Conjunctivitis in Cats

Conjunctivitis, the inflammation of the eye membranes, is a common occurrence in cats with many suffering chronic problems over long periods of time as it comes and goes. Congenital defects such as blocked tear ducts, infection, facial conformation - such as the Persian face - and scarring from previous infections are all contributors to conjunctivitis. However, the most common cause of this kind of inflammation in cats is infection with a Herpes virus.

Cats Get Herpes?

In cats, Herpes, also called rhinotracheitis, is an upper respiratory virus and is one of the components of the combination upper respiratory panleukopenia (feline distemper) vaccine that is given to kittens. The vaccine does not prevent Herpes infections, but it does reduce the severity of the disease. Nearly all cats are exposed to Herpes virus as kittens and for most cats, there are no further problems. However, Herpes lies dormant for long periods of time waiting for the immune system to be at the right place for an attack. Stress suppresses the immune system, so a cat under stress will be susceptible to a Herpes attack. Herpes usually attacks only one eye and it is extremely painful. The eye becomes red and waters a lot, causing the cat to become very sensitive to light.

The best treatment for Herpes in a cat is l-lysine, an amino acid that is readily available in the health food store and is not expensive to buy. The dosage is 500mg twice a day for five days, which is needed to knock Herpes virus out of commission. After you get a handle on the conjunctivitis, then maintenance with Lysine is 250mg per day given indefinitely.

Other Causes for Conjunctivitis

There are other causes for conjunctivitis in cats. Allergies induced by pollens or grasses, and infections from viruses, bacteria, or fungi are some reasons for conjunctivitis. The symptoms that arise from the irritation include severe redness and a "meaty" appearance of the conjunctiva. As fluid builds up in the eye it causes an increase in the size and number of blood vessels within the tissue. The eye begins to discharge, or weep.

The discharge can appear in a number of consistencies, from watery to thick and mucous. As a rule, eye infections in cats that are caused by bacteria, fungi, etc., create a thick yellow or greenish discharge with the eyelid often sticking together. This is caused by the excretion of white cells sent to the area to fight the infection. If the cause is allergies, the discharge will likely be clear and watery. Whatever the cause, conjunctivitis is often painful and you will likely find your cat rubbing his face against your leg or on the carpet to relieve the discomfort.

Not Life Threatening - But Certainly Serious

Although conjunctivitis and eye infections are not life threatening, if they become advanced and remain untreated, the cat could lose his sight and the infection can spread and affect other areas of the eye. Corneal ulcers are another complication that is caused by eye infections. As with humans, some forms of conjunctivitis can be passed on, so they're nothing to fool with.

Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Any case of conjunctivitis requires immediate attention. It may be necessary for the vet to take a culture to determine the cause of the infection and to decide what course of treatment is necessary. Usually eye drops or ointments are the drugs of choice to treat conjunctivitis. Eye drops are watery solutions that have to be put into the cat's eyes every few hours. Ointments usually last longer and only require application two or three times a day.

If the cause of the problem is allergies, then medications having anti-inflammatories like hydrocortisones, are given. If the cause is an infection, then a bactericidal or fungicidal ointment will be prescribed. Additionally, oral antibiotics may be used. Although it can take a couple of weeks for the cat to fully recover, most cases do respond well to the treatment.