fluorescein dye to your kitten’s eye. The dye will glow bright green or yellow under a blue light and show if the cornea has been scratched. 

Treatment

In case of corneal damage, your vet will prescribe antibiotic drops or ointment, as well as atropine for pain relief. It is important to follow their instructions to reduce the likelihood of permanent scarring.

Average cost of treatment: $200-$1,000


Uveitis

Uveitis is an inflammation of one or more of the components of the uvea. The uvea consists of the iris, the part that gives the eye its color; the ciliary body, the source of the clear fluid in the eye; and the choroid, the inner lining of the eyeball. 

Inflammation of the ciliary body and the iris is called anterior uveitis, while inflammation of just the choroid is referred to as posterior uveitis. If all three parts are inflamed, the condition is called true uveitis or panuveitis. Uveitis is a painful condition that may occur in one or both eyes. 

Symptoms

  • Pawing at the affected eye
  • Keeping the eye closed
  • Squinting 
  • Excessive blinking
  • Avoiding touch
  • Avoiding bright lights
  • Eye redness
  • Watery discharge, mucus, or pus
  • Cloudy appearance to the eye

Causes

Uveitis can be caused by various conditions. Common causes include: 

Diagnosis

Uveitis and glaucoma share many symptoms. To determine which condition your kitten has, your vet will measure intraocular pressure (IOP). High IOP indicates glaucoma, while low IOP indicates uveitis. 

If it is the latter, your vet will then perform a complete physical examination, since uveitis is a symptom of several generalized diseases. They may conduct blood tests, urine analyses, or X-rays. They may also request tissue samples, ultrasound imaging, and refer you to a veterinary ophthalmologist. 

Treatment

Initial treatment will typically include topical eye medications or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce inflammation and provide pain relief. Primary treatment will depend on the cause of the uveitis. 

If the uveitis is caused by trauma, the injury will be repaired. If it is caused by an infection, anti-infective therapy will be prescribed. If it is a symptom of another condition, the underlying disease will be treated. 

Average cost of treatment: $200-$800


Be prepared for anything

Eye problems in kittens can be costly to treat. To avoid high vet care expenses, secure pet health insurance today. The sooner you insure your pet, the more protection you’ll have from unexpected vet costs. Wag!’s pet insurance comparison tool lets you compare plans from leading companies like PetPlan and Embrace.

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