If you’re a proud pet parent, chances are you’ve spent more than a little time gazing lovingly into your furry friend’s adoring eyes. If your furry friend happens to be a cat, there’s also a good chance that at some point in their life, you’re going to notice the eyes looking back at you appear red and irritated, and you’ll find yourself asking, “Does my cat have an eye infection?”
Pink eye is actually the most common feline eye disorder, and most cats will contract it sooner or later. But just because it’s the most common of all eye infections in cats doesn’t mean your kitty doesn’t require extra care and attention. How can you help? You can start by learning more.
What Exactly Is Pink Eye?
You might remember getting sent home from school with pink eye when you were a kid. The same basic ailment is what affects your cat – conjunctivitis. This term refers to the inflammation of the conjunctiva, the moist tissue that lines your cat’s eyelids and attaches to the eyeballs. It can affect one or both of your cat’s eyes and is usually pretty uncomfortable and often painful.
Older cats can get pink eye, but it’s much more common in younger cats, especially kittens less than one-year-old. Purebreds are also more susceptible. It’s important to note that in certain cases, pink eye symptoms develop on a recurring basis due to underlying health issues, so always contact your veterinarian at the first sign of eye distress. How your kitty’s pink eye symptoms manifest and how your veterinarian recommends treating them can vary widely based on what is causing the conjunctivitis infection in the first place.
What Causes Pink Eye?
Pink eye in cats can be caused by something as minor as having a foreign particle trapped in the eye to something as serious as having a compromised immune system due to the feline leukemia virus.
The most common causes include:
Viruses like the feline herpesvirus (FHV-1) or calicivirus can be dormant in your kitty’s body for many years and can cause pink eye symptoms at any time. You may not even realize your cat is a carrier, which is why a trip to your veterinarian is always a must if any eye irritation occurs. Herpesvirus is probably the number one offender when it comes to pink eye, and almost every kitty who comes from a cattery, shelter, or foster home has been exposed to it.
Feline chlamydophila is the most common bacterial culprit, and it’s usually accompanied by an upper respiratory infection, so be on the lookout for kitty sneezes and nasal drainage, too.
Allergy-related pink eye can be caused by seasonal allergens like grass, pollen, or fungi, as well as environmental irritants like smoke, dust, chemicals, or even your cologne – so be careful when you’re snuggling up close to your cat!
Pink Eye Symptoms
What does your feline friend experience when they have pink eye and what telltale signs should you watch for? Be on the lookout for:
- Red, swollen, or “meaty” eye tissue
- Excessive blinking
- Frequent squinting
- Fluid build-up in the eye
- Eye discharge
- Coughing, sneezing, or a runny nose
If you notice any of these symptoms, pay close attention to your cat. Eye discharge, in particular, can tell you a lot about what’s going on with your little buddy. If the discharge is clear and watery, you’re probably dealing with allergy-related conjunctivitis. Thick yellow or greenish discharge, on the other hand, is most likely due to a bacterial infection. Did you know that the discharge can even be a rusty red shade? Don’t worry; this is not blood! It’s just a type of discharge more common with certain breeds such as Persians and Himalayans.
You should also monitor your cat’s behavior. Are they pawing at their eyes a lot? Rubbing their face against your legs or pieces of furniture more frequently? This can be a sign that your friend is in pain. Persistent squinting can also indicate that your cat has a more serious eye disorder like a corneal ulcer. Remember, contacting your veterinarian as soon as you notice any of these symptoms is the safest way to protect your cat’s vision and health.
How Is Pink Eye Diagnosed?
Because pink eye can be the result of a wide variety of medical or environmental issues, your veterinarian will need to determine the root cause of the eye infection. In some cases, simply discussing your cat’s medical history and observing their clinical signs are enough to make that determination. In other instances, your veterinarian will need to perform special tests. These include:
This is a microscopic evaluation of the cornea and conjunctiva that can show if viral infections are involved. If you want to be absolutely sure in regard to the herpesvirus, you can have DNA tests done, but this is not the most practical option.
Cultures show whether or not bacterial infections are present and help determine antibiotic sensitivity.
Blood work might be administered if your veterinarian thinks a compromised immune system is causing the pink eye. This could be due to serious conditions including the feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus.
If your veterinarian suspects the pink eye is accompanied by a corneal ulcer, your cat may also have a diagnostic test performed with a green dye called fluorescein.
The good news is that once the root cause is determined, your cat can begin treatment right away, and should begin healing in just a day or two. If it’s a viral infection, your veterinarian will likely prescribe a topical or oral anti-viral medication. For bacterial infections, expect antibiotics usually in the form of eye drops or ointment. Ask your veterinarian for tips on safely and effectively administering medications.
If your feline friend has allergy-related pink eye, your veterinarian might prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication, but be aware that meds containing hydrocortisone are not good for kitties with corneal ulcers or for cats who are experiencing a herpesvirus episode. In most allergy-related cases, you’ll be encouraged to simply remove your cat from the allergens causing the problem.
Prevention and Management
If you do remember getting sent home from school with pink eye as a kid, then you probably also recall how highly contagious it is. Just like the infection runs rampant among kids on human playgrounds, it also passes very quickly from one kitty to another in multi-cat homes. So a big part of prevention and management is isolating your sick kitty if you have other pets – including dogs since they can get pink eye, too. The humans in your household don’t have anything to worry about, however, since you cannot catch pink eye from your cat.
You can read up on some great tips for making your cat’s sick bed safe and comfy here. But, most importantly, make sure they are in a separate room with plenty of fresh water.
Since the herpesvirus is one of the top causes of eye infections in cats, preventing outbreaks plays a key role in preventing pink eye – especially considering how you may not even know if your cat is a carrier. You can help by reducing your cat’s stress. What stresses out your feline friend? Most cats feel anxious when their daily routine is significantly interrupted. This can be due to changes like remodeling your home, going away on vacation, celebrating holidays, introducing new pets, or a major change in your own routine like a new job or romantic partner. You can’t avoid these changes. Just try to keep your cat in mind. Give them some extra attention and reassure them that you care. An extra treat or two won’t hurt either when dealing with a big change!
Remember that pink eye is an extremely common disorder with a very fast recovery rate once your cat gets the right treatment plan in place. So, when you see symptoms, act fast. Plus, did you know the treatment of common eye infections in cats, like pink eye, can be covered by a pet health insurance plan? Get your free quote today!