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If you have already experienced the pink eye, you know how annoying and contagious it is. But did you know that the pink eye also exists in cats? Unfortunately, the diagnosis and treatment of cat conjunctivitis is not as straightforward as it is in humans. However, it is not safe to use over-the-counter human products to treat your cat’s conjunctivitis. Instead, read on for the most common symptoms, causes, and treatments that can help your cat if it develops this problem.
Conjunctivitis in Cats: Introduction
Conjunctivitis is a gooey eye infection that you may have had at some point in your life. And although this occurs in many species, including humans, it is prevalent in cats.
When conjunctivitis occurs, the membranes of the conjunctiva become red and swollen and bulge from the eyelids. The production of tears increases, and tears can become cloudy. Conjunctivitis may affect one (unilateral) or both eyes (bilateral).
The disease is very unpleasant for the cat and can lead to problems associated with self-trauma to the area, as well as inflammation of the eye, which is more painful and difficult to treat. It is important that you call a veterinarian if you find that your cat’s eye seems to be affected.
When Red Eye Is Really “Pink Eye”
You probably know conjunctivitis under the most popular term, “pink eye.” However, in cats with the disease, the infected eye appears red rather than pink.
The conjunctiva, the protective mucus layer that lines the back of the eyelids and covers the eyeballs, is usually clear to pale pink in good health. In conjunctivitis, however, the coating may become inflamed.
Symptoms Conjunctivitis in Cats
Common signs of conjunctivitis include a red, inflamed, irritated, and painful eye. The third eyelid in the eye can pop out when it is swollen and inflamed. You may notice a whiteish green or clear eye discharge. If your cat is affected by the flu, you will likely notice signs of sneezing, lethargy, and loss of appetite due to tongue and gum ulcers. You may see some ocular surface changes due to inflammation or ulceration (erosions of the ocular surface).
There are various well-known symptoms of this disease, which includes:
- Persistent squinting
- Constant Blinking.
- Redness of the eye tissue.
- Eye discharge
- Fluid gathered in the eyes.
- Upper respiratory tract infection
Your cat does not need all these symptoms before you start worrying. If your cat’s eyes are irritated in one way or another, it’s time to call your vet. Only your veterinarian can determine if these symptoms cause conjunctivitis or other problems such as a blocked tear duct. Sometimes upper respiratory infections accompany conjunctivitis. If your cat sneezes or wheezes and also has red and watery eyes, you should immediately take her to the vet.
The symptoms of conjunctivitis may be similar to those of keratitis (corneal inflammation), uveitis (inflammation of the middle eye layer), and glaucoma (optic nerve injury). However, eye diseases are more painful in cats.
However, the fact that your cat does not suffer does not mean that you should not take her to the vet. Untreated eye problems, even the most common, such as conjunctivitis, may affect vision loss if it’s not treated fast.
Kittens and Conjunctivitis
Kittens are most at risk for viral conjunctivitis. Kittens raised outside and in shelters are particularly vulnerable.
In addition to conjunctivitis, the herpesvirus FHV-1 can cause breathing difficulties. Both symptoms can be severe in kittens. The secretion of conjunctivitis may be sufficient to close the eyes of the chewing gum, while respiratory changes can cause loss of appetite and dehydration that threaten life.
Therefore, kitten conjunctivitis may require more aggressive treatment and close monitoring than in an adult cat. Contact your veterinarian immediately if your kitten shows signs of conjunctivitis. If your cat is fully grown, a home remedy might be appropriate.
Cause of Conjunctivitis
The most well-known cause of conjunctivitis in cats is cat flu. There are many pathogens associated with cat flu. The most common is the feline herpes virus, feline calicivirus, and chlamydia infection (bacterial). Herpes viruses reappear when cats are stressed or weakened (for example, cat AIDS). Often, there is an underlying disease or sometimes a behavioral problem (e.g., an anxious cat with a new cat in the household).
Cat flu is transmitted into an infected stream of eyes and nose. It is very contagious and can be contacted either by direct contact between cats or by bedding or feeding bowls. Pure-bred cats and shelters are more likely to get cat flu as they are exposed more frequently.
Chlamydophila (a bacterial infection) is the second cause of conjunctivitis. Allergens and irritants, eye trauma, and diseases of the cornea, lacrimal system, or eyelids can also lead to conjunctivitis. Basically, there may be various explanations for your cat’s conjunctivitis.
Conjunctivitis can also be seen when cats respond to various allergens such as plant pollen, fleas, and food. Foreign objects such as grass seeds and cat scratches on the eye surface can cause corneal ulcers and cause conjunctivitis. Loss of the support fat pad behind cat’s eye that loses a lot of weight due to illness can cause the eyeball to sink into the eye socket and crawl under the eyelids. This causes the fur to rub against the surface of the eye, causing irritation that can lead to conjunctivitis.
If herpesvirus FHV-1 causes your cat’s conjunctivitis, it may spread to other cats in your home (but not to humans). It is, therefore, important to treat it quickly.
How Is Conjunctivitis Diagnosed?
Getting a History
All the information you can give your veterinarian about your cat’s eyes, general health, and behavior will help in the final diagnosis.
Some questions that can be asked are:
- How long has the eye been affected?
- Has your cat had any eye problems or cat flu in the past?
- Were there any contacts with cats who may have had cat flu?
- What is the vaccination status of your cat?
- Has your cat participated in the last catfights?
- Did you notice if your cat sneezes, is lethargic, lost his appetite, or has a foul-smelling breath?
- Do you own other cats, and do they have symptoms?
The veterinarian will examine the various possible causes to determine the cause of the eye infection to be treated properly. There may be seasonal allergies to items such as grass and pollen or environmental pollutants such as smoke or chemicals. Viral and bacterial infections are also considered.
A preliminary diagnosis of conjunctivitis is made after your veterinarian eliminates conditions. One of them is a foreign body in the eye, a blocked lacrimal duct that prevents the normal discharge of tears, corneal ulcers, or other eye injuries.
Since secondary bacterial infections cause many symptoms, and it is necessary to reduce immediate pain and inflammation, treatment is usually started on the basis of this preliminary diagnosis of infectious conjunctivitis. In cases where no improvement occurs or other cats are at risk, additional tests are performed to obtain a definitive diagnosis.
Based on the history and the results of examining the eye and the surrounding tissue, specific tests are carried out. Your vet can measure the tear production and intraocular pressure (intraocular pressure) of each eye. The cornea may be stained with a fluorescein stain to look for underlying corneal lesions or ulcers, and scraping or biopsies of the conjunctiva may be obtained and sent to a special-purpose diagnostic laboratory. Nasolacrimal or tear ducts can be rinsed to ensure good drainage. Blood tests determine whether conjunctivitis is related to a systemic condition.
Treatment for Conjunctivitis
If your cat has signs of conjunctivitis, you can try treating it at home with products from your local pharmacy, such as diluted boric acid (for ophthalmic use), sterile eye drops or artificial tears. Contact your veterinarian to find out how to best use these remedies. If you have tried these methods for 24 hours and have not seen any improvement (for example, reduced swelling, redness, and loss), take it to the veterinarian.
The vet will take a culture of your cat’s eye to determine if the cause of the irritation is viral or bacterial. The results determine the type of prescription eye solution. If your veterinarian suspects that allergies are the cause of your cat’s conjunctivitis, anti-inflammatory drops such as hydrocortisone may be recommended. However, drops of hydrocortisone should not be used if your cat has a corneal ulcer or an episode of herpesvirus FHV-1 is suspected.
In general, one eye begins to heal conjunctivitis after one to two days of treatment. To make sure you have completely eliminated the cause, you should continue taking your medications as long as your vet recommends. This is especially important for antibiotics containing drops.
Conjunctivitis caused by the herpes virus FHV-1 may not be cured simply because it has been elucidated. The virus often slumbers for a moment, then ignites later. In the case of recurrent conjunctivitis, your veterinarian may prescribe an antiviral medicine. Of course, each cat is different, and some may never be affected again.
The general approach to non-specific conjunctivitis is to use ophthalmic preparations containing a combination of broad-spectrum antibiotics to control secondary bacterial infection and anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce inflammation. These preparations are in the form of drops or ointment to fill the eyes. Local treatment may need to be supplemented with injections and pills.
When a specific diagnosis has been established, one of the following regimens may be used:
1. Herpesvirus conjunctivitis
- Although these infections are usually benign and spontaneously resolving, the infected cat remains a carrier of the virus and may have intermittent relapses.
- In mild cases, no treatment may be necessary.
- Interferon-alpha may be used as an immune stimulant
- Antiviral drugs are used in severe or poorly reactive cases
- L-lysine can be used to promote healing and can be used for life as an immunostimulatory agent in cats with recurrent problems
- Antibiotics are commonly used in case of secondary bacterial infection
2. Chlamydophila or Mycoplasma Conjunctivitis
- Azithromycin Oral Antibiotic
- Tetracycline Ophthalmic Ointment
3. Eosinophilic or Allergic conjunctivitis
- Ointment or topical corticosteroid drops
- Topical medications to stop or reduce the allergic reaction
How to Administer Eye Medications?
Regular and frequent treatment is essential for the successful treatment of conjunctivitis. Most eye drops should be administered three to six times daily at the start of treatment. Ointments are less likely to be administered but are more difficult to administer. Two people may be needed. One holds the cat and the other the eye medicine, at least until the discomfort and sensitivity of the eyes diminish. Apply 0.6 to 1.25 cm (1/4 to 1/2 inch) ointment to each eye, then close the eyelids to penetrate the ointment onto the eyeball. Liquid preparations can be applied directly to the ocular surface; one or two drops per eye are usually sufficient. If you have any doubts about administering the drug to your cat, ask your vet to explain the procedure to follow.
Can Humans Catch Cat Pink Eye?
The viruses and feline bacteria that cause the pink eye in cats cannot be passed on to humans. If you have multiple cats, you can accidentally pass an infection by stroking, eating, or brushing from one baby to another. Even your dog may be prone to conjunctivitis, says PetCareRx. After treating a sick cat, wash your hands thoroughly and all toys or tools. Be sure to keep them in their own room for a day, time to take them to the vet.
You can also prevent the spread of conjunctivitis by wearing gloves when administering topical medications. Discard gloves and wash hands immediately after treating your cat’s eye and before touching your body or even the surfaces of your home. Your cat can rub the bacteria from his eye on other surfaces of the house without you noticing it. An extra punch in the house with a pet-friendly disinfectant does not hurt.
Preventing Pink Eye
If your cat develops a form of non-infectious conjunctivitis, think about what may have recently entered your home and to which you may be allergic. Pollen from open windows? Harsh Cleaners? New cologne or air freshener? Try to remove the new products one by one while waiting for your appointment with the veterinarian and clean the area of your cat’s eyes with a warm cloth once a day to remove the dust from your eyelashes.
The hardest time to keep your eyes pink is when the kittens are about two weeks old and just opening their eyes, says Catnip of Tufts University. If you have a litter of kittens, make sure to regularly check with your veterinarian their eyes’ health as they grow up.
Conjunctivitis in cats can come and go. However, if your cat frequently suffers from conjunctivitis, it may be time for your veterinarian to seek more aggressive treatment or to detect a serious underlying problem. In most cases, the infection will leave in a few weeks. Seeking treatment as soon as you notice the symptoms and follow all of your veterinarian’s recommendations will help your cat overcome conjunctivitis and start doing what he loves the most.
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