HEALTH & CARE

How to Treat Conjunctivitis in Cats: Clearing Up the Feline Pinkeye

Conjunctivitis in сats
Stella Noble
Written by Stella Noble

Finding out that your cat has got the pinkeye for the first time can be quite unsettling. It might be surprising to see that something which is almost exclusive to humans could affect your cat too. Rather than dwell on the situation, wouldn’t it be better if you learned how to treat conjunctivitis in cats?

Conjunctivitis, more commonly as the pinkeye, is not usually life-threatening, but it can be quite painful. To help your cat get better quickly, we have structured this piece in such a way that it debunks any and all myths around the subject matter. That way, you can approach such issues in your cat with a more practical mindset when it does present itself.

This piece will also inform you of just about everything you need to know about conjunctivitis. That way, you have practical information that beats knowing just how to get your cat feel better. Subscribing to such a holistic approach, let’s dig into the meat of the topic, shall we?

What is Conjunctivitis?

conjunctivitis in cat

Commonly referred to in everyday conversation as pinkeye, conjunctivitis is an eye infection that is accompanied by an inflammation of the moist tissue in the eye which can extend as far as the cornea: the front part of the eye.

Serious cases of conjunctivitis will lead to a discharge of fluids from the eye. That is, not to mention the other uncomfortable symptoms that could develop if left untreated for a longer time.

What Causes Conjunctivitis in Cats?

Cats’ eyes come in a number of beautiful colors and shades. Of all these, pink is not one we like to see. How do cats then get to the point where their pupil’s hues change to such an infected tone?

Medically, there are several factors that could contribute to a case of conjunctivitis in a cat.

#1: Contact with an Infected Animal

Contacting with an infected cat

Being a viral infection, it is not uncommon that cats get pinkeye from coming in contact with other cats or animals with the same infection.

If you run a multiple cat household, you might want to check if the cat you saw the pinkeye on was the first to get it. If she is, isolation is needed so that she doesn’t spread the infection to the others.

If you’ve got a dog too, make sure you separate the dog from your cat so that the infection doesn’t spread and become recurrent.

#2: Virus

Cats can also develop pinkeye as a secondary infection to the herpes virus. Indoor cats should be kept away from outdoor animals since they could well be carriers of the herpes virus. A good way to tell if the conjunctivitis is a viral infection is when the cat has trouble in both eyes.

Also, when the infection starts from one eye and progresses to the next, a virus (usually Chlamydia or Mycoplasma) is most likely at work.

#3: Bacteria

Another main cause of pinkeye would be bacteria. One of the common occurrences is what is dubbed as ‘dry eye.’

An early tell of a bacterial pinkeye infection is when the discharge from the cat’s eye is pus-like. The infection also appears to be red and swollen under these conditions.

#4: Allergy

cat having allergy

Some cats will also display their allergies in the form of developing pinkeye, not due to exposure to a viral or bacterial carrier.

Irritants are not necessarily things a cat eats in this case. It could be dust, dirt, wind, or other allergens that prompt the cat to paw and itch her face. Left untreated for too long, a case of pinkeye could be brewing for such a cat.

See Also: How to Treat Cat Allergies

#5: Foreign Object

The lodging of a foreign object in the eye for long could lead to conjunctivitis. This is often evident when the cat is seen pawing at one eye in a bid to remove whatever is lodged in the eye region.

Worthy of note is the fact that cats which are purebred run a higher risk of getting pinkeye than those cats who come about as a result of crossbreeding.

Symptoms of Conjunctivitis in Cats

Discharge from the cat eyes

When you suspect that your cat might have conjunctivitis, look out for the following symptoms:

  • Squinting of the eyes

  • Excessing blinking

  • Discharge from the eyes

  • Redness or swelling around the infected eye

  • Buildup of fluid in and around the eye

  • Upper respiratory problems

  • Pawing and rubbing at the eye

  • Protrusion of the third eyelid

Please note that the cat might not cry in pain when they are infected. This is not because they are not in pain, but because cats naturally mask their discomfort well.

It is also not necessary for all of these symptoms to be present before you confirm that your cat has the infection. When a good percentage of the serious ones have been sighted, you should take action immediately.

Types of Conjunctivitis in Cats

grey cat having conjunctivitis

All cases of cat conjunctivitis should be treated as a priority. However, some cases are more serious than others. Generally speaking, we can class all cases of conjunctivitis under three categories:

#1: Mild Conjunctivitis

In this case, there is a clear watery discharge to accompany a pinkish, swollen membrane. This is usually a non-infectious type which could be caused by mild irritants such as dust, wind, and other allergens in the air. However, it could also represent the onset of an upper respiratory problem for the cat.

You can usually treat this form of the infection at home. However, in the case there are no improvements within a 24-hour window, seeing a vet is recommended.

#2: Purulent Conjunctivitis

This one is referred to as a severe pink eye and is usually the one with a bigger cause for concern.

It is usually caused by a secondary bacterial infection. The cat’s eye will be secreting thick pus and developing a crust over the lid. When it spreads to both eyes, viral causes should be suspected.

#3: Follicular Conjunctivitis

When the infection occurs under the nictitating membrane of the eye (the area often referred to as the third eyelid), follicular conjunctivitis is diagnosed.

The eye will naturally engage the tear gland to produce more moisture to clear the infection. Often, this is caused by a foreign object getting under the eye.

A vet could be called in to look at the cat’s eye in this case to determine the extent of the follicular conjunctivitis.

How to Treat Conjunctivitis in Cats

treating cat's conjunctivitis

As you would have seen from above, conjunctivitis is not known to be caused by any single, definite thing. That is why the first step in the treatment of your cat’s infection would be to identify the cause.

Medically, conjunctivitis will be classed under

  • infectious and

  • non-infectious

It is recommended that you speak to your vet in determining the cause of the infection. When it is non-infectious, the cure could be as simple as the prescription of a suitable eye drop or ointment for your cat.

Your vet will give you a dosage to keep to and a timeframe over which to apply the prescribed medication to your cat.

In the case of infectious conjunctivitis though, more care should be taken during the treatment so it wouldn’t spread to other cats.

#1: For Bacterial Infections

Pinkeye caused by bacteria can be made to go away with the application of a topical ointment to the eye several times a day over the course of a few weeks.

Research has shown that the pathogen may hide in other areas of your cat’s body aside from the eyes. If left unchecked, that could lead to a recurrent case of conjunctivitis in such a feline.

To combat this, it is recommended that you get a vet’s prescription of systematic antibiotics for your cat.

#2: For Viral Infections

Viral herpes is one of the primary infections that could lead to the development of pinkeye in the cat. Viral infections are very serious in the sense of how they could easily be transmitted—on both eyes and to other pets in the house—and cause major damage.

When the pinkeye infection is diagnosed as viral, it is considered best practices to :

  • invest in antiviral eye medications

  • use antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections that could develop as a result of the primary viral infection

  • consult with the vet for other treatment options that may be available for your cat

Recurrence is higher in conjunctivitis caused by viral infections than those that arise from bacterial infections. The best way to combat this is by introducing lysine compounds into your cat’s food.

This works because the herpes virus needs arginine (an amino acid) to replicate itself in the cat’s body. When it sees lysine, the virus bonds with that amino acid instead. The good news is, with lysine, the herpes virus won’t be replicating itself anymore.

As is the case with humans, the herpes virus can only be suppressed but can never be totally cured. If you keep your cat stress-free enough and supplement her diet with lysine consistently, you will be able to keep the herpes infection under control. In a way, that also means keeping their chances of getting a pinkeye low.

#3: For Non-Infective Cases

Once you have ruled out the possibility of a bacterial or viral infection behind the pinkeye, it is deemed non-infectious. Your vet will be able to prescribe a suitable ointment/eye drop for the cat in these times.

To make sure the treatment is effective, try to remove possible allergens from the cat’s environment. Deep cleaning and vacuuming of the home—with a focus on areas the cat tends to frequent—will do a lot of good.

If a foreign object is the cause, the removal of such object will help the eyes to clear and return to normal in just a few hours. You should not attempt to remove anything from your cat’s eyes yourself if you don’t have previous training. See a vet or a licensed, relevant personnel to do so for you.

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

Home Care for the Cat

taking care of cats' eyes

At this point, we are assuming you have spoken to the vet and/or identified a suitable treatment plan for your cat’s conjunctivitis.

To ease the treatment process, wipe off all discharges coming from the cat’s eyes with a soft, damp cloth. Do this ever so gently, so you don’t irritate the cat’s eyes and the areas around it.

When handling the cat, make sure you wash your hands with soap and warm water.

Feline herpes virus is not a zoonotic disease, and as such, can’t spread to humans. However, it should be noted that there is a very small chance that humans can get chlamydial from their cats.

This virus is more adapted to live in a cat’s body than it is in humans. The fact that it is even possible, no matter how slim the chances are, makes it important to exercise some caution when handling a cat with infectious conjunctivitis.

Simply washing your hands with soap and warm water before handling the cat is enough. This should be done before and after every encounter to minimize the risk of you spreading the infection to the cat’s other eye or other cats in the house.

Aside from washing your hands before and after every encounter with the cat during the treatment phase, it is also recommended that you don’t use human eyedrops on your cat.

Some eye drops can be used for humans and cats alike. What you might not account for is the dosage. Likewise, some preservatives in the human eye drop could be damaging to the cat’s eye membranes. Before administering, always talk to a vet about a comprehensive dosage plan.

Throughout the course of the treatment, ensure your cat stays indoors.

When treating your cat, it is not uncommon to get the first signs of change in just a few days of administering the prescribed medication. You should make sure to complete the cat’s dosage even after all the symptoms seem to have cleared up. Else, you could be setting up your pet for a relapse.

Prevention of Cat Conjunctivitis

checking cat's eyes

Since there is no singular cause of conjunctivitis in cats, a series of preventive procedures have to be taken for all types.

  • Keeping the home clean and the cat’s area even cleaner will help to eliminate allergens such as dust and dirt.

  • When the weather starts to get windy, foreign objects are carried in the air. The cat should thus be kept indoors at these times.

  • Daily checking of the cat’s eyes is also recommended so that you can nip every issue in the bud before it becomes a serious problem.

  • Speaking with your vet can likewise help you identify other options in better guarding your cat against the pinkeye infection.

  • Going on to the infectious side, there are routine vaccinations that address FHV-1, Calicivirus, and Chlamydophila which you can sign your cat up for.

See Also: Cat Vaccination Schedule

Wrap Up

cat with healthy eyes

If you have additional questions or comments, don’t hesitate to contact your vet. Provide all information you consider necessary so that the vet will be better equipped to help you and your cat.

Done right, your cat’s infection should clear up in a matter of a few days, and she’ll return to her normal, healthy ways again. Do you have other tips to offer? Share your experience and any other comments in the section below! Our other article on how to treat UTI in cats may also be of interest to you.

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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