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Keratoconjunctivitis: Does My Cat Have an Eye Infection?

Posted April 02, 2015 in Cat Diseases & Conditions A-Z

Keratoconjunctivitis is an awfully long word that basically means any inflammation (“itis”) of both the cornea (“kerato,” the transparent part of your eye that you see through) and the conjunctiva (the pink mucous membrane that covers the insides of your eyelids and attaches to the opaque, white part or “sclera” of the eye). You probably know from your own experience that your eyes are really, pretty vulnerable to trauma and irritation from wind, dryness, infections, foreign bodies and anything in between. It’s not surprising, then, that your cat’s eyes are also sensitive to developing keratoconjunctivitis.

What do you see if you cat has eye inflammation?
Again you can probably guess, based on your own experience. Inflammation causes:

  • Redness
  • Swelling of the eyelids and conjunctiva
  • Itchiness (your cat may rub her face and eyes)
  • Pain
  • Squinting (either from pain or from sensitivity to light)
  • Discharge from her eyes (clear, excessive tearing or thicker mucous) that might even ‘glue’ her eyelids closed especially when she has been sleeping
  • Cloudy appearance of the corneal surface
  • Decreased visual acuity

Not all symptoms will occur in all cases and the condition may only exist in one eye or in both eyes, depending on the cause.

What causes eye inflammation in cats?
Remember, since this is an “itis,” it can be caused by anything that causes irritation or inflammation to the eye.  Some causes include:

What is keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS)?
Unlike transient dry eyes from environmental conditions or irritants, Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) is a specific, medical condition that requires long term treatment. It is a common cause for keratoconjunctivitis in dogs, but it is a rare eye disease in cats1.

KCS can, however, occur as a consequence of feline herpes virus infection (FHV) which is a very common upper respiratory infection in cats. In fact, FHV may be the most common cause of chronic keratoconjunctivitis in cats, reports Dr. Rhea Morgan of Verzijlenberg Veterinary Hospital. When the virus infects the cornea and the conjunctiva, clinical signs range from mild conjunctivitis to severe illness:

  • Fever
  • Anorexia
  • Marked inflammation
  • Discharge in the eyes (even ulcers and adhesions)

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Mike has more than 35 years of experience in companion animal veterinary practice and is a valued member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team since 2013.