Cat Eye Health

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Cat eye health information from Veterinary Ophthalmologist Dr. Robert Swinger

Jodi Ziskin Fort Lauderdale Cat Health Examiner

Is there anything more breathtakingly beautiful than the eyes of a cat?

A big part in keeping those eyes healthy is recognizing when something is wrong. Hollywood Animal Hospital’s Dr. Robert Swinger, D.V.M., Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists, was kind enough to share some insight (no pun intended).

What are the most common eye diseases in cats? Feline keratoconjunctivitis (inflammation of the cornea and conjunctiva) is probably the most common ocular problem in cats. The most common cause is feline herpes virus type-1. More than 80% of cats suspected to be carriers. Other causes include Chlamydia and Immune-Mediated disease. We also see uveitis (inflammation of the inside of the globe). Common causes include bartonella, toxoplasma, neoplasia (cancer), and immune-mediated disease. This inflammation can lead to secondary glaucoma, cataracts, and blindness.

What signs should people look for in their cat’s eyes that can indicate disease or infection? Any red, cloudy, or uncomfortable (squinting) eye; increased tearing; changes in pupil size.

Can nutritional deficiencies lead to eye disease and even blindness? Taurine deficiencies can cause retinal degeneration and blindness. This was more of a problem in the past before it was recognized. Now all good regulated diets are supplemented.

Can an eye exam reveal diseases in the cat’s body – for example, discoloration on the iris indicating liver problems or specific characteristics showing signs of diabetes? Often, the eye is thought to be the “window” into the body’s health system. Systemic diseases such as Bartonellosis and Toxoplasmosis are commonly diagnosed via an eye exam. Cancer, such as lymphoma and melanoma, are seen in the eye before other places. One of the most common ocular abnormalities noted in cats is a retinal detachment, generally indicating systemic hypertension, which is most commonly associated with early renal failure. You are correct – jaundice cats will often have yellow discoloration of the sclera. This can indicated liver disease or anemia.

When should cats see an ophthalmologist? Clients can see an ophthalmologist anytime they chose. Some opt for “wellness” exams often performed by their general doctor. Generally, I recommend that they see an ophthalmologist for diseases/injuries that persist longer than one week or recur; or if their general doctor does not feel comfortable treating the patient.

Are cataracts common in cats? Cataracts are not very common in cats. In dogs, primary (genetic) cataracts are common – they also get cataracts secondary to diabetes. Cats rarely get primary cataracts. They can get secondary cataracts often associated with chronic uveitis (inflammation of the inside of the globe).

What do you think people would find most fascinating about cat’s eyes? Cats can see with 1/6 of the light needed for human vision

Dr. Swinger also shared these facts about cat eyes:

  • A cat’s pupil is vertical oval – this is due to a lack of muscles in the iris
  • The movement of the cat globe is controlled by 7 extraocular muscles
  • Unlike people, cats have a muscle that can pull their eye into their globe
  • Cats also have a “third” eyelid – a membrane that houses the gland of the nictitans (tear gland) and can elevate to help protect the globe

More about Dr. Swinger Dr. Swinger received his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine in 2003 from the University of Illinois. After completing an internship in small animal medicine and surgery at Veterinary Specialists of South Florida, he went on to complete both an ophthalmology internship in 2005 and residency in 2009 at the Animal Eye Specialty Clinics in Miami, Deerfield Beach and West Palm Beach. Dr. Swinger began practicing with the VCA Aurora Animal Hospital outside of Chicago where he developed a successful ophthalmology service. In 2011 Dr. Swinger returned to South Florida and launched Animal Eye Guys. Dr. Swinger, who is now a member of the Hollywood Animal Hospital veterinary team, is board certified and a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO). His special interests include surgical and medical management of glaucoma, cataract surgery and corneal physiology.

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Jodi Ziskin

This article was originally posted and authorized for reposting by Jodi Ziskin at Jodi is a Holistic Nutrition & Wellness Specialist for Cats and Dogs. She is a Certified Pet Nutrition Consultant who also holds a Master of Science degree in Holistic Nutrition with a concentration in companion animal care. Jodi’s mission is to help cats and dogs live healthier and happier. Through her company, Holistic Healthy Pets by Jodi Z, she educates pet parents in their home environment, via Skype or by telephone on how to make the best holistic diet and lifestyle choices for their animal companions. Jodi and her husband live in Fort Lauderdale with their two cats, Obi and Emma.