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)


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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Feline Conjunctivitis — 5 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.


  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.

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