Conjunctivitis in Cats: What to Watch for

Key takeaway

 Conjunctivitis in cats is the most common feline eye disorder. Most cats will experience conjunctivitis at some point in their lives, but it may clear up on its own and does not always require medical treatment.

There are few things more painful than having an irritated eye. It seems like no matter what you do, you just can’t seem to shake that itchy, uncomfortable feeling. And no matter how hard you try to ignore it, the pain is always lingering in the back of your mind. This eye discomfort is called conjunctivitis, or pink eye.

But did you know that cats can get conjunctivitis, too? Just like humans, cats can develop that same discomfort in their eyes that doesn’t seem to go away, except a cat can’t tell you when their eyes are irritated. You have to be able to identify it for them. 

Conjunctivitis in cats is a common feline eye disorder and can be very uncomfortable and painful for your feline friend. In severe cases, conjunctivitis in cats can lead to more serious eye problems, including blindness. This is why it’s important to be aware of the conjunctivitis in cats symptoms and to keep a close eye on your kitty to see if their symptoms resolve on their own. If your cat’s symptoms do not get better, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.

The symptoms of conjunctivitis in cats can be the result of a host of health concerns, so getting an accurate diagnosis from a veterinarian is essential. The cause of conjunctivitis in cats can either be from an infectious or noninfectious underlying condition, both of which will require different treatment methods to resolve. Your vet will have the best idea of the primary  cause of the conjunctivitis so that you can take the proper steps to treat it.

We’ve compiled a guide  about conjunctivitis in cats so that you know what to do if your cat wakes up one morning with red, swollen eyes. We’ll be discussing conjunctivitis in cats symptoms, causes of conjunctivitis in cats, feline conjunctivitis treatment, and more. Please continue reading or use the links below to skip to a section of your choice.

What is Conjunctivitis in Cats?

Conjunctivitis in cats is the inflammation of the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is a mucous membrane that lines the inner surface of a cat’s eyelids and covers the outer surface of the eyeball. Cats have a third eyelid, called the nictitating membrane, which is also covered by conjunctiva. 

Conjunctivitis in cats is the inflammation of the conjunctiva

Conjunctiva in a healthy cat should not be readily visible and should be a pale pink color. However, a cat with conjunctivitis will have a red and swollen conjunctiva, which makes it easy to identify. Conjunctivitis in cats can affect one or both eyes.

In addition to  red and swollen eyes, there are additional feline conjunctivitis  symptoms you should look out for, which we will get into more detail about below:

Symptoms of Conjunctivitis in Cats

  • Excessive tearing/watering
  • Redness in the whites of the eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Eye discharge
  • Squinting
  • Rubbing eyes incessantly
  • Drooping or swollen eyelid
  • Elevated third eyelid gland
symptoms of conjunctivitis

If you notice any of these symptoms, take your cat to the vet as soon as possible. Conjunctivitis can easily spread from one eye to the other, so it’s imperative to treat your cat quickly to prevent this from happening. If conjunctivitis is left untreated for a long period of time, it can also cause more severe issues.

The only way to properly treat conjunctivitis is with correct diagnosis, as the symptoms may be the result of other health conditions. Your vet will likely conduct a physical examination of your cat to rule out other eye conditions.

Causes of Conjunctivitis in Cats

There are a variety of causes of conjunctivitis in cats, which is why it’s crucial to see a veterinarian who can determine the  primary cause. The causes of conjunctivitis in cats is mainly broken up into two categories: infectious diseases and non-infectious conditions. 

Infectious Causes

Some of the most common infectious diseases that can lead to conjunctivitis in cats are:

  • Bacterial infection- Streptococci and Staphylococci are the most common bacterias that cause a bacterial infection in cats.
  • Viral infection- Feline Herpesvirus and calicivirus are often the initial cause of inflammation which leads to conjunctivitis. 
  • Fungus- Cryptococcus is a yeast-like fungus that’s commonly found in soil and can cause conjunctivitis in cats.  

Non-infectious Causes

There are a host of non-infectious conditions that can cause conjunctivitis in cats, such as:

  • Allergies- Allergies in cats can cause a variety of symptoms, including conjunctivitis. Excessive licking, scratching, and ear infection are other common signs of allergies.
  • Entropion- Certain cat breeds, such as Persians, Himalayans, and other long haired cats, may be born with entropion, which is when a portion of the eyelids fold inward against the eyeball. This can cause irritation and scratches to the cornea, which can be quite painful for your kitty.
  • Tumor- Both malignant and benign tumors can cause conjunctivitis in cats.
  • Foreign bodies- Foreign bodies, such as dirt and sand, can get stuck inside the eyeballs and lead to conjunctivitis. Exposure to irritant chemicals can also trigger conjunctivitis. 
non-infectious causes of conjunctivitis in cats

Treating Conjunctivitis in Cats

In some cases, conjunctivitis may resolve on its own without needing any medical attention. However, this depends on the severity and length of the symptoms. If your cat has conjunctivitis that doesn’t resolve on its own within 1 week, you should bring them to the vet to make sure the condition doesn’t get any worse.

The treatment that your vet suggests will depend on the severity of the conjunctivitis and their overall health condition. Infectious causes of conjunctivitis will require a much different treatment than non-infectious causes. With an infectious cause, your vet’s main concern will likely be treating the disease that is causing the eye irritation.

Your vet may recommend the following options for treating conjunctivitis in cats:

  • May resolve on its own
    •  If you bring your cat to the vet, they may just recommend letting your cat be as the conjunctivitis may resolve on its own. However, if their symptoms do not get better, you should bring them back to the vet so they can take another look.
  • Antibiotic eye drops
    • Conjunctivitis in itself can be treated with antibiotic eye drops, but the underlying cause of the conjunctivitis may require additional treatment, which your vet will prescribe. Eye drops will likely need to be given 3-6 times a day at the start of treatment.
  • Antibiotic ointments 
    • Topical antibiotic ointments are a common treatment for conjunctivitis in cats. Ointments are typically used to treat bacterial infections of the eyelids. As for the application of the ointment, you should gently wipe it inside the eyelid or on the eye, which can be difficult to do, so two people are typically required. Your vet will likely have tips on the best way to go about applying antibiotic ointments onto your cat's eyes. 
  • Antiviral drugs in the event of a virus 
    • In severe or poorly responsive cases, your vet may recommend antiviral drugs. Antiviral drugs are typically used if the conjunctivitis is a result of a virus. They are used to treat viral conditions, like Papillomatosis and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV).

Conjunctivitis in Cats: Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you treat conjunctivitis in cats?

There are various ways you can go about treating conjunctivitis in cats depending on the severity and root cause of the issue. Your vet will have the best idea of how to go about treating conjunctivitis in cats. They will likely prescribe either antibiotic eye drops or antibiotic ointments, or in severe cases, antiviral drugs.

  • Will conjunctivitis in cats go away by itself?

In  some cases, conjunctivitis in cats may resolve on its own with no medication at all. However, if your cat continues to show symptoms and experience discomfort for longer than 1 week, you should bring them to the vet to rule out the possibility of a more serious eye disorder.

  • How serious is conjunctivitis in cats?

Conjunctivitis in cats is fairly common and can be easily treated with the right medication.  If conjunctivitis goes untreated for a long period of time, it can lead to more serious eye problems, including blindness.

  • Is conjunctivitis in cats contagious?

Neither the infectious or non-infectious type of conjunctivitis in cats is contagious to people, however it can spread to other cats. A human can also spread conjunctivitis from cat to cat if they touch an infected cat and then touch a non-infected cat. If you have multiple cats, it’s best to keep the infected one in a separate room and thoroughly wash your hands after touching them to reduce the risk of spreading the infection.

Final Notes

When you take on the responsibility of being a cat owner, you’re also taking on the responsibility of treating your cat when they’re sick. From cat skin allergies to conjunctivitis in cats and kittens, your feline friend can suffer from a myriad of  health conditions, which is why it’s crucial to always have a vet on-hand who you can call when your cat is sick.

If you’re looking for a convenient and easy way to treat your cat’s health conditions, like conjunctivitis, look no further than Dutch.com. Dutch is an online telehealth service that provides pet owners with the care they need right from home. We partner with high qualified licensed veterinarians who can help diagnose and treat a variety of cat health conditions. Our vets can help with everything from diagnosing an itchy cat to treating cat diarrhea and will help you get the medication your cat needs to get better.

Whether you’re dealing with a cat ear infection or conjunctivitis in cats, we’re here to help with every step along the way. To get started, all you have to do is sign up online and you’ll be connected with a Dutch-affiliated vet within 24 hours. Once you meet with a vet and describe your cat’s symptoms, they will provide a proper diagnosis and prescribe you the correct medication. And the best part? You’ll get that medication delivered right to your door within 7 days, so you can be on your way to treating your sick kitty as quickly as possible.