Cat with eye infection

Key takeaway

If your cat has red, swollen eyes, it may be that he or she is suffering from an eye infection. Cat eye problems may be caused by allergies or a result of conjunctivitis, but in some cases, eye problems may indicate a viral or bacterial infection. Quick treatment is essential for your cat’s eye health. 

Cat Eye Infections: What to Watch for

A cat’s eyes are usually the first thing you notice about them, so if something’s off with their eyes, it’s easy to tell. If their usual bright and clear eyes are now red and swollen, it’s likely an indication that they’re suffering from an eye infection.

Cat eye infections are very common, but the symptoms of an infection in the eye can be a result of a host of health concerns, so it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis from a veterinarian. In some cases, eye inflammation may resolve on its own, but it can also be a sign of a more serious illness. Eye infections can quickly become an emergency so prompt care is important.

As a cat owner, it’s crucial to be aware of the signs and symptoms of a cat eye infection so that you can know if it’s something you can treat at home, or if you should bring them to the vet. Getting your kitty the treatment they need is critical to ensure they maintain good eye health and their sight.

We’ve compiled a guide that covers everything there is to know about cat eye infections, from the causes of cat eye infections to cat eye infection treatment. Continue reading, or use the links below to jump to the section of your choice, so you can know what to do if your cat wakes up one day with gunk in their eyes.

Symptoms of Eye Infections in Cats

The symptoms of a cat eye infection will vary depending on the cause of the infection. For instance, the symptoms of conjunctivitis will look slightly different than the symptoms of allergies. 

But regardless of the root cause of the eye infection, common symptoms of eye infections in cats include:

  • Redness in the whites of the eyes

  • Watery eyes

  • Eye discharge

  • Squinting

  • Rubbing eyes incessantly

  • Drooping or swollen eyelid

Common symptoms of eye infections in cats

If you notice any of these symptoms, take your cat to the vet as soon as possible. The only way to properly treat an eye infection is with correct diagnosis, as the symptoms may be the result of other health conditions.

Causes of Eye Problems in Cats

There are a variety of reasons that could be causing your cat’s eye problems, and red, swollen eyes don’t necessarily indicate infections. Typically, the causes of eye problems in cats are broken up into two categories: an infectious disease or a non-infectious underlying condition. We’ll get into more detail about the various causes below:

Allergies

Just like humans, cats can get allergies too. Cat skin allergies can cause watery or running eyes, excessive itching or scratching, sudden snoring, and even diarrhea. Some common cat allergens include fleas, pollen, chemicals, smoke, and shampoo. 

The symptoms your cat will exhibit from an allergic reaction depends on what they’re allergic to. For example, a cat with a food allergy will have vomiting and diarrhea, while a cat with atopic dermatitis (environmental allergies) will have skin inflammation and hair loss. It’s important to figure out exactly what your cat is allergic to so that you can find the correct treatment for them.

In order to treat allergies in cats, a proper diagnosis must be made by your vet. A diagnosis will include blood, urine, or fecal tests to rule out bacteria or parasites as the cause and an allergen test to identify the type of allergy. Additionally, your vet will likely run one or more eye tests. As for treating allergies, eye drops or ointments will likely be prescribed to reduce inflammation.

Bacterial infection

Various bacterial infections can cause your cat to have eye problems, especially in young cats. There are a host of bacteria that can lead to infections, such as Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, E. coli, Salmonella, and Clostridium. Symptoms of a bacterial infection in cats include red eyes, excessive winking, rubbing eyes, and eye discharge. Older cats with weaker immune systems are more susceptible to getting a bacterial infection. Some other risk factors of bacterial infections in cats include: poor diet, underlying illness, viral infections, and exposure to other infected animals.

An accurate diagnosis must be made in order to find the right treatment for the bacterial infection that’s causing the eye infection. Your vet will examine both eyes to check for symptoms. Additional eye, blood, and urine tests might also be necessary to get the most accurate diagnosis and to determine what exactly is causing the infection. An oral antibiotic may be prescribed to treat a bacterial infection, but topical medication and pain medication can also be used depending on the cause of the infection.

Viral infection

Certain viral infections in cats, such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), Feline Herpesvirus (FHV), and Feline Calicivirus (FCV), can also cause eye infections. FIV is a virus that weakens a cat’s immune system and makes them more susceptible to getting sick. Symptoms include fever, poor appetite, inflammation around the eyes, and swollen lymph nodes. FIV is typically transmitted between cats, either through a bite wound, saliva, or blood. It can also be transmitted from a mother cat to her kittens.

Feline herpes is a main cause of eye infections in cats. Some cats show symptoms of the virus, while others will show no symptoms because the virus is dormant in their system. Symptoms can happen at any time, especially when a cat is stressed. Common symptoms of feline herpes include coughing, runny nose, and swelling and inflammation of the outer lining of the eye.

There is no cure for feline herpes, but symptoms can be managed with the right treatment. Eye drops and topical ointment are usually recommended to reduce symptoms. It’s also important to reduce stress in your cat as stress can trigger symptoms.

Feline Calicivirus is a virus that can cause upper respiratory, oral, and eye infections in cats. Symptoms of FCV include sneezing, discharge from the eyes, excessive drooling, and ulcers on the lips and nose. FCV is transmitted between cats through bodily secretions, but it can also be transmitted in the air when a cat sneezes. It can survive on surfaces for up to a week, so if you have more than one cat, it’s crucial to keep them separated if one of them comes down with FCV. The symptoms of FCV, such as secondary bacterial infections and inflammation can be treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication. 

Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is one of the most common cat eye infections. Conjunctivitis, or pink eye as it’s commonly known, is an inflammation of the mucous membrane on the outer surface of the eye. Conjunctivitis can be caused by foreign bodies entering the eye or by a bacterial infection, a viral infection, allergies, hereditary conditions, ortumors. 

Symptoms of conjunctivitis include redness, sneezing, eye discharge, and frequent blinking. To diagnose conjunctivitis, a vet must first make sure it’s not being caused by a foreign body in the eye or a blocked tear duct. Conjunctivitis is usually easy to treat but if it goes untreated, it can lead to more serious eye problems, such as blindness. Eye drops and topical ointments are typically recommended for treatment, but in more severe cases, antiviral medication may also be needed.

Cat with one eye sewed shut

Blepharitis

Blepharitis is an inflammation of the eyelids and it can affect one or both eyes. It’s most common in flat-faced cats, like Persians and Himalayans. Blepharitis can be caused by allergies, tumors, infections, and other inflammatory disorders.

Symptoms of blepharitis typically include swelling of the eyelids, scratching at the eyes, eye discharge, and crusty areas around the eyes. It can be treated with topical ointments and eye drops, or in more severe cases, oral antibiotics. A warm compress can also be applied to the eyes to soothe symptoms. 

Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca

Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KSC)is dry eye. Often KCS is associated with secondary bacterial infections.. Symptoms of KCS include excessive blinking, swollen eyes, reluctance to open eyes, inflammation of the eyelids, and light sensitivity. Dry eyes can be very uncomfortable for your kitty, so it’s crucial to find the right treatment. Eye drops will usually be prescribed, and if an infection is present, antibiotics will also be needed.

Feline Upper Respiratory Infections

Certain upper respiratory infections can cause cat eye infections. Symptoms typically include eye discharge, redness in the eyes, nasal discharge, sneezing, and increased squinting of the eyes. Some feline upper respiratory infections will resolve on their own, but your vet may prescribe oral antibiotics or topical eye ointment depending on the severity of the infection. 

Certain upper respiratory infections can cause cat eye infections.

Uveitis

Uveitis is the inflammation of one or more internal structures of the eye. Cancer, trauma, immune problems, or infections can cause this inflammation. Symptoms of uveitis include redness, sensitivity to light, and watery eyes. The color of your cat’s iris may also appear altered or cloudy. Uveitis can be treated with topical eye medication or systemic medication to reduce symptoms and alleviate pain.

Cancer, trauma, immune problems, or infections can cause Uveitis.

Epiphora (watery, teary eyes)

Epiphora, or watery, teary eyes, can be caused by blocked tear ducts, an overproduction of tears, allergies, viral conjunctivitis, and more. If a cat’s watery eyes are due a blocked nasolacrimal duct, a special instrument will need to be inserted into the duct to flush out the contents. Topical eye medications and anti-inflammatory drugs can also be used to reduce symptoms.

Treating a Cat’s Eye Infection

The right cat eye infection treatment ultimately depends on the root cause of the infection. There are various ways you can go about treating a cat’s eye infection, such as:

  • Cleaning your cat’s eyes
    • The best cat eye infection home remedy is to just clean your cat’s eyes yourself to get rid of eye discharge. Eye discharge can accumulate in your cat’s eyes and be quite uncomfortable for them, so it’s important to do this regularly if your cat is experiencing any eye discharge. You can do this with a cotton ball to wipe away the discharge. Gently wipe starting from the outside of the eye and make sure to use a fresh cotton ball on each eye. Never touch the eyeball itself. If the discharge is not easily cleared away, then do not wipe harder and seek care from a veterinarian.
  • Medication
    • Topical treatments, including ointments or drops, should be applied directly onto a cat’s eyes. You may need a second person to help to properly apply the medication to your cat’s eyes.
    • Oral antibiotics, which are usually only prescribed if an infection is present.
  • Treating root cause
    • If your cat’s eye infection is a result of an underlying condition, your vet may prescribe oral antibiotics, which may also clear the eye infection.

Cat Eye Infection: Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can I treat my cat's eye infection?

There are various ways you can go about treating your cat’s eye infection, depending on what’s causing it and how severe it is. In some cases, cat eye infections will resolve on their own, but otherwise a vet will likely prescribe either eye drops or topical ointment. In more severe cases, oral antibiotics may be needed to address an underlying condition that’s causing the eye infection.

Cat meowing in pain

  • How can I treat my cat’s eye infection at home?

Never touch the eyeball itself. If the discharge is not easily cleared away, then do not wipe harder and seek care from a veterinarian.

  • Will a cat eye infection heal on its own?

Minor cat eye infections will clear up on their own without treatment, but it’s still important to keep a close eye on your cat’s symptoms to track if they get better. If the eye infection does not improve within 2 weeks, take your cat to the vet to rule out the possibility of a more serious eye condition.

  • What does a cat eye infection look like?

A cat eye infection will look like redness in the whites of the eye accompanied by discharge that can either be watery or thick. Excessive blinking, sensitivity to light, and inflamed eyelids are also possible symptoms. It’s a good idea to look at cat eye infection pictures so that you can be aware of what it looks like in the chance your cat has one.

Final Notes

An eye infection can be quite painful for your kitty, so it's important to get them the proper treatment they need. If you start to notice redness and discharge in your cat’s eyes that doesn’t resolve on its own, bring them to the vet as soon as possible. Treating a cat eye infection is crucial for the comfort of your cat, but also to ensure the infection isn’t a symptom of a more serious condition.

If you’re having difficulty making an appointment with your veterinarian, Dutch is here to help you get the care you need. Dutch is an online telehealth veterinarian service that partners with a network of licensed vets who can help diagnose and treat a host of different cat health conditions. 

Duts vets can help with everything from diagnosing an itchy cat to prescribing treatment for a cat ear infection, so your cat can go back to their happy and healthy selves as quickly as possible. All you have to do is sign up online and you’ll be connected with a vet and on your way to getting the treatment your cat needs at a reasonable price.