Feline Conjunctivitis

by Michael
(London, UK)

Barn Kitten with conjunctivitis - photo Lee (Flickr). I have used this sad picture before.

Barn Kitten with conjunctivitis - photo Lee (Flickr). I have used this sad picture before.

Barn Kitten with conjunctivitis - photo Lee (Flickr). I have used this sad picture before. Spot of conjunctivitis - photo Jennifer Lamb (Flickr) Another cat with conjunctivitis - calico cat - photo sg4w (Flickr)

Feline conjunctivitis is inflammation of the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is a clear mucous membrane consisting of cells and underlying basement membrane that covers the sclera (white part of the eye) and lines the inside of the eyelids1. "Itis" means inflammed in medical parlance. It is one of the most common health problems that cats have with their eyes3.

What causes the inflammation? Usually viral or bacterial infections. Other non-infectious agents that can cause inflammation are: tumors, dermoids (cysts of mature skin and hair and other tissue), trauma, foreign bodies, allergic disease, fungal infection (rare) and pre-corneal tear film abnormalities.

The most common viral infectious agent is Feline Herpes Virus (FHV). A common baterial infection is caused by Chlamydia psittaci (30% of cases perhaps). The Feline calicivirus can also cause feline conjunctivitis. When one eye is first inflamed and then a second this indicates a bacterial infection (Chlamydia or Mycoplasma). Conversely if both eyes are involved a viral infection is indicated3.


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The inflamed eye will look red and swollen. There is usually a watery discharge "as a result of pain"2. If the discharge is yellow and sticky it indicates a bacterial infection. Feline conjunctivitis is not painful to the cat (this conflicts with the above)3. The eye is irritated and may itch. The cat may paw at the eye for this reason. If the eye is painful to touch the condition might be: keratitis (the eye's cornea, the front part of the eye, becomes inflamed1), uveitis (inflammation of the middle layer of the eye1) or glaucoma (a disease in which the optic nerve is damaged, leading to progressive, irreversible loss of vision1).

Treatment for bacterial infections is administering antibiotics which is effective in for individual cats. An ointment is applied to the eye at regular intervals. Multi-cat households are harder to treat. Antiviral eye medication will be prescribed by a vet if needed.

Mild forms can be treated at home. The eye(s) should be cleaned with a dilute solution of boric acid for ophthalmic use or a sterile ophthalmic irrigating solution for people (buy over the counter). Improvement should occur within 24 hours and if not a trip to the vet is needed3.

New born kittens can contract feline conjunctivitis before their eyes open after 10-12 days. Infectious agents or bacteria can enter the closed eye. FHV can also affect a new born kitten by being transmitted through the mother's milk or at birth.

Feline Conjunctivitis - associated pages:

Feline Eye Disease (new window)

Feline Herpes Virus (new window)

Notes:

1. Verbatim quote Wikipedia authors
2. Veterinary Notes for Cat Owners by Trevor Turner DVM and Jean Turner VN
3. Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook by Drs Carlson and Giffin

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Comments

Feline Conjunctivitis — 13 Comments

  1. My cat is 18, a former diabetic. She had about a week ago what appeared to be haws, but the eye has since become infected. I can’t afford to take her to the vet so I’ve been treating her with golden seal and eyebright. We had fleas in the early part of the year, so I’m thinking that parasites could be the initial problem(?).I could afford the $3. pill to rid her of the potential parasites…would this be helpful? Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks, Donna

    • Donna, I’ll do some work on this in about 8 hours. I’ll add the information to this comment. Thanks for visiting.

      Update: Personally, I don’t think parasites are the initial cause of the problem. Are you sure the eye is infected? There are a lot eye diseases. It could be an eye problem rather than an infection.

      Haw syndrome is when the third eyelid protrudes. I am sure you know that. Apparently it is “frequently” preceded by a gastrointestinal illness. I am not sure if this is relevant but if your cat has a gastrointestinal illness (presumed from haws) and an eye infection (observed by you), this may point to an underlying illness. Is your cat eating and defecating normally?

      The painful point that I am coming to is that in this instance there is no substitute to taking your to the vet. It is just guesswork otherwise. Sorry that I cannot be more helpful. I would love to help and wish you and your cat the best of luck.

      Michael

  2. Pingback: Is Cat Conjunctivitis Contagious To Dogs? | Pictures of Cats

  3. Maybe someone can help, I have 2yr old domestic longhair male, he has one of his eyes which runs sometimes and when he stares he kind of squints with his left eye the same one that’s running, do anyone have any suggestions on what the problem might be.

    • Hi Carl, thanks for visiting and asking. Of course your best bet is to take your cat to a vet but I’ll summarise what the Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook says for “watery discharge from eyes”:

      1. Acute viral respiratory infection. This is a bit like a human common cold. You cannot avoid seeing a vet about this.
      2. Conjunctivitis. Well, you have the information about that on this page.

      That is it. It is probably caused by a viral and/or bacterial infection and your vet can decide how to treat it. Bacterial infections require antibiotic treatment usually. Viral infections require a bundle of treatments a bit like treating a person with a cold.

  4. I think my formerly feral cat, Colby, has conjunctivitis in her left eye which has been dead, and not a problem, for over 12 years. Vet care is not possible due to the fact that I am not able to catch or pick up this cat even though she lives indoors exclusively and likes to be combed and petted. Sedation delivered via food would make it possible, but the vet won’t dispense the drug until AFTER they have seen the cat. You see the problem. So, I’m on my own trying to figure out what is wrong with her eye and what to do about it. I suspect she also suffers from hyperthyroidism and renal issues, but she was enjoying life until this eye problem started.

    The only thing I’ve been able to do for her is try to bolster her immune system by adding colostrum and a whole food form of vitamin C to her food. This seems to help a little, but I think the situation is going critical nonetheless. She seems withdrawn now, maybe just sick of it all, or maybe in pain. She’s still eating and drinking, purring etc., but has retreated to her favorite spot on the bathroom counter where I am now feeding, watering, and toileting her in very low light. Thankfully, her other eye seems okay.

    She dislikes me even gently wiping the goo from her eye with a warm moist gauze pad, so eye rinses are probably out. Do you have any suggestions for other supplements I could add to her food to strengthen her immune system and/or more directly treat her?

    I know very little about conjunctivitis and I’m only assuming that’s what this is. The online info just doesn’t address how this might present in an eye that is already dead. Her eye most resembles the pictures I’ve seen of conjunctivitis, but it rapidly cycles through stages where a glob of tissue grows out of the inner corner toward the center of the eye, then gets very red, then bleeds, then sloughs, then appears calm, then the next day it starts all over again. Does that sound like conjunctivitis? And in the last few days pus started coming out of the eye, although that may be getting somewhat better if the reduced odor and volume is any indication. I’ve noticed that since the pus started she seems to have lost a tiny bit of nasal congestion that she’d had, and I think that she is no longer favoring her left ear. It appears to me that the dead eyeball is still intact behind that burgeoning tissue in the inner corner of her eye. Any thoughts or suggestions you have for healing her or even just keeping her comfortable would be most welcome. Thank you. ~Sue~

    • Hi Sue, I am very sorry but this needs a vet. It is too serious. I have a page on conjunctivitis (pinkeye):

      http://cat-chitchat.pictures-of-cats.org/2011/05/cat-pink-eye.html

      And on L-lysine and other ways to alleviate symptoms:

      http://pictures-of-cats.org/alleviating-the-symptoms-of-cat-upper-respiratory-infections.html

      I don’t like the sound of the word “bleeding”. I don’t know, but you may have to check for a tumor. A wild guess.

      L-Lysine is a food supplement which reduces herpes virus replication but it takes 6 weeks for real benefits and I think your cat’s problem is urgent. Sorry.

      • Thanks for your reply Michael. Believe me, I wish I could access vet care for Colby. I know how serious this is. It’s tearing me to pieces, breaking my heart. I love this cat deeply and would pay any fee without protest if I could just get her to the vet. Without prior sedation it simply is not possible; I can’t even get her into a carrier. No, she will NOT go into a live trap — remembers it from when I trapped her in the woods. She needed to be seen by a vet a few years ago and I let her go hungry for 4 days, her only food source in that trap, and she still would not go in. She hasn’t been seen by a vet in 12 years. So far, vets haven’t been willing to work with legislators re: the need to sometimes prescibe for an animal BEFORE it is seen in order to make it possible for the animal to be brought in to the vet. It’s a catch-22: I need the sedative in order to even get the cat to the vet, but my vet won’t dispense it until after the cat has seen the vet. All in all I’m VERY disgusted with the utter failure of the vet profession to deal with this feral cat issue realistically.

        I don’t think Colby has a tumor unless it is in the inner corner of her eye. That could be the glob that grows, bleeds, sheds etc as I described. When I say “sheds” I mean this: the over-grown glob of tissue gets bigger and bigger, redder and redder, then falls off and starts re-growing. Every other day or so I find a clump of tissue and/or clotted blood lying there in her bed. The dead eye itself is not bulging, just that visible tissue in the corner of the eye near the tear ducts. The bulge does not appear to be originating from behind that tissue; it appears to be a superficial overgrowth of that tissue in the corner of the eye. Before this illness, the “normal” appearance of that tissue was sort of a shrunken shiny black, and the rest of the dead eyeball itself appeared white. Stayed that way for at least 12 yrs with no problem.

        Colby’s appetite has picked up again today, but is not back to normal. She also seems more alert. The eye looks no worse, maybe even a bit drier. Slight odor not of pus but something like old garbage. I hope the odor is coming from the gunk smeared on her cheek that she won’t let me clean, instead of from the eye/ear/nose. I’m continuing to give the colostrum and vit C in anything I can disguise it in: sour cream, kefir, yogurt, baby food etc., even a little bacon grease. More research this AM indicates bee propolis might help too, is said to be both antibacterial and antiviral. I think it is used internally, as is raw honey, mixed with water. I’ve also read of using the honey water as an eyewash.

        I came across a weird home remedy for conjunctivitis and wonder if you’ve heard of it: half purified water and half apple cider vinegar ( the natural, unpasteurized kind with the bacterial “mother” in it, like Bragg brand) applied not to the eye but rubbed into the skin BETWEEN THE SHOULDER BLADES. A similar wash that can be used topically on the eye calls for only 2 teaspoons of the unpasteurized ACV in 1 Cup of purified water. Beware of distilled water, because although it is very pure I’ve heard it is more acidic than un-distilled, and this might matter in some way. Anyway, some online commenters swear by the ACV remedy applied between the shoulder blades. I probably will try that if I can sneak it onto Colby while I’m brushing her. If this really works I suspect it does so via one of two routes: either there is an acupressure point in that location that when stimulated by the rubbing helps speed healing, or perhaps this is a case of triggering the reflexive connection between skeletal muscle and organs. This system seems to get too little consideration in health/healing issues for humans or animals. If you want to know more about it in humans, search “Chapman’s Reflexes” or similar term.

        I want to offer some encouragement to your readers to try more home remedy type treatments in difficult cases where vet treatment is not working or is inaccessible or unaffordable. Over the decade I fed homeless cat colonies I used food supplements extensively to help when they were injured or ill, as a means of supporting and enhancing their own immune responses. I had amazing results most of the time and began to question the reflexive reliance on alopathic vet care. Honestly, most of those cats were healthier than most domestic cats I know despite being un-vaccinated and without parasite treatments etc. That said, where an animal’s eyesight is endangered I absolutely recommend seeing the vet if at all possible, preferably an opthalmologist, and at the very first signs of illness.

        It may already be too late for Colby even if I could get vet care. Her general condition is declining due to her other issues and I know in my gut that the stress of all the examining, testing, and handling for meds etc would probably finish her. I notice that being kept absolutely quiet in my darkened bathroom does seem to make her feel better; those conditions are totally opposite the frenetic, loud, overly bright clinic areas I’ve seen in every vet clinic I’ve ever visited. So, unless we get a miracle or find an independent-minded vet who can put my cat ahead of his/her fear that the single dose of sedative they prescribe might be diverted to human drug abuse, Colby and I will continue as we have. I know that she will die from this without proper medical intervention, so my tentative plan is to keep doing what I’m doing for her and wait it out. As long as she’s eating and responsive I will assume that her pain is tolerable. When she goes down far enough that her consciousness is compromised and she won’t be able to realize a stranger’s presence, then I will have the euthanasia vet come to the house and end her suffering.

        It sickens me to know that despite my ability to pay and my willingness to jump through all the hoops to access care, I still cannot even get something as common as tetracycline to try to help my cat, and that she must be left to suffer and then die without medical help. There is something seriously wrong with the way vets do business in this day and age and I am thoroughly disgusted with the profession. I speak from both physical and emotional exhaustion here, but I mean it when I say that the only good thing about losing my remaining pets will be that I won’t have to deal with vets anymore.

        Lastly, I noticed on another thread that you have had some difficult times with your cat Charlie. I hope he is improving with the treatment your vet is using. Whether he is or not, please consider the colostrum and vitamin C supplements I mentioned. I know that cats and dogs make their own vitamin C, but I’ve learned that when they are sick or seriously injured this process seems to get impaired. At those times the Vit C supplement can make a huge difference.

        For years I used the calcium ascorbate crystals for the vit C because that form is less acidic than ascorbic acid and thus, supposedly safer for cats. Meant for human doses, most of those products provide somewhere around 5 grams of vit C per teaspoon, waaay more than a cat needs, so you would literally need only the smallest pinch for a cat. I would just press my dry fingertip into the powder and pick up a small amount to mix into a little water, then into the food. Recently I found a whole food type product made by HealthForce Nutritionals (healthforce.com) called Truly Natural Vitamin C. It is available in a small quantity, about $4.00 for all you’d need for a very long time. It’s a fine pinkish powder that can be softened, dissolved in water for easy mixing. I use only small amounts of this powder too, although the vit C content is much lower than with the ascorbate powder. I think this might be better than the calcium ascorbate for cats.

        I would also encourage you to look into feeding Charlie some raw high quality organic beef that you grind at home. Start with a small piece of sirloin and grind; how much to grind it will depend on your cat’s preferences and dentition. Let it stay out of the fridge, covered, for about 15 min before serving to reduce the chill. Do not microwave or heat as this will destroy the raw, natural enzymes that cats need. When I feed this I serve it in repeated small amounts (approx a tablespoon full at a time) at one feeding until they will take no more. I do this to keep the meat moist, and thus the enzymes intact, as it tends to dry out quickly if the cat doesn’t eat it right away. It may take an introduction period before the cat will eat it readily. Adding this to my cats’ diets has helped immensely, particularly with skin issues. I also feed each of them one water-packed sardine every other day. If your cat has constipation issues, you can use the soybean oil packed variety as the soy oil will loosen their stools.

        Finally, I encourage you to research vacinosis as a possible underlying cause for what is ailing Charlie. There is no doubt in my mind that we over-vaccinate our pets. In my town pets are supposed to be vaccinated for rabies every year or two depending on the vaccine used. In over thirty years of cat guardianship I have routinely had their titers run to see if they needed vaccination, and not one time have they ever actually needed more than one rabies shot to achieve immunity. During that time I’ve had cats die of vaccine side effects, go lame in their hind quarters and/or develop phobias ( for some reason, especially about loud noises like thunder )immediately after vaccination, and die of injection site sarcoma. The only vaccine I see as truly necessary for indoor cats is the combo URI vaccine, and possibly the feline leuk vaccine. Just my opinion.

        You may also want to look into Dr. Pitcairn’s book on homeopathy for cats and dogs. If I recall, he discusses how to deal with vaccine related illnesses as well as natural approaches to achieving and maintaining health in cats and dogs. Perhaps some of his suggestions, coupled with Charlie’s vet treatments will help. I hope so.

        Best of luck to you and Charlie, from Colby and me. Please post about how Charlie is doing, or if you learn of anything else that might help my Colby cat. Thanks.~SUE~

        • OMG, Sue.
          I know you have tried trapping before. Sometimes, it works to rig a trap to stay open in sight and feed inside, so a cat gets used to seeing it and goes in/out freely. Putting catnip inside is even better. Then, slam it shut.
          Her eye condition sounds, possibly, staph to me and very treatable if you can get her in to the vet to get meds. If you can’t and you are in the USA, I can give you some sites that will provide antibiotics without a prescription. The kicker is that you can’t be opposed to giving injections.

        • Wow, a monster comment but a fine comment. Thank you.

          You say:

          When I say “sheds” I mean this: the over-grown glob of tissue gets bigger and bigger, redder and redder, then falls off and starts re-growing. Every other day or so I find a clump of tissue and/or clotted blood lying there in her bed.

          This seems to be a reference to the nictitating membrane (third eyelid). Am I correct? That is the only tissue in that part of the eye other than the skin around the eye.

          Might the tissue behind the eyeball be infected (an abscess)? There may be bleeding behind the eye. There could be a tumor there which has not grown sufficiently to cause protrusion.

          Either that or the third eyelid is very inflammed.

          I have not read of bleeding accompanying conjunctivitis.

          I’d love to help but am helpless in truth. It is not possible like this.

          Is not possible for a vet to come out and sedate Colby? Vets should come out to the home if needs be.

          You are aware that you are looking at the possibility (only a possibility) at some time in future of humane euthanasia.

          My Charlie is dead. He had a tumor behind his eye and he became quite ill. It hurt me terribly to say goodbye. I had excellent advice.

          Thanks though for your advice.

          If you have some really nice home treatments please email me with the information and I’ll make an article or two from it. Here is my email address:

          mjbmeister@gmail.com

          Good luck.

          • Michael, I am so sorry to hear of Charlie’s passing, but glad that you have the comfort of knowing that you provided him the best care available. Sometimes, knowing that we did all that we could, and that we provided them with a peaceful death, just has to be enough. I wish you and Charlie had been blessed with the outcome you desired, but I guess it just wasn’t to be.

            Thank you for taking the time to read my lengthy comment. It was sort of a core dump of my thoughts and experiences. After finishing I wanted to edit it, but there was no time left; I had to post and go.

            I will keep you in mind if I come across any compelling home remedies, but at the moment I think I have shared pretty much everything I know in my earlier comment.

            As for the home visit option, without sedation prior to the arrival of the vet, it just will not work. And I am almost certain that after such a visit, Colby would not let me near her again to administer whatever meds are prescribed. I know what this means, but I’m trying to stay hopeful and project confidence that this will all turn out alright.

            • You are in a very tough predicament. I wish you and Colby the very best. Charlie’s passing was as traumatic as the others. It was months of illness ending with the turmoil of euthanasia. It almost stopped me caring for a cat again.

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