Q: My cat has conjunctivitis. What can you tell me about this eye disease?
A: We don’t see as many eye problems in cats as we do in dogs, but conjunctivitis – inflammation of the light pink mucous membrane that lines the eyeball and eyelids – is probably the most common one. Cats with conjunctivitis can have the condition in one or both eyes, and they may have accompanying respiratory signs, such as sneezing.
Clues that a cat has conjunctivitis (often nicknamed pinkeye) include squinting, redness, tearing or a yellow or green discharge. Conjunctivitis can be infectious – caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi – or noninfectious. Infectious cases are usually caused by chlamydophila, mycoplasma or feline herpesvirus (which can be transmitted to other cats, but not to humans). These cats may have respiratory infections as well.
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Noninfectious causes of the problem can be eye defects such as eyelids that turn inward. Persian cats sometimes have this condition. Allergies and irritation of the eyelid by sand or dust are other causes of noninfectious conjunctivitis. It can take time to determine the cause of conjunctivitis, but in the meantime, your veterinarian may proceed on the assumption that it’s infectious and prescribe a topical or oral antibiotic.
Always give the complete amount of medication prescribed. Don’t stop if you see improvement, thinking you’ll save the antibiotics for the next flare-up. The infection can worsen if you don’t give it the old one-two punch. Some cats have chronic (recurring) conjunctivitis, but reducing stress and providing good nutrition, preventive care and treatment as needed may help to keep it under control. If conjunctivitis doesn’t improve, your veterinarian may recommend diagnostic tests or refer you to a veterinary ophthalmologist.
Pet Connection is produced by pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton.