Cats are prone to eye infections at any age. Crowded conditions can easily spread infections from one cat to another. The most common cause can be bacteria, fungus or a virus.
Younger cats are more likely to get Chlamydia and Mycoplasma which are bacterial. Calicivirus is another common cause - it’s viral. Immune systems in young cats aren’t strong enough to fight off these problems. The high stress of living in a shelter can also weaken Kitty’s ability deal with disease - even a visit to the vet can be stressful enough to threaten Kitty’s defenses.
Older cats living in a stable home who suddenly show signs of an infection, should be taken to the vet immediately. The infection could just be a symptom of a larger problem - trauma to the eye or an illness.
What are the symptoms to look for?
Bloodshot eyes - the white of the eye shows a lot of redness.
Goopy eyes - the discharge can be clear, yellow or even a greenish color
Kitty is rubbing her eyes, blinking or the third eyelid can show
Kitty can also show signs of an upper respiratory infection, similar to a kitty cold
Both eyes don’t need to show symptoms. In the early stages, only one eye may be affected
Crusty eyes that may cause the eyes to be hard to open
Sensitivity to light
What will the vet look for?
The most obvious and least expensive item to check off the list is trauma to the eye - was there a cat fight or a run-in with the dog? Did the cat fall or get tangled up in his toy?
Kitty’s doctor may do a swab of any discharge around the eye to decide if the infection is viral or bacterial. There’s also a dye that can be used (Fluorescein eye stain) with a blue light to see if there are foreign objects or ulcers that can’t be seen during the regular exam. “My older cat, Josie, had a horrendous eye infection which got worse fast. She had a corneal ulcer. I had to put some strong eye drops in her eye every hour for two weeks,” says Troant.
What is the treatment?
For a bacterial infection, antibiotics are given. Viral infections usually run their course on their own but the vet may prescribe antibiotics here as well, in case bacteria and the virus are both present. There are also topical creams or eye drops for viral infections. Fungal infections have their own medications. If the eyes are particularly goopy or crusty, a damp, warm cloth will clean the area and soothe the pain. Don’t scrub the area, just apply the cloth and wipe gently.
Don’t assume the infection will go away on its own. Whether a viral or bacterial infection, the delay will not only be painful for Kitty, but it could spread to your other cats or cause further damage to Kitty’s health.
“My Callie has frequent eye problems. Usually it's caused by an eyelash rubbing her eyeball, she aggravated it while rubbing or a speck of dust or it’s an allergic reaction,” says Stephanietx. “Try to keep Kitty from rubbing her eye.”
Even if it is something as simple as a turned-in eyelash, it’s hard to diagnose on your own. A visit to the vet is a must to protect Kitty’s vision.
Don’t use human eye medications on Kitty - or another cat’s prescription. You could transfer bacteria from the tube to Kitty - and give the wrong medicine, which would then delay the right treatment and make things worse.