Eye Trauma in Cats
The eyes are one of the cat’s most intriguing features. Therefore, anything that affects the eyes, even if it seems minor, should not be ignored. Any change to the eyes or eyelids should be addressed within 24 hours, if not sooner. Often problems with the eyes are due to infection and other illnesses, though that can be precipitated by injuries to the eye(s) or eyelid(s), which we will discuss here.
What to Watch For
For most of these symptoms, if only one eye is affected, it is most likely from trauma. If both eyes are affected, it is more likely due to infection or other illness:
- Eye discharge, whether it be watery, yellow, green, crusty, etc.
- Swollen eyes or conjunctivitis
- Clouding of the cornea
- Cuts or tears to the eyelid
- Third eyelid is showing or raised (nictitating membrane)
- Keeping the eye partially or completely closed
- In severe cases, the eye may come out of its socket (prolapse)
Most traumatic injuries to the eyes are from fights, foreign objects in the eyes, or other similar events.
- Gently wipe away eye discharge using cotton soaked with warm water.
- For eyes that are swollen, gently separate the eyelids and pour saline solution (the same solution you use on your own eyes) between the lids. It is important you do not squirt the saline solution to rinse out foreign material from the eye.
- If the eye is out of its socket (prolapsed eye), keep it moist with saline solution and cover it with a damp cloth.
- If there is active bleeding from the eye or eyelid, cover the area with a nonstick pad and hold it in place by hand or with bandage tape until your cat can be examined by a veterinarian.
Your veterinarian will give your cat an overall examination and then examine the eye in detail. This may involve use of an ophthalmoscope for a close look at all the eye parts, eye stain to check for damage to the cornea, and tonometer to check eye pressure. If no evidence of traumatic injury is seen, additional tests will be made to determine the underlying cause of the eye problem.
Your veterinarian should be able to treat most eye problems; more difficult cases may require a specialist (veterinary ophthalmologist) for diagnosis and/or treatment.
Sutures are required for most wounds to the eyelids. If the wounds are related to a fight, a course of antibiotics are also prescribed. Typically, small scratches and ulcers to the cornea will heal with topical medications. However, more severe damage may require surgery.
In severe cases, such as prolapsed eye, your veterinarian will need to determine whether replacing or removing the eye is the best option.
Upper respiratory infections and other illnesses can cause changes to the eyes that are similar to traumatic injury.
Living and Management
The biggest worry with injury to the eyes is loss of vision. Most of the time that does not happen, although a scar may form on the cornea. Even if blindness occurs, cats can adapt quite well in a home environment.
Fights and accidents, the most common sources of eye injury, cannot be entirely prevented, but keeping your cat indoors will greatly decrease the risk.