You’ve seen the suffix -itis tacked on to the end of many medical conditions, but do you know what it means? It means inflammation of. So, when your vet says your cat has conjunctivitis—more commonly known as pinkeye—he’s telling you that your pet’s conjunctiva is inflamed.
The conjunctiva is a mucous membrane that lines eyelids and coats the eyeballs. The pale pink conjunctiva on feline eyelids isn’t normally visible, but it typically becomes visible with conjunctivitis.
Causes of Conjunctivitis in Cats
Conjunctivitis is one of the most common feline ocular problems. It’s generally thought of as an infection, and it often is, but the inflammation can also have non-infectious causes. Allergies are often to blame for non-infectious conjunctivitis, and it can also be a symptom of an eye tumor. It may also occur along with entropion, which is the congenital turning in of the eyelids that affects certain longhair breeds like Persians and Himalayans.
Pinkeye also results from bacterial, viral, and fungal infections in the eye. Rarely, conjunctivitis results from worms in the eye or other parasitic infections. Streptococci and Staphylococci are the usual bacterial suspects, and calicivirus, rhinotracheitis, and the feline herpes virus are common viral causes.
Symptoms of Conjunctivitis in Cats
The genius behind the name “pinkeye” lies in the fact that a pinkish eye tint is a hallmark symptom of the condition. Fluid accumulation in the eye and excessive blinking or squinting also tend to accompany conjunctivitis in cats. Additionally, you may notice a cloudy, yellow, or greenish discharge from the eye, and conjunctivitis frequently goes hand in hand with upper respiratory infections.
Diagnosis of Conjunctivitis in Cats
Vets generally diagnoses conjunctivitis with a physical examination and your description of the symptoms you’ve observed. He’ll quickly exclude some other possible problems, like a blocked tear duct, foreign matter in the eye, an eye injury, and a corneal ulcer.
Usually, unless there’s reason to think differently, bacterial or viral pinkeye is assumed at the beginning. Treatment proceeds under that assumption, and if it doesn’t work, cultures and other tests are then used to diagnose the underlying cause of the conjunctivitis.
Treatment of Conjunctivitis in Cats
The first line of treatment for feline pinkeye is an ophthalmic medication containing broad-spectrum antibiotics and a topical or anti-inflammatory drug like corticosteroids. Some products contain two active ingredients to provide both effects. For more severe cases, oral antibiotics may be prescribed along with the topical ophthalmic solution.
When treating your cat, remember to follow your vet’s instructions precisely. It’s important to complete the prescribed regimen, even if your kitty seems better; symptoms of an infection usually clear up before the infection itself has been fully eliminated. If possible, enlist a second person to help you administer eye drops. It’s a lot easier if one person holds your cat and one gives the eye drops.
If treatment is unsuccessful after several days, your vet will probably perform a culture to identify the specific cause of the conjunctivitis. This allows a more targeted medication to be prescribed, and it also lets your vet know if the condition isn’t infectious. If it isn’t, your vet will help you identify potential allergens.