HEALTH & CARE

Cataracts in Cats: Saving Your Cat’s Vision

cat wearing black glasses
Stella Noble
Written by Stella Noble

What springs to your mind when you hear the word “cataracts”? You may perceive this condition as synonymous with “aging.” Classified as a degenerative disease, it is also one of the most serious feline eye health problem. However, even young cats can develop cataracts. There are many other possible causes as well as risk factors linked to the development of cataracts in cats.

Although cats are less likely to develop cataracts than dogs or humans, it does happen to our feline friends. Cataracts can develop slowly or quickly, depending on its cause. When identified and treated early, cataracts can be removed, and complete visual functions can be restored.

In this article, we will talk about what causes feline cataracts and how this disease is diagnosed, treated, and prevented. Since most cases of feline cataracts are curable when identified during the early stages, knowledge of the early signs and symptoms of the disease ensures a much better prognosis. This article will also discuss non-surgical cataracts treatments available for your feline baby.

What Exactly are Cataracts?

Cataracts are formed when proteins clamp together within the crystalline lens of the eyes. The lens is the area of the eyes which is located behind the pupil and the iris. This clumping causes some areas of the lens to appear cloudy and milky in appearance.

In extreme cases, it can also cause changes in eye color—often forming a white, bluish, or gray layer on the surface of the lens. There can also be varying degrees of opacity, and in extreme cases, severe opacity can cause blindness.

When cataracts form, they reduce the amount of light that is able to reach the retina. This significantly blurs the cat’s vision. An example of this would be like looking out through a window during a snowfall. You may still be able to recognize certain shapes and forms, but not the distinct features.

What Causes Feline Cataracts?

old orange cat

Aside from old age, there are many possible factors that contribute to the development of this feline eye disease. In most cases, it occurs as a result of an underlying condition which causes degenerative effects on the lens of the eyes. This causes changes in the transparency of the lens, thereby affecting vision.

An important part of a successful medical plan for treating feline cataracts is by understanding its root cause. There can be a range of possible reasons, such as:

  • Aging process. Most of the time, cataracts are caused by age-related changes in the eyes that cause the lens to be cloudy and opaque.

  • Inflammation. Chronic inflammation causes trauma and injury to the lens, which often leads to the formation of cataracts.

  • Trauma. When a cat’s eye is injured, damaged, or punctured, it can result in the formation of cataracts. Cataracts usually form only on the same side as the injury, but in some cases, may progress and affect the lens.

  • Electrical shock. When a cat experiences electrical shock, especially when the upper extremity is affected, it can cause protein coagulation and cataracts formation.

  • Metabolic disorders. This includes diabetes, hypocalcemia, and hypothyroidism.

  • Prenatal influencing factors. Exposure to chemicals, toxins, and other substances while developing in the womb can cause kittens to be born with cataracts.

  • Anterior uveitis. This is an inflammation of the tissue behind the pupil, which is made up of the iris and the ciliary body. Anterior uveitis is also the most common cause of feline cataracts development.

  • Poor nutrition. For kittens, nutritional deficiency during the developmental stage in their mother’s womb is also a factor in forming cataracts.

  • Heredity is also a factor when it comes to the development of feline cataracts. Studies show that Persian cats, Himalayans, and Burmese cats have higher chances of developing cataracts.

How to Look Out for Feline Cataracts

Since cataracts spread slowly, early detection means having better options of helping your cat. Below is a list of guidelines you can follow in order to quickly and accurately recognize the onset of cataracts on your feline baby.

#1: Regular Monitoring of Your Cat Behavior

cat hiding under blanket

As a pet owner, one of your main roles is to regularly monitor for any changes in your cat.

Sometimes, your cat may suddenly develop an avoidance of high places. This is because high places usually require a lot of climbing and jumping, and your cat may not really be up for it.

Cats that are starting to develop cataracts may have some trouble trying to find their litter box, food, and water bowls. They may even have some difficulty recognizing faces.

Some felines may start meowing a lot more often than usual, or in an unusual manner which also signals that they may be suffering due to cataracts. Some cats may exhibit signs of anxiety and stress.

Cats suffering from cataracts can startle easily since they cannot see it when someone approaches them. They may also appear withdrawn and gloomy, because of inability to see or defend themselves from other pets.

Squinting is another behavior you need to watch out for since this is your cat trying to show you how she is having trouble with her vision.

#2: Observe for Changes in Your Cat’s Eye Color

watching cat eyes

Initially, you may notice some white color or haze on the surface of the lens, which can get whiter and denser as the disease progresses.

These are probably the most obvious signs of cataract. Normally, the pupil appears pitch black. Cloudiness should be taken into serious consideration. This certainly requires a trip to the vet.

Sometimes, there will also be an intense and noticeable blue spot right at the center of the pupil. It starts from a small dot but can increase in size to cover the entire pupil in the long run.

#3: Analyze and Consider Possible Risk Factors

As a pet owner, it is important for you to consider your cat’s current health status and history, which may contribute to the possibility of your cat developing cataracts. Since trauma is one of the predisposing factors, you may want to note if your pet has recently suffered a knock or a blow.

Toxins can also cause eye cloudiness. As mentioned in the previous section, pre-existing conditions like diabetes likewise increase the possibility of acquiring the disease. The cat’s breed is also a significant factor, as well as the presence of other inflammatory conditions.

How Cataracts is Diagnosed at the Vet’s

cat at vet's

Once you strongly suspect that your cat may be suffering from feline cataracts, the next best thing to do is to schedule a trip to a veterinarian and obtain a medical diagnosis.

#1: Take Your Cat to the Vet

Although most veterinarians are equipped with tools to check and confirm the presence of cataracts in the lens, it may be necessary to look for the services of a veterinary ophthalmologist for a more thorough examination using specialized and more advanced ophthalmic equipment.

With a medical diagnosis, your cat will have a wider range of treatment options available to her, as well as additional knowledge when it comes to safety precautions. This includes the possibility of surgical treatment, which depends on the extent of the cataracts and the overall condition of your cat.

#2: Have Your Pet’s Eyes Examined

To get an overall impression, the vet may start the examination by looking into your pet’s eyes. This is done to check for increased eye pressure (glaucoma) and overall size.

The vet may ask if you have noticed behavioral changes with the cat—like increased weight and changes in behavior. This is to rule out other underlying conditions which may be affecting your cat’s vision such as diabetes.

#3: Looking for “Red Eye” on Your Cat

vet checking cat eyes

An “ophthalmoscope” is used for this procedure. By shining a light directly into the cat’s eyes, the vet will check for the presence of a red color which is much like what you get when a camera’s flash reflects on the retina.

This indicates that the light was able to pass through the lens and therefore rules out the presence of cataracts.

#4: Checking for a Shadow on the Retina

The veterinarian will again make use of the ophthalmoscope when looking for a shadow on the retina. Cataracts cast a shadow by blocking the light that would normally go through the lens. This process is useful when differentiating cataracts from a lens that is cloudy because of old age.

#5: Baseline Tests

In order to effectively check for electrolyte imbalance, glucose level, inflammation or infection, as well as evaluate the overall health and well being of your cat, baseline tests may need to be performed. This includes a biochemical profile, complete blood count, and urinalysis.

#6: Strictly Adhere to the Prescribed Treatment Guideline

Cataracts are normally classified as incipient (very small), immature (slightly bigger and covers a wider area on the lens), mature (covering the entire lens), and hypermature (large enough to cause the lens to shrink down). These different degrees play a major role when determining the available treatment options.

In mild cases of feline cataracts, veterinarians may delay treatment and observe if the condition will resolve on its own.

#7: Manage Your Cat’s Pain

Cats who suffer from cataracts are likely to experience some pain and discomfort. It is best to ask a veterinary specialist for an eye medication to help relieve the swelling and inflammation. Aside from anti-inflammatory eye drops, the vet may also recommend supplements in case the cataracts are developing due to nutritional deficiencies.

Different Types of Surgical Treatments for Feline Cataracts

cat's operation

Once cataracts start interfering with vision, a specialist veterinarian may opt to remove cataracts by using ultrasonic waves (phacoemulsion) or remove it by means of a surgical cataracts removal procedure, which is a more complicated and expensive process. There are several surgical treatment options available.

#1: Cataracts Surgery

Currently, the most common technique used to remove cataracts in both humans and animals is called phacoemulsion. This procedure uses ultrasonic waves in breaking apart the lens and then sucking it out. This is done through a small incision made through the cornea.

Most of the affected lens is removed through a procedure called “phacoemulsification,” and an intraocular implant, or prosthetic lens, is often put in the original lens’ place. Even in some cases when implants cannot be inserted, a cat’s vision can still be greatly improved through cataracts surgery.

#2: Extracapsular Lens Extraction

This is another technique used when the cataracts are too hard or old that they cannot be removed using the phacoemulsification instrument. This procedure requires a larger incision on the cornea and a bigger hole in the lens capsule—enough to allow the whole piece of the lens to pass through.

#3: Intracapsular Lens Extraction

Again, this technique involves creating a large incision through the cornea and the removal of the entire lens. This is a procedure used when an affected lens has changed position and no longer in its proper place inside the eyes.

Regardless of which surgical procedure is used to treat your feline friend’s cataracts, always remember to administer all prescribed medical prescriptions and adhere to the veterinarian’s home care instructions after your pet’s surgery.

Sometimes, cataracts in young kittens resolve on its own and may not need any medical intervention. Along with this, cataracts which have very low opacity may not require treatment unless they start interfering with the cat’s vision.

While surgery is considered very effective in removing cataracts and restoring vision, there are also many reasons why cat owners may refuse to resort to this form of treatment.

Some cat owners are not able to afford the cost of surgery. Surgical removal of cataracts, either in humans or animals, is quite costly.

Many feline owners avoid cataracts surgeries because they love their cats too much and are scared of the risks that go with a surgical procedure. Some cats have a pre-existing condition that significantly increases the risks that come with the administration of anesthesia.

DIY Home Remedy for Feline Cataracts

Flaxseed oil

Most veterinarians will recommend adding Zinc to a cat’s diet to help protect your feline’s eyes from further damage and inflammation. In addition to this, Vitamins E, A, and C are often also prescribed to slow down the developmental process of cataracts. The good news is that there are other home remedies you can prepare on your own to help clear up the condition. Below are instructions on how to prepare this home remedy for feline cataracts.

Ingredients:

  • Flaxseed oil – made from flax seeds that are ground and pressed in order to release its natural oil. Known for its many health benefits, it is rich in essential fatty acid and alpha-linolenic acid. It improves the skin and cholesterol levels, decreases inflammation, and reduces the risk of diabetes.

  • MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane) – A herbal supplement which is made from organic sulfur found in grains, milk, fruit and vegetables, and animal urine. It has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and is known to reduce pain and overall stiffness.

  • Saline. This is a mixture of sodium chloride and water. It is used in many ways for personal care and medical purposes.

Procedures:

  • Administer 1 or 2 drops of flaxseed oil on your cat’s affected eye.

  • Set aside a separate mixture of 1 tbsp of MSM and 1 ounce of soothing saline.

  • Administer a few drops of the MSM and saline mixture 10 minutes after administering the flaxseed oil. This may cause a sting for a few seconds and is considered normal.

  • Repeat this procedure 3-4 times a day.

  • After a couple of days, you will start to notice a white material in the corner of your cat’s affected eye. This substance is a part of cataracts. It is being expelled from your cat’s body.

  • Continue doing this until the cataracts are completely gone from your pet’s eyes.

For cats who are not good candidates for cataracts surgery, non-surgical treatments are good options to clear up cataracts in cats. However, it is always best to consult a veterinarian who is knowledgeable in alternative medicine before administering any form of natural remedy.

Wrap Up

cat hiding its eyes

Part of a cat owner’s responsibility is to constantly check on their pet’s overall health and to keep an eye out for any sign of physical or behavioral abnormality so that prompt treatment can be administered.

We hope that the guideline and information we have provided in this article will help you accomplish that. After all, there is nothing better than seeing our beloved cats happy and healthy. They deserve to see all the amazing things this world has to offer through healthy eyes.

Do you suspect that your cat is suffering from cataracts? Leave a comment in the section below so we can talk more about it. You may also be interested in checking out our article on how to clean cats eyes, to keep their eyes healthy after the cataracts have been treated.

About the author
Stella Noble
Stella Noble

Stella Noble lives in Warren, Michigan with her family and three cats. She is a Certified Cat Trainer and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.

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