HEALTH & CARE

How to Tell If a Cat Is Blind: What is Sudden Onset Blindness?

blind cat
Stella Noble
Written by Stella Noble

Cats have excellent vision. However, eye injuries and certain diseases can impair a cat’s vision, and in some cases, result in complete blindness. Cats can lose their vision progressively or experience sudden onset blindness; it is important to know how to tell if a cat is blind so you can react promptly.

When it comes to progressive blindness, cats lose their sight gradually over the course of months or years and have time to adapt to the new situation. Since cats can cope so well, most owners don’t realize that anything is amiss until a cat is completely blind. On the other hand, sudden onset blindness happens rapidly in a matter of hours, and if noticed and treated in time, a cat can regain her eyesight.

In this article, we will describe symptoms and causes of cat blindness and tell you how to check your cat’s vision at home. We will also share some useful tips on how to care for a blind cat and help her live a happy life.

What is Sudden Onset Blindness?

startled cat

It is important to distinguish sudden onset blindness with suddenly noticed blindness. Sudden onset blindness happens rapidly over the course of a couple of hours, and if the underlying issue is treated in time, blindness can be reversed.

On the other hand, you may have just noticed that your cat is blind, but she experienced a gradual loss of sight which gave her a chance to adjust to new circumstances.

Some of the signs that the cat is losing her vision include:

  • Cloudy, discolored, or inflamed eyes

  • A cat is startled easily

  • Large pupils that don’t shrink when exposed to the light

  • Excessive vocalization

  • Disorientation

  • Clumsiness (bumping into walls or falling from furniture)

  • Confusion

Common Causes of Sudden Onset Blindness

cat's ilnesses

Causes of blindness range from tumors, eye injury, infections, to certain diseases that can affect the function of a part of the eye such as the retina or the lens. Depending on the cause of blindness, early diagnosis and treatment can restore vision in some cases.

#1: Optic Neuritis

The term “optic neuritis” is used to describe all diseases that affect the optic nerve and cause its deterioration which results in sudden vision problem or total loss of sight in one or both eyes. This condition is rarely seen in cats, and it is associated with viral infections, protozoal infections, or fungal infections.

#2: High Blood Pressure

Hypertension or high blood pressure is a commonly seen disease in cats, and it is one of the most common causes of acute blindness.

This can cause the retina (the layer of light-sensitive cells that line the back of the eye) to become detached. Once the retina is detached, it no longer performs its function, which causes blindness.

In some cases, high blood pressure will cause damage and bleeding of the vessels towards the front of the eye. This is easier to see and means that you will have more time to react. If your cat is already suffering from hypertension, it is important that she receives her therapy regularly.

If you suspect that your cat has undiagnosed high blood pressure, take her to the vet immediately so he/she can check her and prescribe treatment if necessary. This is an easily managed condition, and you shouldn’t risk your cat’s eyesight by not taking her to the vet.

See Also: How Often Should You Take Your Cat to the Vet

#3: Diseases of the Brain

Diseases of the brain can cause blindness since the brain isn’t capable of receiving and processing signals from the eyes. Various conditions like infections, inflammations, injuries, and tumors that affect the brain can cause blindness.

#4: Retinal Degeneration

As mentioned previously, the retina is the layer of light-sensitive cells on the back of the eye that is responsible for vision. Degeneration of these cells can cause blindness.

In most cases, this is a slow process, which gives a cat time to adjust to her loss of sight and start relying more on her other senses. However, on some occasions, this condition can have a rapid progression which results in sudden blindness.

#5: Diabetes

A growing number of cats is diagnosed with diabetes, which is the inability to produce enough levels of insulin to regulate blood sugar or glucose levels.

This disease presents with symptoms of increased thirst and urination. If left untreated, it can cause blindness, and in some cases, death. In most cases, if a cat is diagnosed early and put on insulin therapy to manage blood glucose levels, the blindness is reversible.

#6: Kidney or Heart Disease

Both kidney and heart disease are serious conditions that require appropriate therapy and lifestyle changes. You should monitor your cat carefully since both diseases can cause high blood pressure that if left untreated can result in sudden blindness.

It is important to talk to your vet every time your cat is diagnosed with a certain condition and do your best to familiarize yourself with it. That will help you provide the best possible care for your cat to avoid any additional complications.

#7: Certain Medication

All medications have a side effect, but drugs like Baytril which is used for severe infections can cause sudden blindness.

You should know that if that happens, the damage is irreversible, and the cat will be blind the rest of her life. Although this side effect is rare, it is best to talk to your vet and see if another treatment with less serious consequences is available.

How to Tell If Your Cat is Blind?

Cataracts, glaucoma, tumors, and various diseases can impair your cat’s vision and in some cases leave her completely blind, so it is important to check your cat’s eyes for any changes.

There are a few ways you can do this at home, and all of them are non-invasive and won’t cause any pain or discomfort to your kitty. Reacting in time and getting the right treatment for the underlying issue will give your cat a chance to restore her sight.

#1: Look for Behavioral Changes

cat jumping

By nature, cats are graceful creatures with fluid motions and excellent spatial orientation; however, when a cat is losing her sight, she can become clumsy. That means that cats with impaired sight or blindness will have trouble getting around the house and jumping on furniture.

Look for signs of clumsiness that include bumping into the walls, misjudging jumping distances, the inability to jump on the sofa, tripping, and slipping.

You should also be concerned if your cat shows signs of disorientation in familiar spaces and inability to find familiar places and objects.

Check if your kitty has trouble finding objects like food and water bowl. If she does, take her to the vet. It is important to react to the first signs of disorientation and confusion or any other behavioral changes and get your kitty the treatment she needs.

#2: Watch Your Cat’s Walk

changes in cat's walk

When cats go blind or start losing their vision gradually, they start to rely more on their other senses. Cats that have vision problems will develop a different way of walking. For example, they could be crouching closer to the ground, feeling their way with their nose and whiskers.

You should also take note if your kitty is walking with her head held down or if she is moving her head up and down trying to figure out the distance.

It is a good thing to be aware of your cat’s regular routines, behaviors, and ways she acts since any changes in these will be signs that something is wrong.

If you notice that your cat is walking aimlessly like she doesn’t know where to go or where she is, you should take her to the vet. All of these changes can be signs of progressive or sudden blindness, so it is important to take note and react promptly.

#3: Is Your Cat More Vocal?

cat becoming more vocal

Do you notice that your kitty is more vocal than usual, although everything is the same and you haven’t made any changes to her routine and lifestyle? This can also be a sign of blindness, and your cat is communicating that something is wrong and that she is scared.

Cats tend do vocalize more when they are in distress, and you should pay attention to what your kitty is trying to tell you.

See Also: How Many Sounds Can a Cat Make

Besides vocalization, a cat may seem nervous, upset, and fearful as she adjusts to lack of sight. Furthermore, some cat can suddenly be easily startled even though they never were timid.

Monitor your cat for any or several of these signs and take her to be examined by a vet to determine the exact extent of blindness.

#4: Check Your Cat’s Pupils

checking cat's pupil

One of the easiest and non-invasive ways you can check if your cat is going blind or is blind is to check her pupils. You can use a small flashlight and shine it in your cat’s eyes and look for any changes. This test is completely safe, and the same principle is used on people who get their eyes checked by an ophthalmologist.

Use the flashlight to shine in one eye and watch for changes in the size of the pupil, blinking, squinting, or turning away from the light. If your cat fails to do any of these, she is probably already blind, but either way, you should take her to the vet who will diagnose the cause of blindness.

#5: Check the Color of Your Cat’s Eyes

checking cat's eyes

Probably the best and the easiest way to notice any changes and signs of blindness is to examine the color of your cat’s eyes regularly. Cataract can make the eye look milky and cloudy and is most commonly seen in older cats. It is a normal sign of aging.

You can look for any signs of redness in the tissues around the eye, but don’t be alarmed if the eye seems pinkish since this is completely normal.

Any redness can be a sign of burst blood vessels and the sign that some underlying issue like high blood pressure is impacting the eyes as well. This can also be a symptom of infection, so it is important to get your cat checked by a vet.

In the case of cataracts, surgery is an option, but since this condition is common for older cats, not all of them are suitable candidates for surgery because of other health problems.

The good news is that cataracts don’t develop overnight and a cat has enough time to adjust to the gradual loss of eyesight and start relying more on her other senses. Most cats function completely normally even if they are completely blind because of this condition.

#6: Test Your Cat’s Reflexes

Menace response or reflex is an automatic defense mechanism that the conscious mind can’t control. Simply put, every time something is approaching our eye, we reflexively blink to protect it, and cats, like all other mammals, do the same.

By testing your cat’s reflexes, you can tell if her eyesight is in perfect order or if she is going blind.

Move your finger quickly towards your cat’s eye without making contact with the cornea. Make sure that you don’t get too close to the whiskers or create a breeze that will alert an already blind cat that something is coming.

A cat with normal eyesight will blink to an approaching finger, but a blind cat will not react and will be completely unaware of the approaching finger.

In some cases, you will have to repeat the experiment a few times until you can perform it without alerting your cat to your intentions.

#7: Drop a Ball or a Feather in Front of Your Cat

dropping a ball to a cat

For this experiment, you can use a ball of yarn, a feather, or cotton ball—anything that is lightweight and won’t create a breeze and noise once it falls on the floor.

Get your cat to sit and drop a ball of yarn in front of her, making sure that it isn’t too close to her face and won’t create a breeze. A cat that is blind will just continue sitting as if nothing happened—the opposite of the normal reaction, which is to take notice of the ball and watch it fall.

Just like with the reflexes experiment, you may need to go through a few tries before everything goes right and you can drop the ball without getting your intentions known to your kitty.

If your cat fails to notice the ball, you should schedule an appointment with the vet so he/she can assess the degree of damage to the eye and prescribe therapy if necessary.

#8: Check for Glaucoma

Glaucoma is one of the conditions that can result in blindness if left untreated, so it is important to know how to see if your cat has it. Look at your cat’s eyes and if one seems bigger than the other, take your cat to the vet immediately. Besides this symptom, one or both eyes can seem cloudy.

How to Care for a Blind Cat

blind cat with a tag

You should know that even though blindness is an unfortunate turn of events, blind cats can continue living normal lives. Still, this condition requires some considerations from your part to make life easier for your kitty.

You should do your best to keep things consistent and avoid any unnecessary changes to your cat’s environment.

That means that you shouldn’t move furniture around since your cat isn’t able to see the changes and she will most likely bump into them more often. The same goes for changing the locations of food and water bowls and litter trays.

Make sure that your floors are clutter-free and tell your children to pick up their toys so your cat won’t bump into them or slip and injure herself on them. Talk with the rest of the family and your guests to avoid making loud noises that will startle your kitty and make sure that they pay attention when they walk around the house.

If your cat is used to going outside, you should limit her goings to an enclosed area or a gated backyard and supervise her when she is out. Under no circumstances should you let her go outside alone since she is in danger of getting hit by a car, attacked by other cats or dogs, and she can easily get lost.

As a safety precaution, you should get your cat a microchip and a tag where you will leave your phone and address in case she got lost.

If your cat spends her life coming and going freely, she will most certainly feel that urge still, so it is very important to keep all of your windows and doors closed when the cat is in that room.

Caring for a blind cat isn’t so hard when you apply all the necessary safety measures and keep things at home consistent.

Wrap Up

treating cat's eyesight

Just like people, cats can become blind, and this can be a sudden or a progressive process. Blindness is usually a symptom of some other condition, so it is important to know how to tell if a cat is blind. Early detection and proper treatment can restore your cat’s eyesight partially or to the full extent depending on the underlying condition.

You should know that blind cats can have the same quality of life as before and live the rest of their lives happy and healthy. It is up to you to make that happen; provide consistency and safety precautions when it comes to going outside. Keeping things in your home in their usual places will help your cat move around normally without bumping and injuring herself on any foreign objects.

Do you have experience with taking care of a blind cat? What are the things you did to make her life easier? We really appreciate it if you leave us a comment below. Don’t forget to check out our article on how do cats see.

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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