Causes of Conjunctivitis in Cats
It’s typical for conjunctivitis in cats to have an infectious cause. The most common source is the viral infection, herpesvirus FHV-1. This virus can recur throughout your cat’s life, especially during times when she is highly stressed, on corticosteroids or if she has feline immunodeficiency virus.
Chlamydophila (a bacterial infection) is the second most common cause of conjunctivitis. Allergens and irritants, trauma to the eye, and disorders of the cornea, tear ducts or eyelid can also lead to conjunctivitis. Occasionally, there can be multiple explanations behind your cat’s conjunctivitis.
If the cause of your cat’s conjunctivitis is herpesvirus FHV-1, it can spread to other cats in your house (although not to humans), so treating it quickly is important.
How to Treat Conjunctivitis in Cats
If your cat shows signs of conjunctivitis, you can try a cat conjunctivitis home remedy with products from your local drug store, such as diluted boric acid (for ophthalmic use), sterile ophthalmic irrigating solution or artificial tears. Call your veterinarian to find out how best to administer these remedies. If you’ve tried these methods for 24 hours and haven’t seen any improvement — such as reduced swelling, redness and discharge — take him to the veterinarian.
The veterinarian will take a culture of your cat’s eye to determine whether the cause of the irritation is viral or bacterial. The results will determine the type of prescription eye solution necessary. If your vet suspects allergies are the cause of your cat’s conjunctivitis, anti-inflammatory drops, such as those containing hydrocortisone, may be recommended. Hydrocortisone drops should not be used, however, if your cat has an ulcerated cornea or is believed to be experiencing an episode of herpesvirus FHV-1.
Generally, an eye with conjunctivitis will begin to heal within one to two days after you start treatment. To be certain you have fully addressed the cause, though, you should continue administering any medications for as long as your veterinarian recommends. This is especially important for drops containing antibiotics.
A case of conjunctivitis caused by herpesvirus FHV-1 may not be cured just because it has cleared up. The virus will often lie dormant for a while, only to flare up again at a later time. In cases of recurrent conjunctivitis, your veterinarian may prescribe an anti-viral medication. Of course, every cat is different, and some may never experience the condition again.
Kittens are at the highest risk for viral conjunctivitis. Kittens raised outdoors and in shelters are at particularly high risk.
In addition to conjunctivitis, herpesvirus FHV-1 can cause respiratory distress. Both symptoms can be severe in kittens. The discharge from the conjunctivitis can be profuse enough to gum their eyes closed, and the respiratory changes can lead to life-threatening loss of appetite and dehydration.
Therefore, conjunctivitis in kittens may require more aggressive treatment and vigilant monitoring than it would in an adult cat. Consult with your veterinarian right away if your kitten has signs of conjunctivitis. If your cat is an adult, an initial at-home treatment may be suitable.